Karnataka Today’s Managing Editor Brian Fernandes has a wide ranging chat with the new Vice Chancellor of the Mangalore University, Prof. P. Subrahmanya Yadapadithaya, and comes away impressed with his determination, innovative and progressive thought processes.
The truth is always better, if not stranger than fiction. It is no coincidence that a 1st Rank achiever and Gold Medallist in M.Com, and a PhD from the Mangalore University itself, and a son of the local soil (undivided Dakshina Kannada) - He hails from Kokkada in Puttur Taluk - Prof. P. Subrahmanya Yadapadithaya, was named as the 9th Vice-Chancellor of the Mangalore University. He is the first local educationist to assume the position in the almost 40-year history of the University. He assumed charge on June 3rd this year. He will hold the position for a term of four years.
Indeed, when the announcement was made, there was joy, not only in the University but across the undivided DK District. Said a peer who teaches in one of the colleges of University and who wishes to remain anonymous, "It is a matter of great joy for all of us in the teaching profession under the University. Prof. P. S. Yadapadithaya has been in the teaching profession for a long time, nearly 35 years plus I think, and he has held a lot of administrative positions in the University itself. Therefore he knows the issues that plague the university and our concerns as teachers. Now he is in a position to address them, and given his track record, I am sure he will".
Speaking to the media soon after assumption of office, Prof. Yadapadithaya echoed that sentiment. He said that he will use his hands-on experience at the University to make constructive changes in the University. “I have been working at the university; I have an in-depth knowledge of the problems. Measures will be taken to check unwanted expenditure at the University. “All the initiatives taken up by the earlier vice-chancellors will be continued. Changes will be brought in teaching and non-teaching faculties,” he stated.
Prof. Yadapadithaya’s appointment came about a full one year after the 8th Vice-Chancellor Prof. Dr. K. Byrappa demitted office. At the time of the announcement, Prof. Dr. PS Yadapadithaya was serving as the Registrar of the university, having held that position for 3 years and two months. Earlier, he had served the university, uncharacteristically I must say, as its finance officer (a role not normally handed over to the faculty of the university - a testimony to his academic and administrative calibre - for three and half years and was also Registrar (Evaluation) for 2 years and nine months.
Three and a half months into his current role, Prof. Yadapadithaya was the keynote speaker at the Foundation Day celebrations of the University College in Mangaluru (Formerly famous as the Government College, Mangalore). My colleagues and I were at these celebrations held on the 20th of September 2019 at the Principal, Dr. Uday Kumar’s invitation. Having read the previous pieces in this magazine, the reader will be aware that the University College, one of the two constituent colleges of the Mangalore University, (the other one being the Field Marshal Cariappa College in Madikeri) was celebrating its sesquicentennial year of service to society. Conscious of the heritage of the college and the auspiciousness of the occasion, Prof. Yadapadithaya, made a powerful plea for change in attitudes and discipline even as he maintained that traditions and heritage must be respected and valued. The speech was impressive and gave me an insight into his thought process.
At our request, he took time out from his busy schedule to visit our offices the next morning, right after delivering the keynote address at a national conference on People Management: Issues and Concerns - his pet subject, having specialized in it at the PG level and schooled himself in it ever after - at Roshni Nilaya. At our studios we had a long and wide-ranging chat that left me gasping for more - such was the impact of his thoughts, experiences, and words.
What impressed me most about Dr. Yadapadithaya was his humility, his capacity to put things in perspective, his optimism, his dynamism and his ability to question - in the quest for knowledge - everything from tradition (some say it’s the peer pressure of the dead) to the status quo (which some say is the peer pressure of the living!).
Prof. Yadapadithaya comes from a very humble background. Born into a lower middle-class agricultural cum priestly family in Kokkada village in Puttur taluk, to Narayan and Bhavani Yadapadithaya (both deceased), he was destined from the start for greatness. Narrating how he came by his name he said, "I was christened at the Kukke Shree Subrahmanya Temple, and at the time the Archak told my father that he would like to see me serve the temple and that's how my father came to name me Subrahmanya; the initial P stands for Paalale (my house name) and my surname, Yadapadithaya comes from a village temple Yadapady (according to my grandfather, my forefathers were priests at the temple). But in the end that was not to be.
Prof. Yadapadithaya did his schooling up to class 7 at the government school in Kokkada, often walking barefoot to and from school 2 km away from his dwelling. While there was nothing on his feet and very little on his body by way of clothes, given his humble circumstances, there was a lot going on in his brilliant mind. He questioned everything and his knowledge grew. "Unconsciously I was preparing for a life as a teacher - questioning everything and expecting the unexpected". I asked him the inevitable question - You like to question, but as a teacher, do you mind being questioned by your students? "Of course", he said, "I love it, and it brings out the best in me!” Curious about a fundamental that we had not touched upon, I asked, “How did you take up teaching in the first place? “I was serving in a temporary teaching post at the university and I turned down a probationary officer’s selection in the State Bank of India to stay with it. That’s how much I liked it!” Indeed. He has been a teacher now for close on 38 years!
