New Delhi: In the latest series of protests against the “autocratic” functioning of the vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar, on August 7, the JNU Teachers’ association organised a referendum on whether Kumar should continue to head the university or not.
In a clear indication of just how bad the tussle between the JNUTA and the university administration has gotten, more than 90% of the teachers present at the referendum wanted the VC to be relieved of his office.
The referendum was held on two questions. One, should the current VC be relieved from his office? And two, should JNU take a HEFA loan? JNU had applied for a Rs 515 crore loan from the higher education funding agency (HEFA) to develop its engineering and management schools, a move the JNUTA felt will only increase the debt burden on the university and lead to increase in tuition fees of students.
Over all, 93% of the teachers voted in favour of the first question while a whopping 96% felt that JNU should not be taking the HEFA loan. Since the JNUTA has been protesting against the VC, it was clear that the results would be against the VC. But what was crucial was the fact that almost all teachers voted against the VC’s highhandedness.
A JNUTA statement said, “On Question 1, while 279 voters voted in favour of the VC being relieved, eight voted in favour of the VC staying (eight votes were invalid and five voters abstained). On Question 2, 288 voters voted against the taking of a multi-crore HEFA loan that the university administration is contemplating applying for, whereas four voted in favour (five votes were invalid and three voters abstained).”
More than 300 faculty members out of a total strength turned out to cast their votes despite heavy showers through the evening. The JNUTA felt that the turnout was incredible as an “atmosphere of fear” was sought to be “created by the current administration”.
“The university has been recently indulging in individual targeting, issuing notices against faculty members who dare to express dissent in any manner. For instance, on the day after a protest march that took place last week, individual letters were issued against those who were ‘…seen to be…’ protesting,” the JNUTA statement said.
“The numbers who turned up to cast votes (300) is therefore substantial, given the numerous faculty who are currently on long leave and deputation; those who are fearful of personal targeting (whose confirmations and promotions etc. are on the line); and those who are currently holding administrative posts,” it added.
The large turnout for the referendum, therefore, betrays the claims of the VC and his supporters that only a small percentage of JNU faculty members were protesting against his decisions, a JNU faculty member told The Wire.
The referendum was preceded by a series of protest actions like a one day strike and a march against VC’s decisions on July 31 and a two-day convention on “Crisis of Higher Education in India” on August 3 and 4, where a wide array of parliamentarians, cutting across parties, supported the JNUTA.
Ever since Kumar joined office, the mistrust between the administration and academic community, comprising teachers and students, has only grown. While students and teachers have alleged that the VC has blatantly violated the university procedures and the JNU statues multiple times to take undemocratic decisions, the VC has remained unperturbed and has refused to speak to the media on a number of allegations against him.
During his tenure, the JNUTA alleges, irregularities in faculty appointments, indiscriminate seat cuts in centres, violation of the reservation policy, has increased manifold times. Many teachers feel that the autocratic functioning of the VC could also be a larger attempt to change the nature of the university, which has been one of India’s most significant centres of critical thinking.