A day after teachers at the Jawaharlal Nehru University accused the vice chancellor of "manipulating" the minutes of an earlier Academic Council meeting to give himself more powers in faculty appointment, the university administration Tuesday suspended eight students for "disrupting" Monday's AC meeting.
Among those suspended is Rahul Sonpimple of the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association who contested the election to the presidentship of the JNU Students Union earlier this year and finished a close second to Mohit Kumar Pandey of All India Students' Association. Since then, Sonpimple has emerged as an important voice in Dalit student politics.
On Monday evening, a group of 19 professors and AC members issued a press statement slamming the vice chancellor, M Jagadesh Kumar, for "violating democratic norms" at the AC meeting held that day, passing agenda items without discussion and manipulating the minutes of the previous AC meeting held in October.
"One of the most alarming insertions to the minutes gave the Vice Chancellor powers to manipulate the list of experts for Selection Committees sent by the Centres and Schools. This had not been approved by the previous Academic Council meeting," the statement read.
The VC can now nominate experts of his choice to the selection committees that appoint professors.
"The repeated tampering of minutes has become a serious problem that is affecting the functioning of the university and is against all procedural norms," the teachers' statement read.
But a university official claimed the VC had this "discretionary" power since 1997, when it was "approved by the AC and the executive council".
Towards the end of the AC meeting, a group of students entered the convention centre, where the meet was being held, to protest some contentious decisions taken by the council.
The students belonged to various campus organisations, including the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students' Association, Democratic Students' Union, United OBC Forum and Students' Front for Swaraj
"After the Vice Chancellor got up to leave the meeting, a group of students entered the hall shouting slogans. This occurred after the Vice Chancellor was already near the exit," said the teachers' statement.
On the other hand, the JNU administration, in its own press statement, blamed some teachers and students for "disrupting" the meeting.
"A handful of faculty members tried their best to disrupt the meeting by constantly shouting when the chairperson was speaking," this statement claimed. "Towards the end of the meeting, someone from this group called in the students parked outside in protests (sic)," it went on. "A group of unruly students broke open the latch of the room after thumping the door, came inside and began to shout slogans. The meeting at this time was over and necessary decisions had been taken by a large number of members who participated in the discussion."
On Tuesday, eight of the protesting students were suspended and their hostel facilities withdrawn. Two former students were "identified" as well.
"Immediate action has been taken against the students who disrupted the AC meeting. A proctorial committee has been set up to conduct enquiry into the incident," a university official told Catch on the condition of anonymity.
The students were mainly protesting against the AC's decision to adopt the notification issued by the University Grants Commission on 5 May, whereby interviews or "viva voce" will be the main criteria for admission to M Phil and PhD courses while written exams will be treated simply as qualifying exams.
Students have alleged discrimination in viva voce marking in the past as well, and demanded that the weightage given to these interviews be reduced. Based on this feedback, the university's Viva Committee recommended reduction of viva weightage from 30 to 15 marks at its meeting on 4 November.
JNU rector Chintamani Mahapatra, however, told Catch, "This is a mandatory UGC policy that has to be adopted by all universities. There was no scope for a debate or discussion on this."
As for the VC nominating experts to the selection committee, he said, "This decision was approved by the AC and the executive council in 1997. In fact, all VCs at all universities can nominate one or two additional members to the committee that selects faculty. Even in JNU, this power has been exercised by previous VCs."
Another senior university official alleged that the teachers who protested at the AC meeting were "politically and ideologically motivated", and wanted to "misrepresent and dictate the minutes of the meeting".
"It is the norm that official minutes of the AC meeting are prepared by the registrar and circulated for approval in the next meeting," he said.
But the teachers claimed they had informed the registrar and the VC about the "misrepresentations" in writing before the meeting was held. "However, the Vice Chancellor abruptly stopped the discussion on this item, refused to accept the removal of the wrongly inserted sentence and declared the minutes passed," they said in the press statement.
"After this, he tried to push through all the remaining agenda items without any discussion despite several objections from the floor, including by those who were not allowed to speak even once."
"A large number of Academic Council members stood up in protest, but the Registrar hurriedly read a part of the agenda, which no one could hear amidst the protests, and the Vice Chancellor announced that all items were passed," their statement added.
The teachers said they were "shocked and dismayed at the manner in which the Vice Chancellor has conducted the 142nd Academic Council meeting of December 23rd (adjourned to December 26th)".
The JNUSU also issued a press statement condemning the suspension of the eight students.
The union said the JNU administration in Monday's press release had "itself said that the VC already declared all the agenda items passed when a group of students entered inside the convention centre".
"If the AC meeting was already over as the university itself has stated, then how can it allege the students of disruption? (sic)."