In India, where access to higher education is pitifully low, JNU remains one of the last few universities where students from remote areas and marginalised backgrounds can hope to be welcomed. The diverse demography of JNU’s student community is a testimony to our collective effort of making the university a truly accessible and democratic space. JNU is a lighthouse, not only for its efforts towards inclusion and affordable education. It is unique for its commitment to speak truth to power, for critical thinking, egalitarian ethos and democratic culture. The current JNU VC in one stroke seeks to destroy all that. His move to impose massive seat cuts in M. Phil/ PhD admissions in the name of UGC Notification, bypassing all statutory bodies, threatens to wipe out the academic prospects of hundreds of current and all future generations of students and virtually shutdown of JNU’s vibrant and inclusive research programs.
1. Do Doublespeak and Jumla, Threats and FIRs Befit a Vice Chancellor?
Last Sunday (12/2/17), VC was busy tweeting that the “seat cut” issue is just a ‘rumour’ spread by protesting students, while a series of Circulars from the Director of Admissions and JNU Website posts in contrast were announcing seat-cuts. Are students spreading rumors or the VC himself is fudging facts?Two days later, the VC made a fresh bid to disguise the bare fact of seat cuts: this time by coining a new jumla of ‘dynamic seats’ – i.e., implying that there will no longer be any concept of annual “fixed number” of seats or “fixed intake” for M. Phil/Ph.D. and that seats will open up for admissions only if the number of researchers under a faculty happens to be less than the UGC dictated cap of supervisor-researcher ratio!
Students are protesting peacefully, by going on indefinite fast – because the future of generations of students is at stake. 98.35% of students have rejected the seat cut move through a Referendum. Faculty members have marched in protest because the very credibility and quality of JNU’s research excellence is at stake. Refusing to meet or speak with protesting students or faculty members – who are after all the ones who must be credited with the “Best Central University” Visitor’s Award that JNU recently got – the VC has instead chosen to criminalise the protests by filing an FIR against the JNUSU leadership and student activists.
The VC’s claim in the FIR that students have “stopped administrative functioning” is a bare-faced lie: the truth is that when batches of students from centre after centre reached Ad Block in mass delegations, the JNU VC deserted the Admin Block and refused to address the concerns of students, as any VC worth his salt ought to do.
Mr Jagadesh Kumar, does it really befit a VC to resort to such word-tricks to hide your policy steps threatening the future of students’ and the university – and then to use FIRs and police to punish and silence students who will bear the brunt of those policy steps?
2. Mr. VC, if you are genuinely interested in meaningful dialogue then why are you refusing to re-convene the Academic Council Meeting as urged by the students and teachers?
Don’t you agree that the university will be better served if a crucial policy matter is resolved through an accountable discussion at a statutory platform rather than through press conferences and misleading media feeds by administrative offices?
3. Why Was A Policy Affecting Students Worst, Never Discussed In Decision-Making Bodies That Have Student Representation? How Lawful And Ethical Is It Exactly, Mr. VC?
Student representatives only get to participate in Part A of Academic Council Meetings. The issues regarding the UGC Notification were never kept in any Academic Council as an agenda item in Part A. So, student representatives were deliberately deprived of any opportunity even to express an opinion or present their case in the Academic Council on a decision having such far-reaching consequences on students’ lives and careers!
4. Why Has The JNU VC Brazenly Violated JNU’s Own Decision-Making Processes, Instead Dictatorially Announcing Sweeping Policy Changes Through Tweets, Circulars and Press Conferences? Isn’t Such Violation Unlawful and Against All Rules of Institutional Propriety?
As per JNU’s Act and Statutes, admission policies and ‘intake/offer’ of seats for admissions are to be discussed and decided through Centre-level, School Level Board of Studies and finally the Academic Council Meetings. The massive seat cuts and changes in admission policy in the name of UGC Notification’s “supervisor-researcher ratio” are being unilaterally shoved upon JNU by the VC without the deliberation of the University’s statuary bodies like the Academic Council.
The issue of the UGC Notification was placed only in the Part B of 142nd AC meeting. Teachers have testified in unison, from the very day of the AC meeting, that the UGC notification was neither “discussed” nor “approved” but bulldozed through without AC members being given any chance to express an opinion, in Part B of 142nd AC meeting!
Can you deny, Mr VC, that “Minutes of 142nd AC- Part B”, circulated by your own administration, do not record any “discussion” or “adoption” of the specific clause 6.5 of the UGC Notification? So even as per the Administration’s own version, the “supervisor-researcher ratio” clause of UGC circular has not been “adopted” by JNU’s AC. Then, why is the JNU VC imposing this arbitrary clause through his own whimsical circulars and press conferences?
5. Does the JNU VC Have Any Right to Violate the Seats/Intake in JNU’s Admission Fixed As Part of the Implementation of 93rd Constitution Amendment?
