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A small-minded yardstick

Student attendance is a non-issue in JNU, which has retained its focus on creating serious scholars, not docile subjects. The move to impose it is symptomatic of a larger administrative malaise

Written by G Arunima | Updated: February 14, 2018 8:51 am
This system, which has worked very well in the university, will be destroyed if research students are forced to come in daily and sign registers. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

I read an editorial in The Indian Express titled ‘A self-goal’ (February 13), regarding the ongoing protests by students in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Since it seems to have misunderstood the reason for the protests, and then proceeded to characterise them in a rather unflattering fashion, let me explain, briefly, why students, and most teachers, are protesting the recent imposition of compulsory attendance on JNU students.

Most centres in JNU, and their faculty members, have ways of continuous assessment in the courses they teach. This could be in a variety of ways, which is left to the faculty member’s discretion, and can include class presentations, term papers, followed up by tutorial discussions, projects and research papers and mid-term and end-term examinations, amongst others. Since all of these are based on an understanding that students should be engaging with their readings and classroom teaching regularly, attendance is ensured. In order to produce rigorous research, students need to be free to go to libraries, archives or for field work once their course-work period is over. As JNU is mostly a post-graduate university, and the focus has always been on producing carefully-researched and well-argued theses, research scholars have been encouraged to work through a semester and then present their work at the end of each semester in their respective centres. In any case, most scholars are in continuous contact with their research supervisors who are kept abreast of their ongoing work.

This system, which has worked very well in the university, will be destroyed if research students are forced to come in daily and sign registers. Autonomy and freedom are the essence of a good education, and JNU has always retained its focus on creating serious scholars and not just docile subjects.

It is, therefore, completely shocking why a non-issue like attendance has been made into one by the JNU administration. The university has never had a problem in this regard, for the reasons explained above, and there has never been a problem of routine mass absenteeism. The students who are protesting this needless imposition of compulsory attendance are the same ones who are themselves requesting teachers to take classes, without attendance, outside the classroom. Those familiar with JNU’s classes and teaching ethos will know that students routinely credit and audit classes. Often, classrooms are overflowing as students take far more classes than stipulated — the university system has accommodated this by enabling what is known as an “add and drop” method for credit courses. This bureaucratic detail aside, students attend classes and take courses out of genuine intellectual interest. For many like me in the faculty, this is one of the biggest motivating factors for continuing to teach.

A student who is not coerced through a process of compulsory attendance, and attends classes out of her free will as a credit, and especially an “audit”, exemplifies a genuine interest in learning. Under the circumstances, it is shocking that the administration, instead of taking heed of what teachers and students are saying, is laying down conditions to dock students’ fellowships, deny them hostel facilities or threatening to block their registration. Suggesting this to any student is unprincipled, but to those from extremely poor and deprived backgrounds, a substantial number of JNU students, these conditions are unjust, petty and vindictive.

Let me also clarify here that several chairpersons, representing the concerns of the faculty of their centres, have written to the administration rejecting the recommendation for making attendance compulsory. Not only has this not been given credence, this administration, with its characteristic mendacity, has claimed that this was ratified by the Academic Council. Not only is this untrue, it is just another example of the manner in which ordinances, rules and procedures are being steadily overturned in JNU. Quoting UGC regulations as some unquestionable yardstick for universities in matters such as this is unimaginative and small-minded at the very least. Perhaps it may be more profitable all round if the UGC discusses this matter with faculty colleagues teaching in different post-graduate departments in the country; they may find, to their surprise, that this is a common practice in many social sciences and humanities departments all over the country.

Let me end by turning to another issue that The Indian Express editorial draws our attention to — this time appreciatively — that of the public inquiry against the vice-chancellor, M Jagadesh Kumar, initiated under the aegis of the JNU Teachers Association that ended with a resounding verdict by the eminent members of the jury that he should step down as he was found guilty on every charge that had been levelled against him. Be it the manipulation of faculty selections, flouting the Indian Constitution and its mandate for reservations, and the university’s own excellent policy of granting deprivation points to underprivileged students by cutting seats in different subjects in JNU, or summarily doing away with the university’s Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment, the jury found the present VC unfit to lead a premier university such as JNU.

