I write this article with the hope to break the stereotypes associated with Students Union (SU) at Jamia Millia Islamia; the university I have graduated from. Stereotypes among the professors who may consider the students union as a platform which may be used by the unruly students to bully the administration and its staff. Stereotypes among the students who may think SUs are good-for-nothing platforms since they cannot see a career trajectory for those involved in student activism.
I want to discuss the concerns about re-establishing Students Union at Jamia and that, why those concerns are just perceptions and not reality. But before that I want to reflect on the importance of students union including its role in nation building.
Importance of Students Union
The core purpose of a students union is to help youths hone their leadership, management, planning, coordination and other important skills along with their education. Students union is a platform where students are expected to work with the university staff at all levels to make the university better. Indeed the best universities in the world are the ones with the most vibrant student community. Take the example of Harvard, Stanford, Yale and other big universities, all of them have a vibrant student community and all these institutions are the universities every student aspires to graduate from. Or for that matter, look in our neighborhood, both JNU and DU have very active student community and both the universities are the pride of India.
Student’s activism is the heart of that student’s intellectual-ism. By curbing student’s activism we unknowingly curb their intellectual development which is neither in the favor of students or university, and most importantly not in favor of the nation.
A nation’s youth is its future. We need to provide every affordable facility for youth’s all round development so that they can be trained to be a leader in their own capacity. A leader is not just someone who makes his way to the position of PM or CM in a country. Indeed even CEOs, managers, social activists, academicians and anyone who can work independently in his position, is a leader in his capacity. And that is the core purpose of Students Union–To help students develop skills and capabilities required to work independently at their level. That is why students union should be there at Jamia so that students can develop their professional edge along with education.
Why IIM graduates are considered to be equipped with leadership qualities? It’s not because they are politicians, CEOs, managers or someone with a track record of holding leadership positions. They are just students. They study similar concepts as their peers at other universities but in an intellectually stimulating and independent environment where they are challenged at every stage. And it is this intellectual independence and constant challenge that trains them for a leadership role in industry. And it is this kind of result that the nation expects from Jamia students union, creation of an intellectually stimulating and a challenging educational environment through student’s activism. What we need to understand is that the purpose of students union is to create competent professionals and not competent politicians, as understood by many at Jamia.
Clearing the Air
No doubt there is a dark history associated with the students union at Jamia, and that is why successive administrations in the last decade have abolished it. But times have changed, students have become more ambitious and career oriented. With the ambitions and hopes of creating a vibrant student community at Jamia, its administration needs to trust and train the students for taking up the responsibility of running a students union at Jamia. What is required here from the administration is, to provide a regulated but fair opportunity to conduct the affairs of the students union by the students themselves with some checks and balance from the administration. Certainly the laws and regulations of the university will be there for checking and controlling the unruly students who may attempt to use the SU platform to bully the administration.
On the students part, they need to clearly understand that students union is a platform for professional development where there are opportunities to work on a wide scale (university level) along with education. What students need to remember is that being a student leader doesn’t make you the prime minister of the university and that no matter how popular you are, it is the vice-chancellor that is the ultimate authority of the university. So, never go on bullying the administration and challenging them for things you may not like. As an student leader you need to learn to work in cooperation and coordination with the university administration and be a humble Agent-of-Change instead of an aggressive one. You need to work on finding a solution to a problem you see instead of blaming the administration and rallying around them by becoming a problem for the university. As an student leader your goal should be to become an asset for the university instead of a liability.