New Delhi: Following a series of decisions by the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s top administration, which the academic community believes will kill the low-cost public education system in the long run, the prestigious central university is witnessing another high-pitched confrontation between the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) and the vice-chancellor, M. Jagadesh Kumar.
The JNUTA held a one day-strike on August 31 to protest against some of the decisions taken in the last two academic council (AC) and subsequent executive council meetings. The association has also planned a two-day convention on what it calls the ‘crisis’ of higher education, followed by a protest referendum on the vice-chancellor.
The teachers’ body alleges that in order to get his proposals passed in the AC meetings, the VC brought in multiple special invitees to outnumber the original members, many of whom have been dissenting against his alleged autocratic functioning.
Three of his controversial proposals which were passed in the latest AC meetings are mandatory biometric attendance for research students and faculty members, shift to an online method of entrance examinations by outsourcing the entire process to a separate agency, and taking copyright control over all work by research scholars, guest faculty and teachers.
The JNUTA has also strongly objected to the VC’s unilateral decision to stop recording dissenting views in the minutes of the AC meetings. It claims that many deans of schools, who are constitutional members of the AC, were not allowed to participate in the meetings. These include dean of School of Arts and Aesthetics Kavita Singh, and the deans of the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health and the Centre of Study of Social Systems.
Apart from the issues mentioned above, the topics which have the become contentious include the VC’s inclination to turn the university into an autonomous one – a move, the JNUTA says, which is an indirect attempt to privatise the university. That is why the association is also protesting JNU’s application to the Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) for a Rs 515 crore loan to open centres for engineering and management.
The move to open these vocational centres was hotly debated a few months ago as the academic community in the university was of the view that the vocational course would dilute the research-oriented nature of JNU. The JNUTA feels that the loan will lead to a “wastage of public funds” and land the university in long-term debt. This debt may also be passed on to the students later by increasing tuition fees, the association thinks.
JNUTA secretary Sudhir K. Suttar told The Wire, “The VC defied convention and organised AC meetings during the summer vacation. Most of the original members were on leave that time. In addition, to change the composition of the AC, the VC brought in many special invitees, all of whom were his supporters, to the AC meetings and got these controversial proposals passed without discussion.”
A press statement from the JNUTA says,
“The composition of the AC meetings is sought to be ‘managed’. The AC meetings are entirely ‘stage-managed’, with limited scope for discussions. Issues that are neither on the agenda, not tabled items, are deemed to have been ‘passed’ by the AC (e.g mandatory attendance for students and teachers).Individual teachers are being humiliated at the AC meetings. Dissent is not recorded.
Issues of crucial import are not discussed at the Executive Council. Rather approval is sought (with no prior discussion) via email sent to EC members, allowing them a window of only a few hours to ‘approve’. Bottom-up decision-making flowing from the centres and schools is a thing of the past as decision-making is monopolised by the ‘top administration’.”
The JNUTA is of the opinion that the undemocratic conduct of the Jagadesh Kumar may have a larger agenda. “Most of his decisions will lead to the gradual privatisation of the university. The JNU VC has used his discretionary powers to completely subvert the due process since he joined the university. The VC has centralised power in his own handst. This will destroy the democratic ethos of the university and eventually ruin the higher education system of India,” Suttar said, adding that many faculty members are being denied promotions and are not being paid their salaries on time.
The latest round of protests will heat up the already fraught environment in JNU. The VC has been facing criticism from the academic community over the last few years for allegedly repeatedly violating JNU’s statutory provisions and obligations, undermining the faculty selection process, replacing the JNU’s anti-sexual harassment body GSCASH with an Internal Complaints Committee comprising only nominated members, violating the reservation policy and decreasing the number of seats in every centre. He has chosen not to respond to the allegations.