Interview with Former Vice Chancellor of Royal University of Bhutan

VC Dasho Pema Thinley

Dasho, it is fascinating for the whole world to see you in a maroon robe. Since when did you think and choose to become a Buddhist monk? Why so at this age?

Thanks for your compliments. I was born into a Buddhist family in a Buddhist country. But as you get older you ask questions: What more is there? What’s there beyond? What is this life for? My interest in Buddhist practices increased after I turned 40. There is a famous Bhutanese saying “Jigten Machhi Damchoe Ma Lha”. A rough translation of the saying is “One shouldn’t be late for marrying and one shouldn’t hurry for practicing Dharma”. So I preferred to become a simple Buddhist monk late at this late age.

What was the path you took to get into mindfulness and meditation practices?

In 2003 when I was the Education secretary, one day I was travelling with the Education Minister Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, and I mentioned a 10-day Goenka Vipassana meditation course in Kolkata, India, that I would like to attend. The Minister said, “Something like this, if you wait, it will never happen. If I were you I’d drop everything and go.” So I found myself taking the Druk Air flight to Kolkata the next day. The 10-day intensive course really taught me a lot. I’ve even sent the directors and other heads of the colleges to the same retreat last summer, 2012.

Why didn’t you go for another term of extension from your superannuation?

I realized very much lately that Vice Chancellorship position is not my kind of job. The mission of our university is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest levels of excellence. Therefore, to be a VC, one must be of exceptional caliber with academic credibility, clear strategic vision, and outstanding leadership qualities, which I don’t have. Further a VC should have strong management skills and senior-level experience gained in a complex institution and the ability to bring them to bear in a democratic, self-governing university. One must be able to promote the university in a regional, national, and international context, and increase the financial resources available to the university because we just cannot depend on the fees collected from the students alone. But it is difficult for me to practice meditation with all those sorts of tasks, so I gave a careful thought on it not to request for another term of extension.

Have you ever thought of joining in politics?

This I would have done during the first time of our government election only, if I am stupid. But I was quite sure I had to be in Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup’s party, PDP and I knew that it’s going to lose badly, and it happened. So I decided not to join in politics. That’s also one reason why I have now become a monk because in this attire people will never encourage me to join in politics like retired Dasho Jigme Zangpo. Mindfulness and meditations practices really helped me to hide myself from pretending not to take up interests in politics as well as the continuation of my previous job at RUB despite my weaknesses in leadership and management.

What were some of the achievements during your tenure as a VC of the RUB?

  • Transformation of RUB into an autonomous body, detached from RCSC. I don’t know anything clearly with regard to the autonomicity of RUB, ask Academic Director Mr. Yangka, if you have any further questions. I think you might have observed this during a live interview at BBS.
  • Gave discourses on mindfulness and meditation practices in the colleges although students and staffs used to start yawning the moment I begin with them. They were of course not interested to take up such discourses.
  • Initiated to design a curriculum on GNH, which the concept itself is somewhat abstract and difficult to make it materialistic in books and papers.

How many qualified professors and researchers were there in the RUB during your tenure?

There was not even a single professor in the RUB and I think still not. There used to be a few researchers but not that competent at an international level. There were around five PhD holders including myself, and none of us could take initiatives on organizing research activities. Every one of us rather chose to become a dean, a director, a HR officer or a VC. Funniest thing I’ve ever noticed during my tenure is that the people who have no research experiences were appointed as research deans.

What advice you would give for a future VC?

A university is a strange place to manage; academic staff have loyalties to their university and their discipline, the latter often being the stronger. A person like me just focusing on mindfulness and mediation alone fails to distinguish and justify these two. Often I used to favour people who are pretending to be loyal to the university and became blind to those who sincerely dedicate on academic disciplines in the classrooms for their students. It’s important to balance between these two by giving equal opportunities to all the academicians for leaderships such as directors, deans, head of departments, representatives, etc on a rotation basis, after every one-two years. This is the only way we could make our teaching job ever green.

Nowadays, someone has to lead the articulation of a clear vision to inform spending priorities, toil night and day to achieve maximum staff buy-in to that vision and then get on with the even harder task of inculcating the teamwork that will be necessary to make the vision a reality. The job also requires a Herculean capacity for handling stress such as the consequences of the introduction of top-up fees and, should this result in fewer students at their institutions, how to best underpin any jobs threatened.


Contributed by Tashi using our anonymous system.




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  1. Who is this person? When did he get work as a Vice Chancellor of RUB?