July-August 2000. A fresh MA graduate staying in Kirtipur saw a vacancy announcement for a Teaching Assistant position in Kathmandu University. Intrigued by the prospect, he traveled up to the University to apply, but did not want to apply for certain discouraging factors, one of them being the distance. He submitted the credentials at his companion’s admonitions. Later, he told the interviewers he would rather not join, in order to remain in the large Kathmandu market. He got the job offer nonetheless, but he said he was not interested but would decide after one round of discussion with the authority. He joined after 10 days from the Executive Council’s decision to employ him, seeing the prospect of career growth but decided to quit after three days of joining by not seeing the prospect. He rejoined after three days of quitting on the pretext of ill-health. In reality, he had not seen a better chance in the Kathmandu market.
He has completed 6500 days in Kathmandu University today. This is the background of the person facing you now, accepting the role of an Associate Professor.
While I acknowledge the companionship and support of most of the ladies and gentlemen here, I would like to honestly name at least four persons who are not in the University now, who were instrumental in my growth in KU. Prof. Pushpa Raj Adhikary, who twisted my ears when I turned sluggish and complacent; Prof. Rana Bahadur Chhetri, who equipped (and shielded) me with the strategies of surviving large classes; Prof. Jangab Chauhan, who introduced me to the community of literary scholars in Kathmandu; and Mr. Sijan Baral, who in my formative days was a foil to me as I was to him, and who showed what a University English teacher should be like – competent, energetic and unwavering.
In those days, I wanted to teach literature to English majors. But I had landed to teach compulsory English in the I Sc program and Communication Skills in the Undergraduate level. I was unhappy. I shared my unhappiness with my thesis supervisor in Tribhuvan University. He very rightly said, “Make your subject useful to those who do not consider it useful. Real scholarship or real pedagogy is what you practice to enlighten those who are not willing to listen to you.” This was a mantra, which later became a passion. I have survived my classes and ordeals all these years because of this.
You know me as an English teacher. Some of us think English teachers merely teach grammar or short stories or presentation skills. That’s fine. That’s fundamental. To those who want to know what lies beyond: English is a discipline like any other discipline; it covers almost all aspects of humanities under the sun.
My background is this. I majored in English literature and entered KU. In MPhil from Pokhara University I did cultural studies with focus on diaspora scholarship. I delved into rhetorical criticism for five years for my PhD in KU. My disciplinary community calls this interdisciplinary orientation. Now with this orientation in literature, cultural studies, and rhetoric, I keenly study across and feature in creativity, strategic communication, leadership development and teacher agency. I have a desire to teach courses and develop research projects blending rhetoric and leadership.
I write indiscriminately both in English and Nepali – both poetry and prose. I maintained a journal for nearly ten years from January 1999. Then I switched to blogging. Blogging has generated content worth for half a dozen books. Three are already published.
Commitment for growth has been my ideal so far. To name a few evidences, I was instrumental in the consolidation of the Department of English, launching and establishment of the Media Studies program, publication of the journal Bodhi, establishment of the Humanities and Management Unit, and launching of the BBIS program at the central campus.
Taking challenge has been a part of life in KU. Challenge has mostly come by choice, and sometimes by compulsion because I was considered worthy of it. The engagement in Student Welfare Directorate from 2011 to 2013 was one of those rare challenges that came to my share.
I try to make myself as useful as possible, without much complaint against discomfort beyond the terms of references given to me. For years I have not followed the usual 9 to 4 ritual. The line between the office and residence is blurred for me as for most of us who stay in the University quarters. And, I bet, those who have completed assignments in the Student Welfare and Student Hostels have had innumerable instances of testing their stamina, surviving through frustrations and have ultimately grown tougher.
At present I lead the Humanities and Management Unit and offer guardianship to the BBIS program. I take care of internal Coordination and Communication on behalf of the Office of the Vice Chancellor. I have half a dozen plans on my mind, very carefully thought of on the basis of the strength of my present team, including a graduate program in Technology Management, a post-graduate program in English Studies, and a full-fledged Department of Professional studies to oversee these ventures with greater credibility. As the team leader of HMU, I will push the plans towards success because the University acknowledges our drive and potential for growth, or to failure (?) until we are convinced that we are not worthy of any effort towards growth.