As his knowledge grew, he became more determined to be like the ones he admired - the suave, knowledgeable, compassionate and humble human beings that occasionally visited the government school at which he studied. He moved away from the family expectations of becoming a priest in the family tradition and went to Dharmasthala to further his studies up to his graduation; He stayed there first at his uncle's house, and then lived alone for the first time in his life. This stay in Dharmasthala, he told me, gave him his cultural tethers and taught him reliance - including cooking, which even his college friends demanded of him (he excelled at everything he did!) - Which stood him in good stead as he moved on in life.
"Surviving is different from living gracefully", he said, "and my years at high school and college in Dharmasthala taught me to live gracefully". Today he is the only educated one, and highly educated one at that, among his five siblings; this he put down to his thirst for knowledge and his determination to succeed, no matter the obstacles that came in the way. "I came from a humble background, from a village and studied in Kannada medium up to SSLC; all the three conditions did not hinder my progress, in fact they acted as a trigger and made me what I am today, a self-made man", he proudly told me.
Prof. Yadapadithaya did his post-doctoral research as a commonwealth scholar at the Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, Central UK. How did you tackle the cultural differences I asked him? "I faced both the cultural clash and the reverse cultural clash when I returned after a year with equanimity learned from living away from my family at an early age. Yes, I found things very different there - the way they teach, their communication methodologies, and the way they relate to you, but I believe I adapted very well. There's a lot we can learn when we travel and the lesson is, when in Rome, be a Roman". But he admitted, "there's no place like home - the crowds, the smells, the traffic snarls, the diversity, the warmth and everything that makes India, India, especially the food. In fact, during my stay there I often recalled the Masala Dosa of Woodlands hotel and coffee of Tajmahal!". Ah Wah Taj!
Being an educationist and the Vice-Chancellor of the Mangalore University, and given our youthful demographics, aren’t you concerned about the unemployment data that is emerging from the Government's own data banks? No, was the firm reply. "There is no unemployment; Employability is what concerns me". He went on to explain: “There are three E's relating to unemployment - Education, Employability and Employment. The third E depends on the second E, while the second E depends on the first. Our concern here is the second E, and for that we will have to remedy the first E, through changes in pedagogy, syllabus and industry-university partnerships to ensure better employability”.
“There is huge difference between Qualifications which are document-based Academic Credentials, and Competencies, which include Knowledge - Domain-specific application-oriented knowledge; Attitude - Positive Attitude through self-awareness and soul searching - I can, so I will; and Skill Sets - upskilling to meet current skill requirements (technical, conceptual, cognitive and life skills) through continuous learning. Academic syllabuses should change every year but at least once in three years". Is that practical given the systemic constraints, I asked. "Yes there are obstacles, both bureaucratic and from the teaching fraternity itself, but with determination it can be done and it will be done".
Ok, so that's on the academic side, what are your goals going beyond academics Dr. Yadapadithaya? He replied with a sense of purpose. "At the end of my four-year term as the Vice-Chancellor of the Mangalore University, my goal is to leave the campus an eco-friendly campus".
As we all know, eco-friendliness is more of a slogan than a DIY methodology and so I asked him how he planned to do it. He said he will adopt a four-pronged approach to achieve his goal. "First, take the existing rain harvesting system to the next level within the campus and at all the 210 affiliated colleges. Second - Solid Waste Management - collaborate with Konaje Grama Panchayat to collect, segregate and recycle waste on a piece of land belonging to the university, which has already been identified; third - set up a Waste Water Treatment plant that can generate safe water for flushing and gardening both within the campus and in the surrounding hamlets; fourth - erect a compound wall across the university campus, and introduce CCTV surveillance to ensure the safety of people and property within the campus. This will help us reroute public transport outside the campus and ensure that campus mobility is only through eco-friendly means - either cycles’ or electric buggies like campuses abroad.
As with all things Prof. Yadpadithaya, there was a clincher. "All students admitted from this year onwards will have to plant a sapling within their department in the campus, and nurture it for as long as he/she studies on the campus. It will be barcoded for easy identification and an emotional connect between the student, the plant, and the University". Wow, what an idea Sirji! I believe if all campuses in the country adopt this method of greening our planet, we will make progress in our fight against climate change!
Time to relax!
With the hard questions answered, it was time for leisure. So what do you do in your leisure time Dr. Yadapadithaya? More work? I asked in jest. But he answered with intent. "In my current avatar as Vice-Chancellor of the Mangalore University, I am on the job almost 16 hours a day, Sunday or no Sunday", he told me. "But I have two secrets: Whenever I travel, whether on business or pleasure, I carry a small notebook and a pen in my pocket, and as I observe, and I think; from this thinking process, I get ideas of what is possible, and perhaps, how to make the impossible possible. Immediately I scribble down that idea in my notebook. Later when I find time I develop that idea, incubating it, and expanding on it. At that stage, a page is not enough!
“I’ll tell you a second secret”, he continued. Whenever I find time to forget, I forget my job, my family, my role, everything, including myself - that's when I sit back and really really relax. I don't want end up with burn out. But I don't get much time for this nowadays”. And as is his wont there was a stress-busting clincher: "At the end of the day I laugh at myself.... in private of course; it teaches me humility". Undeniably, I have never met a more humble individual before.
Prof. Dr. P.S. Yadapadithaya had the last word of our tête-à-tête: "My philosophy is inspired by Sadhguru: Never react; respond. I answer my critics through my deeds. Talk less, listen more; perform better and don’t give up is my mantra".
I have a lot to learn. And I won’t give up. This much I know.
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