Dalit professor denied clearance by VBU to pursue Charles Wallace fellowship at University of Leeds

The professor claims that the university denied her leave application for the prestigious fellowship twice and has not provided an explanation for the rejection
Image for representational purpose only | Pic: Visva-Bharati webpage
Image for representational purpose only | Pic: Visva-Bharati webpage

Prof Shaona Barik of the Department of English at the Visva-Bharti University was awarded the prestigious Charles Wallace India Trust Visiting Fellowship from the University of Leeds, United Kingdom (UK) in July 2022. Since then, the professor has been caught up in a bewildering tussle with the varsity to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to pursue the three-month fellowship programme. 

"My department did not have an issue relieving me for the period of three months from September to December in order to pursue the fellowship. However, I also require a No Objection Certificate from the university in order to be able to go. When I applied to the university for leave, the reply I received was baffling. They said that my leave was declined because the 'competent authority' had not considered it. No further explanation was given," Prof Barik told EdexLive. 

Multiple letters written to the controversial Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty and the Registrar of the varsity went unanswered. With the Fellowship valid for a year, Prof Barik applied for leave again for the Spring term of March to June. Once again, her department cleared her leave requirements. However, the application sent to the university was rejected, once again. "They gave the same reason as before. I do not understand why they have an issue relieving me for three months for a prestigious fully-sponsored fellowship, when my department is willing to send me," Prof Barik, a Dalit professor, said. While she has sent an application for the visa to attend the fellowship this spring, she expressed uncertainty over whether or not it will be accepted, given the absence of the NOC from her university. 

Controversies at VBU

Visva-Bharti University has been the site of some massive protests against Bidyut Chakraborty's administration over the last year, with students and members of the faculty claiming that the administration is "vindictive", terminating faculty, suspending and rusticating students raising objections against it. However, Prof Barik stated that she has not been an active participant in these agitations. 

Prof Kausik Bhattacharya, a member of the VBU Faculty Association, adds that declining requests from the faculty to participate in international seminars and conferences has become a regular occurrence at the varsity. "The university's lack of interest in academic development and activities is hurting the faculty and the students. The NIRF ranking of the university dropped to 98 last year from 18. During the NAAC grading last year, the university was awarded only a B+. The participation of the faculty in international seminars and fellowships is a major contributor to such ranks and grades," he explained. 

"When the NIRF ranking was released last year, the VC claimed that the reason for the drop in rankings was because lecturers were not getting fellowships, according to local media reports. What then is their reason to decline my application? I filed an RTI application into the matter, trying to understand the reason behind the rejection, but the reply to my RTI request was equally problematic. The reply said that it was not admissible in the term. Nothing was explained," Prof Barik, who has been teaching at VBU for a decade now, said.

What next?
The prof claims that a few other Dalit professors at the university have been denied permission to attend international conferences. Several Dalit students have also been amongst those suspended for participating in agitations against the VC. Prof Barik added that she filed a complaint with the varsity's SC/ST cell. However, she has not yet received a response. "This fellowship is not only crucial for me in terms of promotions and my post-doctoral studies, but it will also contribute to the university's scores when it comes to rankings and grades. I am now considering taking the legal route in order to get the NOC," she added.

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