The present number of seats in JNU has been fixed as part of the implementation of OBC reservation and the concomitant expansion of seats mandated by the 93rd amendment of the Constitution. Even the agenda of 142nd AC Meeting includes the “intake/offer” list of admissions for 2017 based on this 93rd Constitution amendment (i.e., 54% increase in intake of 2006- the base year for calculating expansion for OBC reservation), which the VC is now trying to negate. How can the VC suddenly alter the intake and that too bypassing the AC?
6. Why does Mr. VC think that the UGC suggested “supervisor-researcher ratio” can ONLY be achieved by cutting down students’ seats and admissions and not by expanding faculty strength through new recruitments?
7. Wouldn’t VC’s move to determine the number of “admission seats”/”intake” only on the basis of UGC suggested “supervisor-researcher ratio” effectively close down the existing system of annual admissions for M.Phil./Ph.D. for all batches to come? Why should the students aspiring to do research be made to suffer and why should future research avenues be curtailed?
8. Mr. VC, how valid is your arbitrary interpretation of UGC Notification and how is it more ‘binding’ than the Constitution and JNU’s own Act and statutory bodies?
Firstly, when the VC claims that the UGC gazette is “automatically binding” on JNU, he must remember that the Constitution and deliberations in the statutory bodies are also binding on JNU. Why is the UGC notification not democratically discussed in AC meetings taking into accounts the mandate of the 93rd constitutional amendment as well? At any rate, can any Notification from UGC override Laws and Acts passed through Parliament? And, why is JNU VC so keen to trample upon institutional autonomy granted by JNU’s own Act and statutes?
Secondly, even if we were to agree for a moment with VC’s logic of the “overriding” obligatory nature of the UGC notification, where does the UGC notification actually mandate that “supervisor-researcher ratio” can ONLY be achieved by seat cut in admissions and not by expanding faculty strength?
Thirdly, the “student – supervisor ratio” in UGC Notification is a broad guideline, surely “one size fits all” model may not be implemented in blanket manner ignoring the specific contexts. UGC Notification of 2009 too had a similar clause on “student – supervisor ratio”. At that time, it was seamlessly resolved through due deliberations in JNU’s statutory bodies such as the Academic Council, that too in the midst of implementing the seat expansions mandated by the 93rd Constitution amendment for OBC reservations. Surely, the current VC, whose whole and sole agenda is to cut seats, doesn’t want to follow that route which retains university’s autonomy.
9. Isn’t VC’s move likely to strike a body blow to the scope of reservations?
After all, once the system of annual admissions, based on fixed number of seats/intake, is dismantled, the so-called ‘vacant’ seats for admissions will open up only in small numbers and not in annual bulk leading to the number of reserved seats going for a toss.
10. Why is the JNU VC determined to undermine reservations and deprivation points and prevent entry of students from marginalised backgrounds?
VC’s claim that all provisions of “social justice” are being retained in JNU is yet another jumla to cover-up the actual implications of his moves. Firstly, with the JNU VC swearing by the UGC notification which fixes a uniform 50% marks to qualify for the written exam without any relaxation for the reserved categories, the principle of mandatory “relaxations” for students from deprived backgrounds at each and every stage of elimination in the admission process (confirmed by the categorical verdict from the Delhi High Court- the Gautam Sharma Vs. JNU 19 Jan 2016) stands violated leading to the strong eventuality of reserved category seats not getting filled. Secondly, by adding the deprivation points after the viva stage, the VC is also making JNU’s unique system of deprivation points meaningless as the students from deprived backgrounds and areas may already lose out in the initial stages itself.
11. Why is the JNU VC Interpreting the UGC Notification so as to ‘de-link’ the integrated character of JNU’s M.Phil./Ph.D. program and pushing the future of even the currently admitted students in insecurity and uncertainty?
According to the VC’s new ‘formula’, continuation in Ph.D. can no longer be guaranteed by CGPA scored in M.Phil., but will be based on whether the number of students under a supervisor is below the “specified limit”! Isn’t this a recipe for effectively de-linking the integrated nature of our M. Phil/Ph.D. programme?
12. When JNU with its present “faculty-student” strength has been rated as the best Central University and when no teacher is complaining of any “overburden” and are in fact are opposing seat cut, why is the VC so keen to shut down admissions in JNU’s research programmes for several years to come?
13. Mr. VC, what after all is your vision for ensuring quality research?
Can a mechanical ‘rule of number’ ensure quality, where supervisors are allotted NOT on the basis of students’ area of choice or faculty’s area of expertise, but only on whether a faculty has fewer students than the UGC specified cap? Is that not an absurd criteria that will surely discourage students and gut out research? Is research all about some number game or specific areas pursued by scholars and faculty members?
In sum, Mr. VC, isn’t it then obvious that your unilateral imposition of seat cut in the name of UGC Notification is driven NOT by any concern for quality, legality or institutional propriety, BUT certainly by the perverse political agenda of the govt of the day which seeks to curtail higher education and research in general – as was seen in BJP govt.’s earlier move to withdraw Non-NET fellowship, and destabilise JNU and erode it’s autonomy in particular- as codified in saffron brigade’s stated agenda of Shut Down JNU?
Photographs: Samim Asgor Ali
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