How JNU Administration is Scuttling Reservation and Academic Freedom

Today, the JNU administration is a miniscule team of persons, each of whom has been assigned with multiple positions and roles that are often conflicting and those that they are not eligible/qualified for.
A university is, ultimately, for its students. It is built through painstaking efforts of its teachers. The current JNU administration has been consistently adopting insensitive and hostile positions on matters of well-being of JNU students and teachers. The university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Jagadesh Kumar, has failed completely in upholding the sanctity of the JNU Act 1966, which enjoins upon him the duty “to see that the provisions of the Act, the Statutes, the Ordinances and the Regulations are duly observed and the decisions taken by the authorities of the University are implemented.”
This has been made clear in the recently pronounced judgement by the Delhi high court on the matter of admissions to MPhil/PhD programmes in the university. The judgement on SFI vs Union of India states that “clearly, the JNU, in implementing the UGC Regulations, 2016 has either deliberately or on account of wrong implementation, left unfilled a substantial number of (about 657 M.Phil. and Ph.D. seats). In the opinion of this Court, this is not healthy; it amounts to a national waste and requires to be redressed appropriately.”
JNU VC M. Jagadesh Kumar has faced criticism for his ‘anti-intellectual’ policies. Credit: Twitter
The administration’s copy-paste adoption of the UGC 2016 Regulations affected a large-scale devastation of the research programmes in all JNU schools and centres. For admission in 2017-18 academic year, the deprivation points for students from different regions in India were scrapped, expansion of intake due to reservations for OBCs in 2006 CEI Act was reversed through putting a cap on the number of students faculty members could supervise. A number of programmes had zero intake; in others, the intake reduced so drastically – two or three seats – that reservation could not be implemented.
An additional measure to scuttle reservations was added for admission in 2018-19 academic year. In the entrance exam, the minimum qualifying marks in written test was set at 50% with no relaxation for students who had applied for the reserved seats. Those that made through the test were offered admission solely on the basis of their performance in the viva-voce exam, driving the weightage given to viva-voce in the selection process to an astounding 100%.
The net effect of both these changes was that the JNU administration had managed to block the decades of progress made on the front of social justice and subverted the law of the land on reservations for SC/ST/OBC/PH persons in institutions of higher education. The court in its judgement on October 03,, 2018 has struck down both the clauses of the UGC’s 2016 Regulations which stymied reservations in JNU.
It bears pointing out that these moves by the JNU administration scuttling reservations without any direct interference in the CEI Act are ingenious. They were made possible through calculated irrationality and procedural illegality, and in the face of stiff resistance from the JNU teachers and students.
Arbitrary removal of several hostel wardens, deans and chairpersons, and the addition of experts on panels for selection committees for recruitment and promotions in the past by the vice chancellor, is illustrative of blatant misappropriation and misuse of power to concentrate all administrative functions within a very small coterie of loyalists. Today, the JNU administration is a miniscule team of persons, each of whom has been assigned with multiple positions and roles that are often conflicting and those that they are not eligible/qualified for. This coterie blindly helps the VC slide through preposterous and arbitrary proposals in various statutory bodies that have not gone through due process or deliberation. Once proposals such as mandatory attendance, ‘Skype’ viva for MPhil/PhD are ‘passed’ without discussion or application of mind, they are sought to be implemented with only brute force.
‘Ideas are notice-proof’ says a slogan on a wall in JNU, where, students and teachers claim, the current vice-chancellor is running a ‘notice raj’. Credit: Twitter
This coterie is often unleashed on individual students to inflict warnings, exorbitant fines, arbitrary hikes in various fees, hostile and aggressive ‘raids’ in hostels, and teachers are targeted with censures for expressing their opinions in statutory bodies such as selection committees, academic council, and executive councils; they are ‘banished’ from these bodies in punishment; and show-cause notices are served in targeted fashion. Several faculty members have been intimidated and instrumentalised to make defamatory allegations and false statements about JNUTA and its office bearers.
This has vitiated campus atmosphere and produced grave stress for students and teachers such that academic activity has become laboured. The students and the teachers continue to resist the subversion of the democratic process and insist on upholding and restoring the procedural sanctity of decision making in the university.
The latest ‘innovation’ for the 2019-2020 JNU entrance exams being ushered in a high-handed manner is a computer-based test consisting entirely of multiple choice questions for all disciplines, yet again ignoring the needs of a research university seeking to train scholars in interdisciplinary studies. The university will incur huge expenses on hiring third party service providers for a job that its own staff and teachers have been doing. All academic, financial and procedural logics provided against by the teachers and students have fallen on deaf ears so far.
Just as the high court has put a spanner in the juggernaut of illegality against reservations, JNU students and teachers are hopeful that all the changes brought in the JNU statutes, ordinances and rules through arbitrary processes and without application of mind, will be rolled back. This will include a rollback of the regressive and socially unjust admission policy; a rollback of the mandatory/biometric attendance and computer-based JNU entrance examination; a rollback of changes in statutes, ordinances, and rules through undemocratic procedure; and a rollback of the regime of fear and intimidation prevailing upon the campus.
by Ghazala Jamil is assistant professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University.