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JNU orders enquiry against professor, cites YouTube video as evidence

Praneta Jha | Updated on: 12 February 2017, 11:07 IST

Using a YouTube video as "evidence", the highest statutory body of the Jawaharlal Nehru University has ordered an enquiry against teachers who "violated university rules" by addressing students outside the Administration Block on the campus.

The "rules" in question prohibit any form of protest demonstration within 20 meters of the "Administration and Academic complexes".

Last November, in the aftermath of protests over student Najeeb Ahmed's disappearance, the administration banned all protests in the area citing an existing statute, although generations of students have used the steps to the building and the open space around it as a protest site.

Also Read: Amid protests against V-C, JNU passes contentious rules for M Phil/PhD students

A video recording of Prof Nivedita Menon speaking at a protest meeting in the area was shown at the Executive Council's meeting on 3 January. It was at the same meeting, that the EC passed other controversial decisions, including changes in the admission policy, which students and teachers have since been protesting, to little effect.

On 10 January, the administration sent letters to five faculty members, including Prof Menon, "requesting" them to not participate in protest demonstrations in the "prohibited" area.

The next day, the JNU Teachers' Association declared war against the vice chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar's "policy of intimidation" in a press statement titled 'Statement against Administrative Threat'.

The teachers allege that "the moves by the Administration are aimed at discouraging colleagues from speaking against the covert and overt attempts to alter the progressive admission policy of JNU".

Without naming Menon, the statement condemned "the use of selective and unauthenticated video footage" against faculty members in statutory body meetings.

A JNU official confirmed the video, uploaded to YouTube by "one of Menon's admirers", was the basis of action against the professor, whose outspoken criticism of the government as well as the JNU administration has invited attacks in the past as well. The impending enquiry will also look into "allegations" of some other teachers violating the rules.

On 30 December, Prof Menon had received a caution notice threatening disciplinary action if she addressed a crowd in the area again. "In the video, she was seen making fun of the notice and the university rules," said a JNU official, speaking anonymously. The video appears to have been removed from YouTube now.

The official said the video had been shown "in order to substantiate the allegation that some teachers had been violating university rules by speaking and organising in a prohibited area of the campus."

"This is an old rule," he said, covered under 'Norms of Functioning for the Components of the University Community {Academic Rules and Regulations Etc, JNU M7(6)}'.

JNUTA secretary Professor Bikramaditya Chaudhary said, "Selectively using an unverified YouTube video to defame and attack a teacher during a statutory body meeting shows the administration has stooped to new lows. I can't imagine any university doing this."

When contacted, Prof Menon said, "My supposed violation seems laughable when compared to the mammoth violation of all kinds of rules by the VC and the administration itself. They are no position to claim that rules were violated by faculty members."

As for the enquiry committee to be set up against her, she said, "This makes no sense. And who is this anonymous official who is telling the media and breaching EC confidentiality? Is that in itself not a violation?"

The JNUTA statement also raised the issue of "unethical and illegal recording of activities of faculty and students by JNU administration".

Prof Chaudhary told Catch that for the past few months, the administration had been secretly recording on video the meetings between the faculty and the vice chancellor.

"Last November, we found out that a meeting between the teachers and the VC had been recorded without our knowledge, so the JNUTA wrote to the registrar to share the footage with us," he said. "The IT Act requires that when any formal meeting is recorded, consent of the attendees is mandatory and the raw footage must be shared with them. But the footage has still not been shared."

Also Read: Retired professors join JNU students & teachers' battle against 'arrogant' V-C

Since Jagadesh Kumar took over as VC, the university has seen a stormy time, beginning from the February 9 sedition row that led to the arrest of three students for allegedly shouting "anti-national" slogans.

On October 15, a first-year Master's student Najeeb Ahmed went missing after being assaulted by ABVP members in his hostel the night before. Despite a proctorial committee finding the accused ABVP members guilty, no action was taken against them. They were merely shifted from hostel to another, while there is no trace of Najeeb till date.

In the past few months, many teachers have alleged that the VC has "come with an agenda to destroy JNU", and wants to control the "selection of faculty and selection of students".

After an Academic Council meeting held on 26 December last year, 19 teachers had issued a statement accusing the VC of "violating democratic norms" and bulldozing major changes without approval of the AC members.

Jagadesh Kumar had passed important agenda items without discussion, and "manipulated" the minutes of the previous AC meeting held in October to include items that were never discussed, the teachers said.

Even as teachers and students demanded that the AC meeting be reconvened, the council's contentious decisions were given final approval by the EC.

Important changes include the VC getting more power in the selection of faculty and changes in the M Phil/PhD admission rules.

Eleven students were suspended for protesting against the AC decision to adopt a UGC notification that changes the M Phil/PhD criteria, giving complete weightage to oral interviews and treating written examinations as "qualifying" only.

For years, students had demanded a reduction in viva weightage, alleging discrimination against those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

While the protesting students remain suspended, the administration has allowed nine of them to go ahead with an "interim registration" until the disciplinary committee submits its report in the matter. The other two were already "de-registered", the administration had claimed.

The eleven students were accused of "disrupting" the meeting as they entered the venue shouting slogans, though only after the meeting was over.

The JNUTA has also announced a series of Public Lectures on "Democratising Social Justice" from 18 January to 25 January "to give a clear message that teachers of JNU would not be cowed down by threats and intimidation".

Announcing a one-day strike on 17 January, the JNUTA said it "would like to reiterate its position that it will oppose all efforts to intimidate, threaten or persecute individuals including teachers and students from any institution across the world which is done to silence voices of dissent".

Meanwhile, the administration has continued issuing a slew of show-cause notices to students as well for organising protests outside the Administration Block.

Also Read: JNU again: Protest against VC Jagadesh Kumar gets 8 students suspended

First published: 14 January 2017, 9:50 IST