Students and teachers at Jawaharlal Nehru University are engaged in a constant battle against 'arbitrary' decisions taken by Vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar. And now, several eminent retired professors have condemned the "unacceptably arrogant conduct from the university administration".
"We see no reason why the administration should be allowed to direct university affairs in total disregard of students and teachers, who are the lifeblood of the institution," said a statement issued on 1 January, 2017 by 15 retired professors, including renowned historians Romila Thapar and Tanika Sarkar, who expressed "shock and dismay at recent developments in the university".
They slammed the JNU administration for its actions during a controversial 26 December Academic Council (AC) meeting, the subsequent suspension of 11 Dalit-Bahujan students, and a letter threatening disciplinary action against professors for addressing a group of students in a public meeting.
"We are informed that an Academic Council meeting that was held in unprecedented fashion in the midst of the winter vacation, was not allowed to discuss the most important issues raised in the agenda, which were then declared to be passed without justification," said the statement.
Questioning the suspension of 11 Dalit-Bahujan students on charges of 'disrupting' the meeting, they compared the punishment with the 'casual and cavalier approach' towards the assaulters of Najeeb Ahmed - a JNU student who's been missing since 15 October after being beaten up by ABVP members.
The 11 students were protesting outside the meeting venue against the adoption of a University Grants Commission notification that changes criteria for admissions to M Phil / Ph D by treating written exams as 'qualifying' and giving 100% weightage to oral interviews or 'viva-voce', wherein students have consistently been alleging discrimination. They entered the convention centre at the end of the meeting.
"Some students, who apparently entered the hall and shouted slogans after the Academic Council (AC) meeting was over, have been suspended without any inquiry," the statement said.
"This is in marked contrast to the casual and cavalier approach towards other students, who were guilty of physical violence against a student who has since been missing for more than two months."
After being indicted by a proctorial inquiry, the students accused of beating up Najeeb were given the token punishment of a change of hostel. On the other hand, for 11 Dalit-Bahujan students, hostel facilities have also been withdrawn.
Disciplinary action against Nivedita Menon
Further, the retired professors castigated the administration for issuing a letter threatening disciplinary action against Nivedita Menon for addressing a group of students during a public meeting on 28 December outside the administrative block, citing a rule that bans any form of protest within 20 metres of the administrative and academic complexes.
"Very distinguished members of the faculty who talked to the students subsequently have received humiliating letters of warning threatening disciplinary action and saying that they had violated rules by talking to students in an open meeting," the statement read.
Teachers present at the AC meeting had also alleged that the minutes of the last AC meeting were manipulated to include items that were never discussed - including one that gives the V-C the power to nominate experts of his choice to the selection committee that appoints professors.
"We are also saddened to hear allegations of distortion of minutes of statutory bodies of the university, even with respect to matters with significant implications for its functioning, a matter which has been raised by many members of the council," the statement added.
The professors urged the Executive Council, which gives final approval to decisions taken by the AC, to intervene in the matter.
Speaking to Catch, Menon said: "By now, it is more than clear that this V-C has come with an agenda to destroy JNU. Within a week of him taking over, the police were on campus to arrest students."
Menon, who teaches political thought at the School of International Studies, was referring to the arrest of three students for allegedly shouting 'anti-national' slogans during a 9 February, 2016 cultural event.
"The V-C is now trying to control both the selection of students and the selection of faculty, as shown by the decisions that were arbitrarily passed by him at this AC meeting, without even considering the opinion of the members," Menon said.
Regarding the letter issued to her on 30 December, she said: "The space around the administrative block has always been used for public meetings, protest demonstrations, and the like. All these years, we were not violating any rules. It is ridiculous that the administration is threatening action against professors for addressing their own students in an open space inside the campus."
Jayati Ghosh, who teaches economics at the School of Social Sciences, said: "The V-C is blatantly trampling over all established procedures and democratic norms. Additions were made to the minutes of an AC meeting, which is simply not allowed. Then students get suspended for entering a meeting venue after the meeting is over, even if they were shouting slogans. And then professors get threatened for speaking to students?"
She said the recent events at JNU were worrisome: "In my 31 years in the university, I have never experienced anything like this. The present government has launched a full-fledged attack on all public universities. JNU so far has not succumbed, so the attack has intensified."
Regarding the adoption of the UGC notification to make viva-voce the sole criteria for M Phil / Ph D. admissions, Menon said it violated principles of social justice.
For four decades now, JNU has been awarding deprivation points to students from marginalised sections and backward regions as part of its social justice and affirmative action policy. But the new criteria does not take social background into account.
Besides, students have long alleged discrimination against students from disadvantaged sections during viva-voce, and had been demanding that the weightage given to these interviews be reduced. The university's Viva Committee had even recommended the reduction of viva weightage from 30 to 15 marks at its meeting on 4 November.
Menon also said universities had the autonomy to not blindly adopt UGC notifications and demand clarifications, but even discussion on the issue had not been allowed in the AC meeting.
"This shows the intention to gradually end social justice programmes in JNU, so that only a certain class of people can access education," she said.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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