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Teachers: Stop systematic destruction of JNU

Teachers: Stop systematic destruction of JNU

by The Daily Eye News Desk March 2 2021, 1:26 pm Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins, 18 secs

A press conference was held on 1st March 2021, to reiterate as to why the destruction is unsustainably dangerous for a public university that has consistently ranked first in the country – The Daily Eye Newsdesk 

JNUTA has been regularly writing to the authorities on the systematic destruction of the university that has been happening since 2016 but to no avail. It was said that the five-year term of the Vice Chancellor came to end on 26th January 2021. However, on 22 January, he was already granted permission to continue till a new Vice chancellor would be selected. Further as per reports in media, it is being confirmed that delays are to be expected.   

What media reported, according to the teachers - that only one Rector was present at the EC meetings, which were held on 23rd July and 7th September 2020, to finalize the names of the Search Committee, is not true as all the three Rectors were present. Prof. Jagadesh Kumar, as the Chairperson of the Executive Council, must be made accountable for this mess, is what was stated at the press meeting - because it was under his direction that the procedure for nomination of names of members of the Search Committee by the Executive Council of JNU was changed. And, the purpose of holding the press conference by JNUTA was to explicitly communicate to the Ministry of Education that delay of any kind would only aid to destroy further the unique character of the university. These are issues that are fundamental to the governance of all universities, but more so for an institution like JNU. 

JNUTA further went to say, that the autonomy of the University to frame its own rules must be guarded. The JNU Act and its statutes have helped the university to create a unique system of teaching and learning. The statutory bodies such as the Board of Studies, the Academic Council and the Executive Council were responsible for chalking out the academic calendar, deliberating upon new teaching programs, finalizing courses, selection committee panels etc. The irony is that all these bodies continue to be there, but they function in a sub-optimal manner – important decisions related to the University have been taken without substantial deliberations in these statutory bodies. 

It’s important to note that, various constituencies-faculty, students, and non-teaching staff have filed nearly over 150 legal cases against the Vice Chancellor and his administration between the periods 2016-2021. In majority of these, the university has been found to commit illegality. It's the VC and not the university that has autonomy in JNU today. 

Some of the decisions, according to the statement of JNUTA, have been taken arbitrarily by the VC to deliberately weaken the existing system of academic governance and they are the following: 

