Interview by Yash Panchal
Dr. Shashikala Gurpur is presently the Director at SLS Pune. She graduated in Law from Mangalore University in 1988, she is currently the Director of Symbiosis Law School, Pune, and Dean of Faculty of Law, Symbiosis International University. Dr. Gurpur is a recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship as well as the Legal Education Innovation Award of SILF-MILAT in 2011, in addition to being the recipient of many other such prestigious accords since then.
Dr. Gurpur has been a winner of many distinctions and awards which throughout her law studies. Today, she holds the reputation of having held office as a member of the Law Commission of India and having taught at the National University of Cork, in addition to having co-authored two academic books and carried the role as a constituent of Editing Boards of various foreign/ international journals.
An experience full of growth and learning at SLS Pune
Nearly 12 years of experience at SLS Pune has been a journey of growth and learning. When I joined in 2007, I had behind me substantial years of teaching and research experience in reputed institutions in India and abroad. Further, coupled with an international corporate stint and NGO experience, I was looking at education as a to be approached. The approach had to be a blend of corporate management and a mentor-guru. My mantra was human development, through capacity building in staff, students and faculty with a carefully structured skill chart, process, team culture. Top management of symbiosis provided the space and support with time-tested experience and brand. Our team with an average age of 30 years then was also a great support, with enthusiasm to learn and grow. We built around the key ideas of curriculum, profound student development and satisfaction, faculty quality and professional identity of public service.
We looked at the core of ‘doing good to do well’ strengthening community legal service along with engagement in learning by doing. Overall quality and excellence focus in Symbiosis International with its interdisciplinarity, added the magic. In 2007, our application intake ratio was 15:1 and by 2017 it stands at 45:1. We designed own law entrance test by 2009 and upgraded programs to honors level, grew our international partnerships from 9 to 56.
SLS Pune spearheads a unique 12-point internationalization under the guidance of our Chancellor Dr. S. B. Mujumdar Sir & Pro-Chancellor Dr. Vidya Yerwadekar. SLS, Pune has hosted renowned scholars from across the globe, who have contributed to a rich and vibrant academic culture. SLS, Pune was the only law school in India to be a part of the prestigious Erasmus Mundus Consortium.It has now been selected to be a part of the prestigious Erasmus Mundus programme which is about Capacity Building in Higher Education Project European Studies Revitalized Across Asian Universities (EURASIA).
In November 2017 SLS, Pune hosted the Global Law Deans’ Conference and Annual Meeting of International Associating of Law Schools. This was unique in itself as it saw the representation of more than 75 delegates from countries across the globe.
Legal education is growing at the rate of 40% addition every year. New private players have entered the scene with the infrastructure, best of the faculty and in healthy competition as well as collaboration with the national law universities. However, as some researches show, the number of about 1200 law teaching institutes across state universities, etc. are at different standards of excellence. Serious native research on the and legal profession is still to come. Students require good professional mentors and practice-ready orientation to respond to unmet legal needs, huge backlogs in India as well as at the global level.
A transformative leadership style driven by values
A good leader provides a worldview, manages teams with merit centric objective approach, nurtures everyone and unifies minds to achieve the common goal.
A good leader is driven by values and should believe in service-minded ways
I have always treated faculty as colleagues, ensuring a democratic and rights-based approach. I also believe in teamwork and ensure the growth of the teaching and non-teaching staff. This teamwork helps me to realize their strengths and potential and accordingly assign portfolios and other academic and administrative work.
The governance model is participatory where all stakeholders of legal education such as lawyers, judges, parents, alumni, industry experts, community organizations could engage to contribute to student-training and also provide feedback on governance as well as academic content.
I can define my leadership style as transformative leadership which is primarily based on democracy, thereby nurturing the growth of the individuals and transforming the work environment nurturing lives and cultivating ideas.
Tackling all the hurdles in the industry and changes noticed in it in all these long years
We are trying to reach global standards of legal education and sometimes these compel us to undertake too many responsibilities while managing the student strength where the Law School is itself like a huge University. This involves major paperwork and administrative responsibilities.Another challenge is to remain unique and original, among a plethora of choices that students may have.
The change that I have noticed is, students are well-read, well-prepared and exposed. Hence, making your teaching interesting is one issue. Use of technology with multimedia and experience-based learning with a democratic inclusion of diverse learners as well as diverse learning styles are required. Pedagogy has to change to facilitate learning rather than the being the sole source of information.
The curriculum of SLS Pune and whether project-based learning be integrated with the mainstream education system in India
The best practice of industry is brought in by robust and systematic feedback drawn independently and during placement interviews
Besides, the faculty leadership in various specialization committees ensures that the latest national and global vision, peer law school approaches and best practices and stakeholder feedback is synthesized into the revision process.
Project-based learning is mandatory across many courses. These range from research projects to term projects as learning, researching, and assessment avenues. Legal clinics in IP realm, as well as community legal care center, are some of the examples. The Under Graduate Curriculum includes 6 Legal Skills Courses that are spread throughout the 5 years. These are practical learning classes where students learn the skills of drafting, negotiation, mooting, advocacy, research, transaction, ethics, alternative dispute resolution, simulation, and client counseling. These are guided as experiential learning through internships, field visits, sharing ideas with experts who visit or camp at SLS Pune. Nowadays, college rankings play a very important role, and the fact that SLS Pune has bagged the top ranks in the past several years is a testimony to the fact that it is updated with skills required to have a high ground in the present industry.
