The Vice President of India, M. Hamid Ansari presided as the chief guest of 66th convocation of the Punjab University in Chandigarh. The Governor of Haryana, Prof. Kaptan Singh Solanki, the Vice Chancellor of Panjab University, Prof. A.K. Grover and other dignitaries were present on the occasion. The convocation was held on march 25, 2017.
While giving the convocational address, Mr. Ansari said that the need of the hour is to defend the universities as free spaces, critical repositories of knowledge, as sources of renewal of liberal values and an independent free space that provides avenues of social mobility and equality to people. A University is the bearer of twin responsibilities and they are firstly to provide instruction on matters of intellectual importance and secondly to conduct research on those very matters.
Further throwing light on the importance of universities, he talked about a how a university distinguishes itself from other institutions where instructions are imparted with a focus on how to fulfil the daily requirements ranging from the need for them to teach its members to think, to go beyond the obvious in learning for examination purposes, and to acquire the capacity and habit to question.
The institutions also teach their pupils about the necessity for them to focus on research, to produce new knowledge that may be beneficial to society and the economy; the need to undertake social research, given the diversity and complexity of all societies in a fast changing world; and the imperative need for academic freedom so that the thought process and its expression is untrammelled by official or societal constraints.
Sharing his thoughts further, he said that a university is more than a mere polytechnic. The main aim of the university is always to build a profound understanding of the discipline they are teaching to the students enrolled be it also the disciplines with obvious professional connections. In the recent past much confusion has come up regarding whether there should be a university or not. Moreover, the freedom of the universities located in India has been challenged by the narrow considerations of what is considered to be “public good.”
Except in cases of illegal conduct or violence, a university should never seek to silence or influence faculty members or students to adopt or renounce any particular position. Indeed, universities should take all legal action necessary to defend their academic integrity and freedom. The strong words from the vice-president come in the backdrop of a raging debate about incidents in educational institutions including a recent clash at Delhi University’s north campus between students belonging to the BJP-backed ABVP and the Left-affiliated AISA.
The right of dissent and agitation are ingrained in the fundamental rights under our Constitution, which sets out a plural framework and refuses any scope to define the country in narrow sectarian, ideological or religious terms. A University must foster an environment that prizes intellectual freedom.
On this auspicious occasion, the Vice Chancellor of the Punjab University also conferred Prof Murli Manohar Joshi, Prof GS Khush and Prof Nuruddin Farah with D Litt degree (honoris causa).