Former faculty members of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University on Tuesday extended their support to the protests by students and teachers against the administration. They also criticised Vice Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar for “seeking to replace” the university’s “ethos by one where unilateral decisions taken by him are to be obeyed by others”.
The “turn of events” since Kumar took charge has dismayed them, a statement signed by 18 former professors, rectors and a fellow said. The signatories included historians Romila Thapar, Tanika Sarkar, KN Panikkar and Mridula Mukherji, authors Sunanda Sen and Sudha Pai, economist Prabhat Patnaik and academic Zoya Hasan.
“We support the current struggle of the teachers and students to maintain the democratic ethos of JNU, which has made it such an outstanding institution,” the statement said. They urged President Ram Nath Kovind, who is a Visitor of the university, to intervene and prevent Vice Chancellor Kumar from destroying the institution.
Over the past few months, students and teachers have been protesting on and outside the campus against several matters – the administration’s inaction against a professor accused of sexual harassment, the introduction of a compulsory attendance system, and the decision to remove department heads and a coordinator for not complying with the institute’s new rules.
The students have also complained about the administration reducing reservations in courses, political appointments to faculty positions, increasing mess fees, allegedly arbitrarily issuing show-cause notices to students and filing First Information Reports and contempt cases against university students.
“The strength of JNU since its inception had been its democratic ethos marked by mutual respect, and cooperation between its three main constituents, the students, the faculty and the administration,” the statement read. “The frictions that arose occasionally were settled through collective intervention within this democratic ethos.”
Kumar wants to replace this characteristic of the university with an environment where everyone obeys his rules, they said.
“The superseding of senior professors in the appointment of deans and chairpersons of schools; the introduction of compulsory attendance without proper discussion at the various academic bodies; the wholesale sacking of deans and chairpersons who incur his displeasure simply for upholding the established norms and practices of the University; the replacement of GSCASH [Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment] by a committee filled with nominees of the administration” are examples of this, the statement read.
They alleged that the university has violated laws on reservation for deprived sections, adding that student representatives were “victimised”. “Dismissing massive protests by teachers and students as the mere handiwork of a handful of persons, are all symptoms of this effort to negate the democratic ethos of the university,” read their statement.