BY NIRMALKUMAR MOHANDOSS
Recently, the Madras High Court made scathing observations about the rising hooliganism in the legal profession due to access to ‘buying’ law degrees from several letter pad law colleges. The Court had asked several questions to the BCI which had given permissions to several such institutions. The Court also observed that 800 colleges were given permissions as against the required 175 colleges attributing it to the number of brief-less lawyers.
But has the Government of Tamil Nadu at least maintained the quality of education in the premier institution it established?
In 2002, the Government of Tamil Nadu established the School Of Excellence in Law (SOEL) as an ambitious project to compete with National Law Schools from other States. The Law school is part of the student program of The Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University which was established as the first Law University of the State in 1997.
Due to the greed of a few individuals, the reputation and quality of this law school is suffering a silent death. The strength of the students has been increased arbitrarily to over 700 in a batch which was only 80 until a few years back. The cut off mark for admission has hence drastically come down in the absence of any effort to increase the competition and interest to take up law as a professional career. At a time when the Madras High Court speaks about the nexus between increasing the number of law colleges and the number of brief-less lawyers, exorbitant increase in the number of seats also has such nexus.
Moreover, the campus at Taramani, in which the law school functions, was contemplated to accommodate only 160 students in a batch. As a result the campus does not have comfortable classrooms, hostels and other facilities as may be required to accommodate 700 students in a batch. The UG students have occupied class rooms meant for PG students and there are two time shifts of classes to accommodate students from all batches. Classrooms which were meant to accommodate 60 students now accommodate twice the number. Hostel built for male students are also allotted for female students leaving the male students in the streets.
A few months back the syndicate resolved to reduce the strength of 5 years integrated course to 420 students. Soon after, some random Mr. ‘X’ approached the Madras High Court seeking a direction against the institution to admit the same number of students admitted the previous year. The institution, instead of defending the syndicate’s decision, undertook to admit more students and hence the petition was closed. This creates a cloud of doubt about the intention of Mr. ‘X’ and at whose behest he raised such a plea before the Court.
The ratio of well qualified faculties to students has also come down. The website of the institution clearly shows that there are only 21 faculties to teach the 3000 odd students in the institution. The number of faculties was the same even when there were less than 600 students in the entire campus. Consequently, so many guest faculties (including practicing advocates) have been taking classes. In a given semester, sometimes more than 3 faculties take lectures on the same subject rendering them almost useless. A few months back, when faculty recruitment was about to take place, corruption in the process made the Governor of Tamil Nadu stop such recruitment.
As a corollary, the institution has started preparing and distributing study materials which are apparently of poor standards. The practice of using lecture notes, which was detested until a few years back by the students, is now encouraged by the institution itself. This affects the competitive spirit, depth of legal knowledge, capability of interpreting and analyzing legal provisions among the students.
This overcrowding of institution without proper infrastructure and faculties coupled with inefficient management has led to deterioration of student quality. It is now in public that in September 2017, groups of students stoned each other leading to severe injuries. Police presence in and around the campus is now a common sight.
Further, the law school does not have a regular Director/Dean of UG studies for 3 years now. One of the adjunct professors appointed after his retirement from the Government law College, Chennai holds the post of Director/Dean in-charge of UG studies for more than three years. Apparently, this is in gross violation of Section 55 of the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University Act, 1997 according to which the Dean of Faculty must be appointed from Professors for a period of 3 years and he shall cease to hold the office upon attaining 58 years of age. Moreover, according to the guidelines of the University Grants Commission, an adjunct Faculty is expected to teach and not hold any administrative role. The post of Director/Dean of UG studies is so important to pilot the entire institution towards excellence and the appointment of such ineligible candidate to the post for more than 3 years in violation of law has already done enough damage to the institution.
For the first time, there is concentration of power in a few hands. The Director-in charge has also taken over the position of Chief Superintendent for Examinations and Chief Examiner for valuation. This is the first time an adjunct faculty holds such responsibilities for several years. Allegations of corruption against a few people in the institution were also published in a few journals. Creation of posts like Deputy Registrars and Assistant Directors solve several back door purposes. Professors, deans and directors who retire are appointed as adjunct faculties without following proper legal procedures and continue to hold key posts in the institution.
It is pertinent to note that almost all student and other activities such as conferences, guest lectures, cultural are all either affected or restricted due to the above factors. The students end up paying exorbitant fee under several heads like ‘Cultural’ and ‘Sports’ without actual quid pro quo.
It is also now the common feeling among the students of SOEL that children of politically and socially influential persons are given preferential treatment in matters of attendance, exams and results. This has created an uneasy and unfriendly environment for most students in the institution.
Due to the poor faculty – student ratio and the retention of senior professors after retirement, the faculty also seems to have lost motivation to encourage the students. The potentials, talent and energy of young law students who join SOEL are therefore largely unutilized or at least under-utilized.
Factually, lawyers and law students are known to playing a very important role in formation of public opinions. After graduating from a law school, whatever vocation such graduate takes, he/she takes with him/her the skill to analyze and question prevailing political, economic and social circumstances around him/her. When the potentials of the law students are wasted by law schools, it reflects badly in the society also in the long run. Law students who graduate and take up public causes and causes of litigants should be well trained in order to keep the quality of judicial fraternity in-tact.
The deterioration of SOEL’s reputation is already seen among the legal fraternity. After a less known magazine published allegations of corruption at SOEL, One of my friends summed up the situation in the following words: “SOEL’s name has gone down the drain penetrated the earth’s core and is right now fossilized.”
Despite all these difficulties, the students of SOEL are also making it in the news for good reasons like winning national and international moot Court and other competitions. The students are in fact, organizing SOEL’s 11th Annual National Moot Court competition despite lack of enough cooperation from the management. Before all these become things of SOEL’s distant past, people in power should step in to revamp the entire structure and take the law school back to the path of excellence.
[The Opinion expressed in this article is that of the author. It does not reflect the opinion of THE CENTRIST OUTLOOK. As such TCO does not take responsibility to any opinion expressed in this article.]
THE AUTHOR IS AN ADVOCATE AT THE MADRAS HIGH COURT AND AN ALUMNUS OF THE SCHOOL OF EXCELLENCE IN LAW.