The teachers’ association of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have decried the extension granted by the government to varsity Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar, while accusing Kumar of taking arbitrary decisions and “deliberately weakening” the existing system of academic governance.
Kumar, whose term ended on January 26, was given an extension on January 22, 2021. Education ministry officials said that Kumar will hold the office till a successor is appointed.
Demanding the appointment of a new V-C at the earliest, JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) members alleged that Kumar had been enjoying an autonomy that had proved detrimental to the “unique character of the university”.
“The current administration over the last five years undermined the university structure. Further delays in appointing a new vice-chancellor by the government would only add further to the damages already wrecked,” the JNUTA said.
“For the first time since its inception 52 years ago, the university failed to pay the February salary to teachers and staff on time,” said Bikramaditya Choudhary, a faculty member at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development in JNU.
“The vice-chancellor failed to pay the salary of teachers and staff on time. How will the non-teaching staff who plan their expenditure on the monthly salary manage?” asked Choudhary.
150 cases filed against V-C
“Nearly 150 legal cases have been filed by various constituencies – faculty, students, non-teaching staff against the VC and his administration since 2016. In the majority of these, the university has been found to have committed illegality,” JNUTA secretary Moushumi Basu said.
JNUTA touched upon various issues which they say has “bulldozed” the academic and research space the university is best known for and made it difficult for those from marginalised communities to sustain themselves.
Among the major concerns raised by JNUTA included “arbitrary” appointments of chairpersons of Centres and Deans of Schools, the appointment of Selection Committee experts without informing Centres, changing of the roster for reserved posts in faculty recruitment and the introduction of new programmes without prior deliberation with the faculty.
“The whole issue of appointments is under question. Despite the ongoing court cases, the V-C and his administration are installing experts of their own choice. People are being forced to turn to the courts,” said DK Lobiyal, ex-JNUTA president.
Drop in financial allocation
The changes brought about by the current administration in financial allocation have been “fundamentally damaging the academic functioning”, the JNUTA has said.
“The sharp decline in plan grants from both UGC and Centre, coupled with the reduction in expenditures on academic programmes, supporting teaching and research within the university, along with wasteful diversion of funds for non-academic activities posed a significant challenge that compromised greatly the functioning of the university,” the association said.
Citing financial reports, the JNUTA noted that the annual academic expenses decreased by 26.38 per cent from ₹38.36 crore in 2017-18 to ₹28.24 crores in 2018-19, and by another 30 per cent to ₹ 19.74 crore in 2019-20.
“In the same period, legal expenses increased from ₹2.72 lakh in 2017-18 to ₹17.7 lakh in 2018-19. An additional fund of ₹30 lakh was approved for legal expenses in 2020 to the already sanctioned budget of ₹9 lakh,” it said.
Opposing the transfer of control for conducting examinations – from preparing question papers to hosting and declaring examination result – to the National Testing Agency (NTA), the JNUTA alleged that the “changeover was done without intensive consultation with the faculty of Centres and Schools”.
In 2019, the responsibility to conduct entrance examinations was handed over to NTA, which, JNUTA alleged, was gradually given complete control to conduct examinations.
RTIs have revealed that no Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between NTA and JNU for the years 2019-20, and 2020-21.
“In the RTI there was no information about the cost incurred in the process. The question that arises is how can an institution go into an agreement with another autonomous body without an MOU?” the association asked.
Another concern raised by the JNUTA was about the change in the pattern of examinations, from an essay-type format to multiple-choice based system of questioning and the inability of the students to write in their own regional languages. The teachers’ association said it had become difficult for them to assess the potential of students for research programmes through MCQs and that the opportunity to “gain access” to JNU by those who were not proficient in English was barred.
“We oppose this system and don’t want any third agency asking us. The shift from the earlier system to an MCQ-based online system was done in violation of procedures laid out in the statues of the university,” it said.
Attack on faculty
The JNUTA also accused the V-C of launching an “unprecedented attack on faculty”, with attempts like the imposition of CCS (Central Civil Services) rules, “denial” of promotions and counting past services for teachers, denial of leaves, biometric attendance, stopping pensions and burgling their homes.
JNUTA also registered its opposition against the recently-established engineering school on campus in a university known for research and academics. “Today India is overwhelmed with engineering colleges… The aim of opening one in JNU is an attempt to destroy the ranking of the university,” they alleged.
Aditya Mukherjee, a historian from JNU said, “Since 2016 when the new vice-chancellor took charge, everything the government says has been imposed on the university. Whoever protests against such imposition has to face the V-C’s ire.”
“JNU was made by the hard work of 50 years, now they are trying to break it.”
Despite various attempts, The Federal could not reach V-C for comments.