  1. Arbitrary appointments of Chairpersons of the Centres and Deans of Schools and not on the basis of past practices that took cognizance of seniority: Through an order passed on 27.4.2018 in W.P.(C) 3462/2018, the Delhi High Court reinstated one Dean and four chairpersons who had illegally been removed by the Vice Chancellor for not agreeing to a decision to impose mandatory attendance for students. In another case, dated 29.07.2019 in W.P. (C) 8168/2019, the High Court set aside the Vice Chancellor’s order of 18.2.2019 appointing the Chairperson of the Centre of Linguistics and directed the JNU Executive Council to appoint a new Chairperson “in accordance with practice and the law”. This meant appointment from within the Professors of the Centre by following the principle of rotation by order of seniority. In yet another case of appointment, the Delhi High Court ruled on 25.08.2020 in W.P.(C) 5540/2020 & CM APPL 19962/2020, that in the appointment of the Dean as Chairperson in a Centre where he was not a faculty: “No substantive decision will be taken by him which could affect the functioning of the Centre, be it apropos the academic syllabus, faculty or personnel to be appointed/retained and/or the technology to be engaged, etc.” 
  2. Appointment of Selection Committee experts without informing the Centres. 
  3. Introduction of the New Programs and Schools without prior deliberations with faculty and below average preparation in terms of infrastructure including faculty: Two of the big schools created during this period – School of Engineering and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee School of Management and Entrepreneurship, started off without any building, laboratories or permanent faculty and only recently a loan of Rs. 445 crores was sanctioned by the Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) to JNU, which has been advanced to help create the needed infrastructure for both these schools. The fee structure for both these schools is at variance from that charged for other courses and programs in JNU. 
  4. Changing the Roster for Reserved Posts in Faculty Recruitment: In an order passed on 17.11.20 on writ W.P.(C) 4114/2020 & CM No.14769/2020, dealing with the roster issue pertaining to reserved positions, the High Court in its judgment indicted the university for failing to discharge constitutional responsibilities. In another order on the same issue passed by the High Court in the LPA15/2021 on 11 January 2021, the Bench called upon the university administration to not just re-visit and reexamine and re-cast the point based roster, for all posts, but also: “If in the aforesaid exercise, any error/mistake in advertising vacancies is found, unless requisite amendments are made to advertisements No. RC/61/2019 and RC/60/2019 dated 19th LPA 15/2021 Page 6 of 6 August, 2019, the said advertisements, to the extent contrary to corrected point based roster, would stand quashed.” 
  5. Outsourcing of Admissions to NTA: From 2019 onwards, the responsibility for conducting entrance examinations was handed over to the National Testing Agency (NTA). In 2019-20, while NTA was responsible only for hosting the online examinations, in 2020-21 complete control of the process – from preparing question papers, to hosting, to declaring examination results was given over to the NTA. The changeover was executed without any major exercise of intensive consultation with the faculty of Centres and Schools. RTI enquires into two aspects of the outsourcing from both JNU and NTA - first, the Memorandum of Understanding signed between JNU and NTA for the years 2019-20 and 2020-21, and second the costs incurred in the process - have failed to provide definite answers. Till date, neither the Memorandum of Understanding nor the complete accounts for the two-year period have been provided by both JNU and NTA. Replies to RTI filed with NTA reveal disconcerting increases in expenditures. 
  6. Another point of concern regarding the outsourcing relates to the changeover to the multiple choice based system of questions for all students irrespective of whether this particular pattern of examinations is actually useful for gauging interests and potential of students applying for research degrees. It's another matter that applicants under the earlier mode had the option of writing the entrance examinations in their own regional languages, which gave those who were not proficient in English an added opportunity to gain access to JNU. With deprivation points, this system helped ensure that the student population retained a certain degree of diversity, that has become a big concern now. The shift from the earlier system to a MCQ-based online system was also done in violation of procedures laid out in the statutes of the University. Even before any University body had considered the matter, the VC had already committed himself to the shift by including it in the Tri-partite MoU signed with the UGC and the MHRD. From then on, the VC consciously manipulated decision-making process, and violated due process to achieve that result. He created his own committee to ‘recommend’ the same; ignored even the caution advised by that committee; willfully kept the University’s faculty and the Centres out of any process of deliberation and discussion on the matter and then simply bulldozed it through the Academic Council. 
  7. Cut Back in Financial Allocations for Academic activities:  Jawaharlal Nehru University, as a public university has been a unique place of learning in higher education where a large section of economically, socially and spatially marginalized population has been educated and mentored. A flexible and democratic teaching-learning and research environment has fundamentally contributed to this excellence, and this has been facilitated over the years by careful allocation of financial resources towards academic resources, keeping down fees that students pay for their education and subsidizing their living on campus. Since 2016 onwards, however, there have been significant changes in the financial allocation, fundamentally damaging the academic functioning of the university. 
  8. Academics Under Attack: The last five years has seen an unprecedented attack on faculty, by none other than the VC himself. On the academic front, they include attempts such as the imposition of CCS rules on faculty through periodic circulars, denial of promotions and counting of past services for teachers, denial of leave, biometric attendance etc. Similarly the action taken by the VC to debar Faculty members from Participation in Statutory Bodies. 
  9. Another grave issue of concern has been the stopping of Pensions for Faculty post retirement: Here once again it would be useful to quote the High Court Order passed on the Writ filed W.P.(C) 10619/2019 & CM APPL. 43857& 43858/2019 on 23.11.2020, The order makes three points regarding pension: (i) that pension is neither a bounty nor a matter of grace depending upon the sweet will of the employer and that it creates a vested right subject to 1972 Rules which are statutory in character because they are enacted in exercise of powers conferred by the proviso to Article 309 and clause (5) of Article 148 of the Constitution; (ii) that the pension is not an ex gratia payment but it is a payment for the past service rendered and (iii) it is a social welfare measure rendering socio-economic justice to those who in the heyday of their life ceaselessly toiled for the employer on an assurance that in their old age they would not be left in lurch. There are several other cases pending in Court filed by faculty who have retired and whose pensions and other related payments have been withheld by the administration. Recently, when eight professors of the School of Physical Sciences went public with the irregularities in faculty appointments that had taken place, one of them on the verge of retirement had his laboratory ransacked and his equipment destroyed. Besides, these are cases where faculty has been physically attacked and threatened as in the January 5th violence that took place on campus. As of today, nobody not even the security agency has been held accountable for the attacks. 

The above examples, as per the statement of JNUTA, serve to indicate how the current administration has over the last five years undermined the university structure. 

The question that we seek to raise today is this: Can the government afford to deliberately appoint individuals like Prof. Jagadesh Kumar at the helm of power without running the risk of damaging beyond repair the complex entity called the university, of which JNU has been an outstanding example? Further delays in appointing a new Vice Chancellor by the Government, would only add further to the damages already wrecked.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.