Interview: Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil | Vice Chancellor, National Law University, Assam

By | November 6, 2020
Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil

Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil is the current Vice-Chancellor of the National Law University and Judicial Academy Assam. He completed his schooling at a government school in a small town called Manvi in the Raichur district of Karnataka. He moved to Dharwad for higher education and did his B.A. and LL.B. from Karnataka University.

Prof. J.S. Patil pursued his LL.M. in International Law from the University of Mysore. He later went on to receive his PhD in Jurisprudence from Saurashtra University, Rajkot, Gujarat.

As a young lecturer in the University College of Law, Dharwad, he initiated the Students Legal Aid Society and as its advisor, encouraged the organisation to fight public interest litigations. Noted ones are in relation to capitation fee and daily wage workers in the Supreme Court.

When he was the Dean of the Law Faculty in Gulbarga University, he established the Vijnaneshwara Study and Research Center in Mitakshara and Human Rights with the aid, advise and help of Justice M. Rama Jois. Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil was also the founder Vice-Chancellor of the Karnataka State Law University.

Legal Bites got an opportunity to interview Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil:

Legal Bites: Sir, you have had a long and illustrious career as an academic. After completing your education, you went on to become an educator rather than a practising lawyer. What attracted you to academia and legal education?

Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil: My very entry into legal education as a student of law is accidental. I joined LL.B., not as a matter of interest or choice. It was just for continuing education by staying in a bigger town than going back to my native place which is a smaller town, after completing my graduation in arts.

My father also wanted me to continue my education. But while doing LL.M. at the University of Mysore, I was impressed by some eminent teachers of my department, other departments and visitors to my department. My hard-working nature impressed one of my professors and as per his advice, I joined the teaching profession.

From day one, I was a popular teacher among my students and therefore, the need to look for some other alternative did not arise. My popularity as a law teacher made me love the teaching profession and it became my religion over a period of time.

Legal Bites: You have previously stated that you were a first-generation learner in a farmer’s family. What were some of the challenges that you had to overcome in order to acquire the education that you did?

Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil: It was an exciting experience rather than a challenging one. My elder brother was the first one to move to Dharwad, an education hub in Karnataka, from my native place to pursue college education in 1968. He took me to Dharwad in 1970 after my SSLC at Manvi, my native place.

Many students from my native and nearby villages assembled in Dharwad for higher education. We all used to live in a private hostel-like accommodation and eat in private mess and study. The group life made me more comfortable and as I was a good student, I had a better position in the group.

We created our own student wing called Raichur District Students Association and I was its Secretary for quite some time. We used to organise cultural events and participate actively in almost all events in the city. It was fun and interesting to study in Dharwad and later on, in Mysore.

We took to studies without any career orientation. It was not with any proper motive or goal that we wanted to achieve. My father would always advise us to study well and become something in life. Though he was not a literate person, he was a visionary and dedicated his entire life to our education and gave everything to it. It is because of that tremendous sacrifice of our father and mother that we could get the best of the education possible at that time.

Legal Bites: Having headed the Karnataka State Law University and now the National Law University, Assam, what is your approach to governance as a Vice-Chancellor?

Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil: It was a big challenge as the founder vice-chancellor of Karnataka State Law University. I worked as a special officer to establish that university for three years from 2006 to 2009. I submitted a comprehensive report on the establishment of the university and got the bill passed in the state legislature. Obviously, I was appointed as the first vice-chancellor.

Bringing 110 law colleges under one umbrella with a uniform curriculum, pedagogy, examination system, etc. was a big challenge. I had to call meetings of principals, management, parents, students, vice-chancellors of other universities and convince them to take over all law colleges in Karnataka and bring them under a new university.

I did that successfully because of my vision to transform legal education in Karnataka into a qualitative, professionally competent and socially relevant one. My punchline was “Indian Roots and Global Heights”.

I also introduced a Khadi dress code on every Monday and singing the national anthem every day in the morning. It was a revolution in legal education.

I adopted modern information technology in examination, administration and academics. I always believed in taking everyone into confidence and lead from the front as a playing captain. I was tough in handling crises and uncompromising when it came to vision and quality, but flexible in building the nitty-gritty of the institution.

