This rambling fulfills a promise though fairly late. I had told the BBIS 2020 batch at the close of their Fall 2021 semester that I would scribble my own while they wrote their Post-Semester Reflections as the culminating assignment. I don’t think this unravels a great history, but surely (re)presents an important phase in the life of a faculty cum academic administrator who gave to work more than to life itself. No philosophizing, nor emotionalizing here.
How did the semester go?
The semester (August 2021-February 2022) passed for me with half a dozen responsibilities going parallel with varying conclusion targets. I started it keeping in mind the more than six months of tenure as the Head of the Department of Management Informatics and Communication (MIC). The six-month period before my tenure expired was crucial because I felt like helping to eliminate a few confusions related to the operation of MIC as the Department under KUSOM at the main campus. The existing confusion about the value of support to other Schools just lingered in spite of my repeated request to the officials to resolve the modalities of inter-school collaborations. When it had begun to take a toll on the motivation to take on newer responsibilities for the Dhulikhel-based Schools, the decision on financial autonomy for Schools and subsequent relocation of BBIS-related procurement and accounts to Balkumari began to create further hassles. The officials reportedly kept complaining about us being an unnecessary appendage, while we continued to criticize them for being discriminatory and indifferent. But the semester moved with the fundamentals – classes and admission work.
The primary glitch, amid moderate excitement, was the switch from online to onsite classes after Tihar. Accustomed probably to lazy sessions on laptops or mobile screens, the students appeared to experience an unprecedented jump from luxury to a warzone, with the obligation to get up early, commute to Dhulikhel, attend classes, and do practical sessions and assignments within partly rigid deadlines. The tempo of classes met with a debilitating halt with teachers being obliged to revive the sections conducted online. The months and weeks and days slipped in winks and the exam section started to pester on a timeline for end-semester exams. The popular grumble that ‘the tail wags the dog’ surfaced as before when partners in the grand valley supposedly influenced the decision for end-semester dates, leaving us limping at Dhulikhel with rushed-to-finish courses. As the Head, I had no alternative but to try to get the kids ready for the schedule distantly announced. While the majority succumbed to our counseling, a few sought help from pressure groups. While the uncertainty of COVID-induced retardations mounted in the country, the examination dominated our psyche.
While the ‘head’ that I was got entangled in varying hassles, the teacher tried to balance every class of his share with necessary inputs and hearings. Fall 2021 had overlapping semesters. While BBIS started early during August-September, some programs in Science and Engineering ensued after Tihar. It was confusing to track which semester ended and began when. When I began to write this reflection, I had almost wrapped up ENG 102, was about to complete Seminar and Directed Studies with the Architecture, but just begun Technical Communication with Chemical Engineering. My post-graduate engagement had not been less confounding. It was like taking three groups together – the regular Block group, the Dhulikhel Cohort seminar, and the Issues in ELE course with the same group along with Dr. Prem Phyak. I recall now that the overall curricular stuff shouldered from August to July amounted to 23 credits, which was fairly double the workload borne by Associate Professors at KU. I have no qualm about this anyway.
The semester, and equally my tenure, would not have been more memorable and exciting without student uprising in the name of postponing the end-semester examinations set for January 16. It was only predicted, if not expected, that the kids would voice their unpreparedness. But it was more than a voice of in-house dissent. I was bound to assume an activist role – both taking stance against untoward infiltration and facilitating the students for a relatively more comfortable exam schedule.
As the examination had to be abruptly postponed and not much was left for intense worrying, I decided to take a break from the University premises. Going home for a fortnight was the best utilization of the urge for respite. Despite knowing that travel was death to my aching tailbone and waist, despite knowing that the kids’ classes would resume any moment, we packed bags and headed east. The darling house, after all, waited for us so dearly. I was dying to go back, open it and check how much our absence had mattered in its well-being. Delighted to find that the house lived and remained spotless except for cobwebs and lizard droppings and dust at places. Three and half months’ semi-desertion was too little to scratch anything for bad. We revived its homeliness during the fortnight’s hustle. Leaving it locked this time did not pinch me so much as it had four months before.
My presence back at MIC was just enough to clear the tables and cupboards as the Head. I had nothing to lose and a lot to document as history-making. The semester ended with the end of my tenure. I had nothing to regret about, no one to apologize to and no great targets to jump for. Just relaxed commencement of life as a faculty. The ten years and six months of tail-twisting were completed in peace and welcome.
The semester before the transfer to School of Education deserves much more of a rumination for being the last in my career as the Head based at Dhulikhel. Suffice it should with this much though. Now that I stepped out and handed down, people might have inferred why I had begun to be a bit stubborn and cheeky at times. I had become vocal because I wanted to ensure that I neither created new hassles nor allowed the old ones to linger. I believe I dispensed with what I could and handed down what needed to be pursued.
How did I perform and contribute?
It is tricky for me these days even to think about claiming to have made tangible contributions. Why should I, having been a minuscule of a public institution? Suffice it may to say that I was doing the job any idiot does in order to run his family. Besides, my affiliations have tended to be so diverse over the years that I assume having been unable to leave a visible mark anywhere. As an administrator, I wanted to be the first person to facilitate the faculty and students. As a leader, I tried to be the last fellow to anticipate acknowledgments. My activities – albeit small, intangible, and regular – did not fail to underlie the principle that I should have left behind evidence of acceptance and transformation.
Just a few things to note. We could resume the MPhil Cohort of Dhulikhel with six students. I would call it a tangible performance in that the program had yet another batch to confirm its conditional continuity. I use the word continuity here, meaning that there might have surfaced gaps but the resumption would be the next target. Yes, being conditional had to do with respecting the situation of having to halt admission in case of public non-response.