Yes, project-based learning should be integrated with mainstream learning because, at once, it facilitates knowledge, skills, values with multiple dimensions such as teamwork, communication, planning, time management, application of knowledge, reporting, presentation, and empirical research among others
Providing apt placement opportunities to the students
At Symbiosis Law School, placement opportunities in terms of internships and final placements are facilitated through the Professional Development and Career Guidance Cell. This cell maintains a database of companies, Law Firms, NGOs, etc. where law graduates can be appropriately placed for internships or jobs after completion of their Law Degree.
Based on research, we have listed avenues for the law students for their development, exposure and career building so that they are practice-ready while leaving our portals. We provide an introduction of skills and specializations in a progressive manner, culled out of careful research on the profession and the industry and on stakeholder feedback.
Apart from this, the Professional Development and Career Guidance cell organize various workshops and guest lectures on Entrepreneurship, Higher Education opportunities in India and abroad, systematic Personality Development, etc. All of these initiatives provide a holistic path for each student progressively developing competencies for at least two options based on capacity, interest, and opportunities aligned with their specialized courses. Hence, most of the students are clear about their choices by the time they are in the penultimate year.
Being available for the students
At the very beginning of the semester, an orientation discussion is conducted for the new batch stepping into Symbiosis Law School, Pune. All incoming students are introduced to the faculty members and heads of all cells and clubs in the college. The current students are always encouraged to take active participation in co-curricular activities and events, such as moot court competitions, criminal trial advocacy competition, client consultation competition, workshops, symposiums, exchange programs and so on.
Apart from being the Director, I am first and foremost a Professor. I teach subjects to Under Graduate as well as Post Graduate Students. I am part of the mentor-mentee program that is run at SLSP and each year have 10-15 student mentees. Any student is free to contact me via email to which I respond promptly. My cell number is available 24/7 and I practice open door policy. Students are also free to meet me on campus for any issues that they might face. Apart from this, an Open House is conducted for all batches once in each semester i.e. twice a year where any student is free to raise any grievance or seek clarification, which is recorded and action is taken within 7 working days.
Thoughts on an ideal school environment
A place where every student has an environment that is optimal for learning, the free market of ideas, fearlessness and overall development can be defined as an ideal school environment. Symbiosis Law School, Pune proudly hosts a large number of students from outside Maharashtra, thus enabling an environment of a mix of cultures and traditions from around the country. It is almost like a miniature India when students from Kashmir and Kerala sit in the same class with students from Manipur and Gujarat, or Delhi and West Bengal and so on. We make special efforts to make all of them feel at home. We celebrate all major religious festivals together and experience equally enthusiastic participation from the entire college in Ganesh Chaturthi and Saraswati puja as in Navratri and Christmas.
The students are also allowed to wear their traditional clothes on Wednesdays and Saturdays to celebrate their religion and culture, and one may usually spot a Keralite male student wearing Mundu and Melmundu; or a Naga student wearing her traditional shawl or a Punjabi student wearing a kurta pajama or a ghagra on one of these days. The college also hosts a special food festival on 31st July every year on account of the Chancellor, Dr. S.B. Mujumdar’s Birthday. For the purpose of international students, internationalization is in the very DNA of Symbiosis Law School and we can proudly say that we have carried it very well over these years. The college also has a Student advisory board, overseeing a large body of cells, committees and own team of leaders and class representatives. The Grievance Redressal Committee, as well as the student welfare committee, address the problems of students, thereby, making every possible effort that a guardian would make for his/her ward.
Provision for scholarships in the programs available at SLS Pune
The scholarships available at Symbiosis Law School are the UG Merit Scholarship, Central Sector SC/ST Scholarship, S.N. Gupta Scholarship, Ram Jethmalani Scholarship, S.K. Jain Scholarship, Shantanu Tomar Scholarship, Jayatee Deshmukh Scholarship, etc. Students can apply for these scholarships after taking admission in Symbiosis Law School, Pune if they meet the terms and conditions. In the last 10 years, we have disbursed around Rs. 2 crores.
Future plans in mind for SLS, Pune
SLS, Pune aspires for the following in next 5 years:
- To be among the top institutions of the world, to start with, in Asia; to tune into our university’s motto of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) and Founder Dr. S B Mujumdar’s vision of promoting international understanding through quality education (in our case, read as quality legal education).
- To set up various chairs and thrust research projects in niche areas of law with law labs and archives.
- To work as a think tank for national and international law community and to contribute towards legal education and law reforms.
- To establish centers of excellence in core areas of law under a consolidated research center weaving the strands of practice, research, and operation from a profession, judiciary, stakeholders and legal education together.
- To establish robust collaborations with foreign universities for further increasing student and faculty exchange programs as well as undertaking joint projects and research.
- To further strengthen the Community Legal Care Centre which will develop 24x7 helpline to provide legal aid, establish clinics in the field of business law, IP law, ADR, Family Law, Cyber Law, etc.
- Establish specialized skill centers and ADR center.
- Develop unique area study centers providing LL.M and research/practice specializations in European Legal Studies, Asian Legal Studies and African studies.
Suggestions for the youth of today
Legal education creates lawyers who serve the ends of justice. This role is performed not only in formal forums of dispute settlement, namely courts but also in other avenues such as governance, business, family, international interactions etc. In the core, it trains one in problem-solving and social equilibrium according to the rule of law. It is the only profession which is validated in the constitution. Be proud of your choice, make the best use of these learning years and also ensure that you contribute top-level human resource to the judiciary, legal practice, and businesses in India, and abroad guaranteeing efficiency and professionalism; thus defend justice and contribute to nation-development/human welfare. The youth should imbibe the true spirit of a lawyer- justice worker: nothing should be blindly accepted unless it conforms to logic and rationality.