This success story brought me into National Law University, Assam. It was in some kind of a crisis of identity when I took over in 2016. With the cooperation of the High Court and Government, my faculty, non-teaching staff and students worked very hard with me in building the university. Just in four years NLU Assam has secured the 16th rank in NIRF rankings and entered the Top 100 Registry of Achievements Forum 2020, Oxford, London as one among top 100 regional institutions of the world.

Legal Bites: According to you, what are the hallmarks of a good teacher, especially with respect to legal education?

Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil: A good teacher is one who treats teaching as a passion, not as a job. One should get totally involved in his teaching work and should be hard working without limiting his work to time and space constraints.

One should be a voracious reader and be in touch with the latest developments in law, especially case law. One should be contemporary and keep track of the new developments and use modern facilities and adapt oneself to the changing requirements of time in the teaching profession.

Covid-19 has forced us to go online and use electronic media for teaching, research, writing and even legal practice. I remember using transparencies on OHP three decades ago to make teaching effective and interesting. It was very thrilling for me to adapt to the latest technology in teaching so that I can impress my students and be the front liner in the university. This kind of zeal and full engagement with the profession makes one a good teacher.

Legal Bites: Does the teaching and research methodology followed by Indian law universities prepare students adequately for a successful career in law? As a lifelong academic, is there anything that Indian law universities and colleges need to focus on to be on par with international law schools?

Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil: India is a very big country with a pluralistic culture. This also gets reflected in legal education institutions. We have national law universities, central university law departments, state university law departments, university law colleges, government law colleges, deemed universities’ law schools, private universities’ law schools, private aided law colleges, unaided private law colleges, etc.

The standard of teaching and research varies from institution to institution. Some of the NLUs and other premier institutions are doing a good job of preparing their students for a good career in law. Rest of the institutions are either mediocre or are of poor quality. It is these majority of the institutions that need to be focused on for a transformation.

Stricter guidelines are needed from the regulatory authorities to ensure quality in these law schools. Some of us have been advocating for a separate regulatory body for legal education. But at the central government level, the new education policy has brought about a single agency. Something needs to be done at the national level and state level.

The Karnataka experiment has to be taken seriously by other states. NLUs must have a robust national-level platform with necessary financial support so that the vice-chancellors can concentrate on building quality legal education and research rather than running pillar to post seeking financial support.

Legal Bites: Sir, do you think that there is an adequate support system in universities for law students from small towns, rural areas and low-income groups? What steps need to be taken to usher in greater participation from such students so that they can have a successful career in law?

Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil: I am afraid that there is not much support for the law students coming from small towns, rural areas and low-income groups. Some efforts were made by private organisations like the IDIA. A proper framework of law should be in place to ensure social justice to the vulnerable student community in law.

In order to encourage greater participation from students from vulnerable groups, there should be series of incentives like scholarships for good performance, bridge programmes for updating them, hostel and food facility at subsidy, additional library and e-library facility and above all, better social dealing is required to be brought in place.

Legal Bites: What is your vision for the National Law University, Assam?

Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil: NLU Assam has plans to launch new courses like BBA LLB and BCS LLB in the coming years. It also has plans to expand its master programme with few more specialisations. It has plans to establish 30 research centres to conduct advanced level research in cutting edge knowledge of law.

Ten centres are already established and functioning efficiently. As a member of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, collaboration with select Canadian universities is high on the agenda of the university. Efforts are on to build collaborations in the US, Europe and Asian universities also.

With the state of the art facilities made available on the campus, attracting foreign students is also possible. Memoranda of understanding with reputed institutions and professional organisations are being initiated (some are already signed and some are in the pipeline) to service the larger community through consultancy, customized courses, workshops and seminars and a variety of other programmes.

Legal Bites: Lastly, would you like to send a message to young law students across India?

Prof. (Dr.) J.S. Patil: Legal profession is developing on an exponential scale in the rule of law-driven civilized societies including India. There are opportunities that were not even dreamt of a few years back in the legal profession.

Law students are needed to be smart enough to engage themselves with these new opportunities and exploit them. They need to adjust with the new normal of using e-platforms effectively to be successful legal professionals.

Legal Bites: Thank you so much for speaking with us, sir. 


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Author: Mayank Shekhar

Mayank is a student at Faculty of Law, Delhi University. Under his leadership, Legal Bites has been researching and developing resources through blogging, educational resources, competitions, and seminars.

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