New Delhi: In an interim order on the process of selecting faculty members at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the Delhi high court restored the Academic Council (AC) and the Executive Council (EC)’s power to approve the members constituting the selection panel, including those recommended by vice chancellor (VC) M. Jagadesh Kumar.
Welcoming the ruling, faculty members of the JNU said the court has restored the process that was followed before 2017, calling it “democratic and by the rule of law”. They said in 2017, the VC “collapsed” this system by giving himself the “power to add names to the panel of experts and merely report these to the EC”.
Earlier, every school and centre at JNU could chalk out a list of academic experts in their respective fields. This was then, through the board, sent to the AC. Subsequently, the VC would pick three names from the list ratified by the AC as well as the EC.
“Those who prepared the list didn’t know who was going to be selected. It was a very democratic process” said Ranjani Mazumdar, professor of Cinema Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics.
The AC, as the faculty members say, not only consists of teachers from different Schools and Centres, but also external experts to ensure transparency. The external members were usually selected by the VC based on recommendations made by the schools, keeping disciplinary requirements in mind.
The VC, Mazumdar says, started adding names to the database of experts unilaterally after amending the existing regulation in 2017. Kumar apparently got the names cleared by the EC, using those people to constitute selection committees and to make new faculty appointments. “He was manipulating the entire process. This was real corruption,” she said.
After the amendment, Ayesha Kidwai (professor at school of languages) says a lot of “questionable appointments” were made. This, she said, led to a reduction in the quality of teaching. Kidwai said Mohan Lal Chhipa, who was on one of the selection committees of experts to appoint an economics teacher, allegedly had no CV or any record on the internet.
“I could only find one book which has a paper written by him, but nothing beyond that. He is the vice chancellor at Atal Bihari Vajpayee Hindi University, Bhopal. I also found his name on a VHP organising committee list from Udaipur,” said Kidwai.
According to the Hindustan Times, in 2016, the VC introduced the vedas and writings of bygone-era mathematician Bhaskaracharya and sage scientist Acharya Kanad in the BTech curriculum to “promote Indian science and culture”.
Professor Kidwai added that a professor from Gurukul Kangri University who was demoted from his position was selected for a panel to appoint an assistant professor in the Centre for English Studies. Similarly, a professor of tourism was called to appoint a professor of ancient India, she said.
In 2018, at least two faculty members nominated by the VC and two newly recruited teachers were caught for producing plagiarised work, The Wire reported.
The teachers, therefore, decided to knock on the doors of the court. Mazumdar, along with Jayati Ghosh, Bishnupriya Dutt, C.P. Chandrashekhar, Ravi Srivastava, and G. Arunima, filed a petition two years ago, challenging the VC’s “tampering with the database of experts by unilaterally giving himself the power to add experts of his choosing”. Another petition was filed in 2017, after the EC amended a regulation that removed the role of the AC in approving the database of experts, challenging the amendment as well.
When recruitment was announced in March 2019 and 90 positions were advertised, JNU teachers moved an interim application asking the court’s urgent intervention to restore the crucial role of the schools and centres and the Academic Council.
The vice chancellor and the office of registrar, however, told the court that the Academic Council has no role to play in matters of recruitment.
JNU’s counsel Monika Arora argued that the jurisdiction of the AC should only relate to matters pertaining to “education and examination” and not the selection of teachers.
However, Justice C. Hari Shankar dismissed her argument saying, “I find it surprising that JNU is seeking to argue contrary to its own statutes.” He stated that the Clause(15)(3)(a) of the JNU Act gives the AC the power to take decisions over matters related to the recruitment of faculty members.
“It may be questionable whether it is all open to JNU to contend that matters relating to recruitment and faculty positions are outside the jurisdiction of the AC, when, by its own statues, specifically Clause 15(3)(a) thereof, JNU had itself conferred the said power on the AC,” he said.
The JNUTA, in their press release, said that the order “upheld the teachers’ viewpoint (through their counsel Mr Akhil Sibal and Mr Abhik Chimni).”
However, the teachers said they did not intend to limit the powers of the VC. “We are not seeking to constrain the powers of the VC, as defined in the JNU Act, in any way. We only argued that the subject experts in different fields must prepare the list, not others, as subject expertise rests with the schools/centres. A selection panel that comprises non-experts or experts with no credentials has an adverse impact on the quality of selections, and therefore the standards of instruction,” Kidwai added.
The high court order says that for the time being, it will not “interdict” the VC’s power to add or suggest names for the panel of experts. However, the names suggested by the VC would have to be mandatorily be approved by the AC and then passed onto the EC for approval. “It is only thereafter that the panel could operate,” the court said.
Kidwai, and other teachers praised the verdict, saying it took their grievances into account. “For us, the most important issue is not ideology, but the issue of academic quality,” Kidwai said.
The Delhi high court’s complete order is attached below.