Professor Sunaina Singh, vice-chancellor of English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad | Photo: A Radhakrishna
Taking on the reins of a young university is a challenge in itself, and a shift from academic role to administrative is a huge change for die-hard educators. Professor Sunaina Singh, vice-chancellor of English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, battled mixed emotions when she took charge in May. The former HoD of English at Osmania University admits it has been a tough role to play. “It is a five-year-old university and was headed by a vice-chancellor in-charge for two years. The challenge I face is to build on the narrative of the institute,” she says.
Singh, who completed a postgraduate diploma in English Language Teaching (ELT) from EFLU (then known as Central Institute of English and Foreign languages (CIEFL)) in 1983, believes there is a need to look ahead rather than attempt to recreate the good old days. “Those who have been students at the university are nostalgic about CIEFL’s legacy. However, now that the institute has been converted to a central university in its own right, there is a need to redefine its role rather than reclaim the old CIEFL of the past,” says Sunaina, who has been in talks with the state government to acquire land near Hyderabad for the university. “By virtue of its status as a university, our student strength has increased from 300 to nearly 2,000. It becomes our responsibility to provide facilities for students including infrastructure like hostel accommodation,” observes Singh.
As an educator involved in classroom teaching, dealing with students on issues concerning them in an administrative capacity has been an enriching experience for Prof Singh. “My first love remains teaching. However, there is a need to strike a balance between both. At the end of the day, the main task of a university is not disseminating knowledge but producing knowledge,” she says.
The former president of Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute in New Delhi was in love with literature from childhood. “My brothers and I grew up in an environment where we were encouraged to read, think and voice our opinions freely. We would exchange notes on movies, arts and music, apart from literature. Not only English classics such as (TS) Eliot and Robert Browning were favoured but Indian writers like Sharat Chandra Chatterji and Munshi Premchand also created an impression on me,” says the vice-chancellor.
Since she is the daughter of Professor Satyanarayan Singh, former head and founder of department of English at Kakatiya University, Warangal, she got the chance to get upclose with writers and poets like Nissim Ezekiel, Mulk Raj Anand and Kavi Pradeep, who visited her home. “My father has been by mentor. Though he never pushed me to choose a certain field, it was a natural choice for my career,” says the professor, who was awarded the Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship in 1984 for her doctoral research and was the gold-medalist in MA at Kakatiya University.
For someone who specialises in women’s writing, post-colonial comparative literature and South Asian diaspora, Singh enjoys dabbling in philosophy. “I enjoy tracing the goings-on in the philosophical circle as it provides a lens through which one can look at the world. My interests vary from Thomas Paine to Nietzsche as well as Indian philosophy as embodied in the Upanishads,” she says. Singh is an avid reader and follows modern Indian writers like Rushdie, Chitra Divakaruni and Anita Rau Badami.
Her agenda now is to broaden the horizons of her alma mater. “We have plans to introduce a department of Nordic languages at the university apart from the regional centres coming up in Kerala and Haryana,” she says.