After two years of forging the intake, I received the ToR for coordinating the MPhil ELE Cohort. But it felt to have come like horns extra to the natural, at least in the light of a necessary acknowledgment of my past initiatives. But, though my responsibilities included tasks as far as conducting internal viva voces and recommending supervisors, I could rarely exercise these. The first reason: the students were too slow and lost to be able to defend their work. The second: the ‘parent’ department at Hattiban appeared too ignorant (read indifferent) about sparing those responsibilities for Dhulikhel.
Fall 2021 was marked by the department having been able to enroll the full intake of BBIS students. Accompanying the ease of completing the enrollment came the burden of adding two more aspirants. I call it a success. Among a number of reasons to celebrate the end of my tenure counts the full enrollment. This benchmark should inspire my successor(s) to work as hard for the next intake. I know that it was yet another ‘forgettable thing’ for the guardian school. But, be it their indifference or the intention to let us work autonomously, it shall not mar my right to assert collective credit of success.
And my tenure as the Head ended in February. As the semester came to a close, I had begun to ponder over the effect of freedom on me. Accustomed to administrative engagement, I felt to have achieved complete release from all sorts of entanglements. I don’t know what the folks thought about my decision to be relieved, but I bear the pride that I proved the capacity to forfeit facilities. This, probably, hardly few people have found a knack to do; most have wished for as many extensions as could be given.
But the transfer of position itched me into asking for a total transfer to School of Education. On the surface, I exhibited the character of an unthoughtful, impulsive idiot. A little beyond, this was a search for new career avenues though it occurred when I turned half a century.
I got two research papers accepted for publication. Great relief for the vacancy calls ahead, and motivation for more attempts. I felt to have unlocked myself largely now, against the fear of retardation because nothing was occurring in the name of manuscript and submission. At least the ones from Journal of Transformative Praxis and Indraprastha Journal have the prospects of saving my life. The one published in Molung Educational Frontier is no less robust in terms of argument, data, and rigor by the publisher.
I ignored the possibility of being offered a position that yielded nothing but envy and idleness. This was not foolhardiness at all. This was full hardness, rather. Many might have thought I had been racing for petty chairs as if they were on public distribution. I remained immune from temptation. I asked the key officials not to consider me because I was not considering any administrative position but wanted the freedom to write and read. If I were to be relocated somewhere, my academic engagement would have to be spontaneous and intensive. I would have to be mostly wrangling about the quality of research at the post-graduate level.
Overall, the semester was eventful. The path I have been through must have the dents of my foot soles. I know only a few people will notice or acknowledge them. How many does not matter. What counts is that the dents are there. Let me repeat what I said above: “Suffice it may to say that I was doing the job any idiot does in order to run his family.”
What would I cherish from what has been left behind?
A lot, in fact, at a time I am making a radical transition in my life. This is equally a transition in my family. The withdrawal from headship culminated in the withdrawal from School of Management and, therefore, MIC and part of the Dhulikhel campus. But I would like to cherish it a lot.
Let me delimit though it all starts with establishing the Humanities and Management Unit and staying at the Dhulikhel premise back in August 2013. HMU to me is a big saga of excitement and frustrations. I cherish the successes in employing and encouraging people to thrive. About a dozen or more of them to be housed and encouraged to grow. The series of presentations to get it upgraded into MIC and relocated to SoM. The relocation, the excitement, the indifference, the apparent neglect, and the determination to operate autonomously. The BBIS program at the core of obligation to keep negotiating with the world’s most ‘interesting’ administrators. The promises from those high above and the lip services from across and below. The leadership change and the opportunity to refocus on academics. The intermittent inducements for lobbying after a ‘higher’ position. Overall, among numerous occurrences and confusions, the critical maturity I have gained leading to the decision to hand responsibility down. All of these and many more to cherish.
I had asserted several times to SoM folks and some from MIC that the end of MIC headship would mean the end of engagement with SoM. I would justifiably ask for a transfer to a more relevant and ‘welcoming’ community. I cherish this earliest prelude/premonition. It was intact in my conscious self to be manifest in the proposal for my transfer to School of Education.
As I recall my past decisions for change, I find none of these to have failed me. The decision to serve School of Arts in 2012-2013, to leave it for HMU in 2013, to run the BBIS program in 2014, to transfer it to SoM as MIC in 2019 – all of these were good decisions. Good in the sense of helping those involved. Helping in the sense of not harming anyone at the least.
Now, despite its being a sort of my brainchild, separation from MIC does not put me in any form of remorse and soreness. MIC has been a milestone in my life, the epitome of my dream to create an institution and lead it with little or no blemish. It has been my Montessori for management and leadership. I handed it as a full-bloomed young daughter capable of autonomy and standing. I was too prepared to part with it because it was mature enough to claim an identity at the Dhulikhel premises.
A little about the CCD days. I am glad to retrospect the audacity with which I worked with the former leader, especially insisting on the reformation of the KU Organizational Structure. The days with the VC were full of breaking points probably because it coincided with a time that had its own breaking points. I held myself intact during the most turbulent days of agitation, and alienation. Despite some indelible scars of blames and mud-slinging, I cherish the CCD tenure in relation to being able to work with one of the world’s most demanding, unpredictably demeaning, dashing bosses. Because I survived that company, I would survive all companies for the rest of my life.
I could observe how leadership changes would deconstruct an institution. How people left oblivious in the margin would rise to prominence, while those dancing about in someone’s kitchen cabinet go to the fringes. How those hauled up to prominence may prove outdated and nonfunctional because of having to atrophy during the marginalization. I observed and even got affected by the tension building up in the name of acquiring and sticking to positions. But I would cherish my willingness to serve only in de facto positions. There’s no point in taking and giving headaches for both challenging and languishing seats in any public institution.
Time has taught me to transcend trifles. I seriously cherish time’s greatest admonitions.