Many people ask me, “Why don’t you work for English in particular?” I tell them “I want to grow a whole tree, not a branch in isolation.” So, I am very much determined to consolidate Humanities in the university, and thereby humanity at large. Yet, I have hardly had an opportunity to serve my own discipline from within but been satisfactorily involved in placing the Humanities where they are best demanded.
I have the epiphany, which may rather be termed apprehension, that we may no longer remain the only center of quality and excellence and the only destination of higher education – supposing that we were until recently. We will have several competitors in the seven provinces. The identity we have built so far might remain only the foundation. Our immediate challenge does not necessarily involve lack of infrastructure; nor of resources, nor public trust on our commitment. It is lack of thorough soul-searching on whether we are prepared to face external, global pressure of competition. Right now, majority of us seem to have lost the plea for optimism; we are unhappy or demotivated partly because there is a reason, and mostly because we do not know the reasons.
I rather see another reason for being alarmed. Other institutions – existing and upcoming — eye upon us for the model of success we have built. Some of us may have our eyes upon prospects in them, naturally. Thus, we appear to be in the phase of transition, being in a position to retain and augment our identity and, at the same time, to safeguard our human resources from being tainted by unchecked aspirations or pulled away to greener pastures elsewhere.
I have always ruminated about a few questions and frequently asked the same to my colleagues:
- How often do we share one another’s creation and scholarship? Does our work comfortably go to a colleague’s classroom, or their list of references?
- Do we still live the days when quality and identity stemmed from powerful classroom activities?
- Where are the best teachers of those golden days, who built the name we identify with today?
- Is the learning culture still intact given that the modes of communication and consultation have evolved?
- Do we have a strong cadre of teachers? Are we preparing one in the near future? Are we attracting new generation to the field of teaching? Have we promoted the ideal that teaching is an ideal profession?
As we set out to reflect upon these questions, let us also advocate the complementarity among disciplines. Every discipline has its own thrust, and therefore skips a lot from the stock of knowledge an individual requires. Let us understand such complementarity. If we discourage our students from taking interest in life’s useful avenues that open through more than one terrain, we are doing them injustice by sending them to the competitive world incomplete. Let us teach the students to accept the fact that their discipline may be helping them to exploit only a spec of their potential and intelligence, and they should learn to explore beyond their disciplinary coteries.
As I emphasize the students, I mean to convey that I am a classroom guy. And I am willing to remain one. I create my own taxonomies and acquire others’ only selectively. I may sound a bit orthodox and outdated. You may call me a misfit if you like. I understand that we live a time when pundits enjoy greater respect and visibility than gurus. But I am essentially a guru.
My education, expertise and experiences are for the country, for humanity at large to benefit from. KU is a productive platform, students are the medium. But I am restlessly trying to reach out to a larger community through my writings and publications. That’s exactly what a humanist can and should do. I am doing my part with utmost sincerity.
As a senior faculty now, I am willing to help plug the cracks that pessimists might ignore and cynics are willing to widen by crumbling their edges. That’s why half of my service now goes to helping the administration although I miss the students so much.
I try to think from the point of view of new undergraduate students – the youngsters in their late teens. I know any youngster enters the University anticipating to be mentored by ideal teachers – those of us highly educated, highly trained people. And we try to find ideal human beings in them – in those who have lived merely a little more than one-third of our age. Who is more justified in the expectation? I am sure they are, and I am afraid we are yet to meet their expectations.
Finally, who is an Associate Professor?
You, my friends, have reached this position by undergoing multi-layer competition. Intra-personal – as a teacher, and if you are passionate about your profession, you try to emulate yourself every day. Intra-departmental – you try to compare yourself with the colleagues at your own department and wish to perform better. Inter-departmental/ inter-disciplinary – you try to outshine colleagues from other disciplines and departments. Inter-institutional – you feel juxtaposed with the people of your professional community within the country and try to perform better than them. Finally, international – you often share same professional forums with foreign scholars, check your own merits and nurture a sense of the need for upgrade.
As a scholar there is no rest; there is only risk in resting.
I, like many others, have entered this tenure for leadership, supervision and mentoring. I am ready and will feel blessed to be useful for the young people that come to us with dreams of being prepared for a meaningful life ahead.
I will join hands with all of you with one simple condition – selfless companionship and selfless service.
[Updated from what was delivered on 22 June 2018]