Prof. R. C. Sobti’s association with academia – as a teaching assistant in 1974 to the Vice Chancellorship of one of the top ten universities in India – spans close to four decades. His contribution as a ground-breaking biotechnologist, skilled orator, efficient administrator and futuristic Vice-Chancellor has won him accolades at both the national and the international levels a fact recognized by the Government of India while honoring him with the Padma Shree in 2009.
Achievements as an Academician: Professor Sobti began his teaching career in the Department of Zoology, Panjab University in 1976 and went on to become the founder-Chairperson of the Biotechnology Department as a Professor of Cell Biology. Currently he has over 246 publications and 22 books to his credit. His research work, particularly in the areas of Cancer and Environmental Biology, has more than 1100 citations with an 18 H factor (Citation gadget) and has seen him head or be a part of the editorial boards of respected national and international journals such as Molecular Cell Biochemistry, Cytology and Genetics, Indian Journal of Human Genetics etc. He has also been awarded over 23 joint and independent projects by the UGC, CSIR, ICMR, DOE, DBT for policy-driven research in genetic markers and cancer-environment linkages.
From receiving the INSA Young Scientist Medal over three decades ago, Prof Sobti has now moved on to being nominated a Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy along with fellowships of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medical Science, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Indian Society of Cytologists & Geneticists et al. He has recently been awarded the D.Sc. degree as notified by Himachal Pradesh University and has also been elected General President, Indian Science Congress Association for the 101st Session 2013-2014.
Achievements as an Administrator: Under his nine-year tenure as the Chairperson, the Biotechnology Dept grew to be an internationally recognized centre even at a time when the study of this discipline was in its infancy.
Besides serving as a member of various committees of the UGC, Prof. Sobti is also an Executive Committee member of NAAC and a part time Director of the National Research Development Organization. Earlier, he has officiated as the University Dean, Alumni Relations, Dean Foreign Students, Hon. Director UGC Academic Staff College, besides coordinating the University-Industry Interaction Cell and the Centre for Vocational Studies.
Experience gained during the above tenures was brought into play by Prof. Sobti during his Vice Chancellorship of Panjab University, beginning 23rd July, 2006. The last five-odd years have seen the University progress at an accelerated pace, chalking many firsts to its credit – research grants totaling over 80 crore; central funding of over 300 crore; introduction of more than 65 industry-oriented courses; creation of the post of Dean Research; establishment of chairs to promote both contemporary and traditional thought; across-the-board introduction of the semester system and the groundwork for the choice based open-credit system in keeping with UGC guidelines; ICT-driven administrative reforms, particularly with reference to examinations, hallmarked degrees and Central Information Management Modules for greater work efficiency and transparency.
Transparency, in fact has been the lodestone of Prof. Sobti’s Vice Chancellorship as all decisions are routed through duly-constituted committees and implemented after Senate/Syndicate approval meetings of which are held strictly as per the provisions of the University Calendar.
Achievements as a Humanitarian: In recognizing that a University is more than just a cluster of brick and mortar cemented with the ink of academia, Prof. Sobti focused on creating a world class academic infrastructure and a conducive work environment for research while at the same time safeguarding the principle of equity by ensuring that education remained both inclusive and affordable. Affirmative action was taken by establishing Regional Centres and Constituent Colleges in rural areas; creation of special seats for the Single Girl Child, Cancer, AIDS and Thallasemia patients, not just on campus but also in the 188 affiliated colleges; and free education for orphans and specially-abled students.
Special focus was laid on Distance Education, starting with changing the nomenclature of the Dept of Correspondence Studies to the University School of Open Learning and moving on to an entire structural-functional transformation that resulted in a quantum jump in enrolments.
He also spearheaded the move to adopt 8 peripheral villages of Chandigarh in order to improve their socio-health profile through the organization of computer literacy, language proficiency, health and hygiene workshops. Jyotirgmaya 91.2 MHz, a community radio station was set up on campus to provide an empowering platform for lesser-privileged sections of society. The setting up of an Educational Multi-media Research Centre is under process for the production of socio-cultural docudramas to be telecast on Gyan Darshan as also for EDUSAT-linked teaching and learning hubs. NGO collaborations have been set up for providing the services of University students to educate the under-privileged children. A Senior Citizen Home too is on the anvil.
Acutely attuned to the importance of environment because of his work in cancer biology, Prof. Sobti ensured that the 50% ratio of green cover to concrete remains undisturbed on campus. Uninhabited tracts of land were developed into gardens with budgetary provisions for water harvesting and the campus was declared a smoke-free and polythene-free zone.