More than 200 alumni of the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune wrote to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting last week, urging it to reverse the institution’s decision to stop heads of departments from joining its academic council.

The signatories, including Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty, said the institution should take students and faculty into confidence while taking decisions concerning them. The alumni said in the past few years the administration had adopted an “unnecessarily antagonistic attitude” towards students and the faculty. It was a “misinformed attempt at ‘reform’”, and resulted in an extremely unhealthy atmosphere at the institution, they added.

“In a visionary institution like FTII, students and their teachers are the highest stakeholders,” read the statement to Ashok Kumar Parmar, the ministry’s joint secretary (films). “It is obvious that they must be represented in all important committees and councils of the institution that affect their academic ecosystem.”

The signatories, including actors, directors and cinematographers, said there was a constant feeling of threat because of a divide between the administration and students. They added that this was not an appropriate atmosphere for learning or teaching.

“On the contrary, it is inciting fear and is disrupting the campus,” the statement read. “We hold the current FTII administration completely responsible for creating the current state of affairs and we want to ask what do they hope to gain from all this?” The group also urged the ministry to discuss the matters raised in person.

Last month, the institution’s governing council said the presence of department heads at academic council meetings were time-consuming and time was spent discussing “unnecessary small-time affairs”, Pune Mirror reported. The department heads and scholars claimed that the move was aimed at stifling their voices. Students’ involvement in the academic council had been curtailed in 2017.

The signatories to the letter also criticised the governing council’s decision to give the academic coordinator the right to choose films for screening during the semester, taking the right away from students, reported Pune Mirror.

“We fail to understand what the administration hopes to achieve by removing students from this process,” said the group of alumni. “Once again, it appears to be a misguided act to enforce ‘discipline’ that will achieve nothing except more turmoil.”

The statement also highlighted several other episodes, including police presence at a screening last month, deteriorating academic curriculum, and lack of infrastructure.

“The FTII students have stated time and again that they are keen to get an education and make their careers, not spend their time in protests,” said the alumni. “They even created the hashtag #LadneNahiPadhneAayeHain [We’ve come to study, not to protest]. They have tried their best to approach the FTII director and even the I&B ministry with their issues, but they have been greeted either with cold silence or with needlessly harsh repressive measures.”

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