The Vice President of India, Shri M. Hamid Ansari has said that there is an imperative need to defend the universities as free spaces, as independent, critical repositories of knowledge, and as sources of renewal of liberal values that provide avenues of social mobility and equality to people. He was delivering the 66th Convocational Address at the Panjab University, in Chandigarh today. 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.Sharing his thoughts on the importance of universities in our society the Vice President talked about the idea of a university and how it distinguishes itself from other institutions where instructions are imparted focused on catering to requirements of daily life; 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 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.
The Vice President said that a University has to be more than a mere polytechnic. Even in disciplines with obvious professional connections, the university should first aim to build a profound understanding of the discipline, he added.The Vice President said that a University has the twin responsibility of providing instruction on matters of intellectual importance and conducting research on those very matters. He also underlined the important role of social research in questioning and deconstructing ‘social and cultural mythologies’ that circulate and proliferate in any society, especially during phases of change and uncertainty.The Vice President said that the recent events in our own country have shown that there is much confusion about what a university should or should not be. The freedom of our universities has been challenged by narrow considerations of what is perceived to be ‘public good’, he added.The Vice President said that 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, he added.