Published: 02nd March 2021
It's the VC and not the university that has autonomy in JNU: Why JNU's teachers are worried about the varsity's future
Over 150 legal cases have been filed by various faculty, students, non-teaching staff against the VC during his administration between the period 2016-2021
The members of Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers' Association (JNUTA) have said that academics at JNU is under attack and if the government delays the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor any further it will only worsen the situation. They also added that the VC has been conducting his duties based on his wish and that JNU was not an autonomous university anymore — only the VC has autonomy. The teachers' body held an elaborate press conference at the Press Club of India, New Delhi, to talk about the issues.
The teachers and students have been protesting against VC Dr Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar almost throughout his tenure. Their common complaint in every issue was that he does not communicate with the teachers or the students. He was supposed to vacate his office on January 26 and they stated that they were relieved. However, on January 22, he was asked to continue till a new VC was selected. "Reports in the press have confirmed that delays are to be expected. As Chairperson of the Executive Council, Dr Jagadesh Kumar must be personally held accountable for this mess. 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. JNUTA would like to explicitly communicate to the Ministry of Education that delay of any kind will only aid to destroy further the unique character of the university, called JNU," said the teachers.
The JNU Act has created in the university a unique arrangement of teaching and learning. Statutory bodies like the Board of Studies, the Academic Council and the Executive Council which take care of everything from chalking out the academic calendar, deliberating upon new teaching programmes, finalising courses to constituting selection committee panels make JNU an ecosystem which is one of its kind."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 the VC and not the university that has autonomy in JNU today." said Dr Moushumi Basu, Secretary of the JNUTA.
Over 150 legal cases have been filed by various faculty, students, non-teaching staff against the VC during his administration between the period 2016-2021. In the majority of these, the university has been found to have been guilty, said the JNUTA. That cannot be healthy. While these are issues the teachers and students have spoken about before and have been covered by the media at length, the teachers reiterated the issues and added that the VC must be removed as soon as possible.
In an earlier conversation with the President of the JNUTA Dr Milap C Sharma, just after he was elected to office, he had said that the VC will be the reason for JNU's downfall. "JNU's downfall will start in the next few years — approximately from 2032. The good teachers will retire by then and what will be left are the people recruited by this VC. The quality of education will degrade. This started a year after he joined. He changed the process of selecting the Deans and Chairpersons. Previously the senior-most professor was given this post — everyone knew them and respected them. He started handpicking the chairpersons. He chose people who would dare not open their mouths in front of him, who would support his decisions no matter what. This helped him recruit the people he wanted," he had said.
The JNUTA pointed out the issues that they feel are not just threatening the academic structure at JNU but also the democratic liberal thinking of the institution. Appointment of Chairpersons of Centres and Deans of Schools have been arbitrary and not on the basis of past practices that took into account the seniority principle, Appointment of Selection Committee experts without informing Centres, Changing the Roster for Reserved Posts in Faculty Recruitment, Introduction of new programmes and Schools without prior discussion or any communication with the faculty and sub-standard preparation in terms of infrastructure including the faculty of these Centres.
This apart, the JNUTA said that the other concerns they had regarding the outsourcing relate 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. "So, whether it's a student applying for an undergraduate degree or a PhD programme, everyone is assessed on a set of multiple-choice questions that are supposedly more transparent and objective than the essay type format that was followed before. 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," said Dr Sharma.
JNU, as a public university, has been a unique place of learning in higher education where a large section of the economically, socially and spatially marginalised population has been educated and mentored, said the JNUTA. "The sharp decline in grants from agencies like the UGC, coupled with a reduction in expenditures on academic programmes supporting teaching and research within the university, and wasteful diversion of funds for non-academic activities, posed a significant challenge that compromised greatly the functioning of the University. The financial reports of the last three years show that annual academic expenses decreased by 26.38 per cent from Rs 38.36 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 28.24 crore in 2018-19, and by another 30 per cent to Rs 19.74 crore in 2019-20," said the statement. "Academic expenses include important components such as spending on seminars, workshops, journals, publications, teaching aids and research activities. In the same period, legal expenses increased from Rs 2.72 lakh in 2017-18 to Rs 17.7 lakh in 2018-19. An additional fund of Rs 30 lakh was approved for legal expenses and was approved in 2020 to the already sanctioned budget of Rs 9 lakh," added the JNUTA.
The teachers requested the Ministry of Education to make haste and appoint a new VC soon. They said that they reiterated the issues in one document to show how "the current administration has over the last five years undermined the university structure". "The question that we seek to raise today is can the government afford to deliberately appoint individuals like Dr Jagadesh Kumar at the helm of power without running the risk of damaging beyond repair the complex entity called the university? Further delays in appointing a new Vice-Chancellor by the Government would only add further to the damages already wrecked," said the teachers.