The present policy of imposing compulsory attendance is merely symptomatic of a larger administrative malaise. The JNU community, that is, its students and teachers, reject the proposal for imposing compulsory attendance and demand that these be withdrawn with immediate effect. Only this will enable the university to get back to functioning with trust and normalcy.

The writer is professor, Centre for Women’s Studies, School of Social Sciences, JNU

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  1. Kunwar Parth
    Feb 14, 2018 at 11:56 pm
    I have met many JNU students and professors over the course of my professional life, and I can honestly say that attending classes (or not) will not make an iota of difference. The quality of both students and teachers at JNU is mediocre-to-poor, so expecting great things to happen by forcing attendance is naive. As for the author's premise here - that is also laughable. JNU's so-called "serious scholars" have practically never done anything original.
    (4)(2)
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    1. Seshubabu Kilambi
      Feb 14, 2018 at 9:41 pm
      Many other issues are being brushed under the carpet on the pretext of atendence ...the righ wing authorities are trying to close students rights in the university
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      1. AMITAVA BISWAS
        Feb 15, 2018 at 3:09 pm
        Crocodile tears.
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      2. V
        vikram
        Feb 14, 2018 at 8:46 pm
        Why is too much to expect these students - for whose tuition the taxpayer is sheeling out money- to attend classes regularly?
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        1. Redi ever
          Feb 14, 2018 at 9:01 pm
          Another RSS chaddi talking about what scholars should do. Why don't you ask Smriti Irani how she got her BA and BCom together in the same year. Also Why is Feku Modi degree a national security issue. Rss should first ask these questions before talking about JNU. Concentrate also on asking what is the educational qualifications of Bhago Bhagwat ? I am sure he must have failed 5th standard because that is his level. Focus on those benchmarks. JNU is too high for scum like you
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        2. S
          Sam
          Feb 14, 2018 at 8:34 pm
          Of course student attendance is a non issue, students are busy protesting and causing law and order problems in the country. If attendance is not even needed - then why even enroll in the University, you can study online or by correspondence!!! JNU hasn't produced any worthwhile scholars in at least the last 15 years. Worthwhile students don't enroll in JNU nowadays - it's only students who really don't want an education!
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          1. Redi ever
            Feb 14, 2018 at 9:01 pm
            Another RSS chaddi talking about what scholars should do. Why don't you ask Smriti Irani how she got her BA and BCom together in the same year. Also Why is Feku Modi degree a national security issue. Rss should first ask these questions before talking about JNU. Concentrate also on asking what is the educational qualifications of Bhago Bhagwat ? I am sure he must have failed 5th standard because that is his level. Focus on those benchmarks. JNU is too high for scum like you
            (2)(9)
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            1. K
              Kakul smiti
              Feb 15, 2018 at 12:26 am
              You cannot say this, that people who only want to waste their time enroll in JNU. It is not necessary that all people passing from a JNU garner the limelight, the talent can be latent too. There are many professors who are passing the knowledge to many students and illuminating their future, There are many scholars whose articles we read in such reputed newspapers like The hindu ,TOI and The indian express etc. It is very easy to criticise the JNUITE’S but first you should have the guts to qualify the entrance exam of JNU and this is the truth everyone can't get into JNU.
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            2. S
              Sam
              Feb 14, 2018 at 8:27 pm
              Of course student attendance is a non issue! The students are busy protesting and causing law and order problems in the country! If their education comes from all this, then why even enroll in the University? You can study by correspondence and/ or online! BTW - JNU hasn't produced any scholars or merit in the last 15 years .
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              1. Redi ever
                Feb 14, 2018 at 9:02 pm
                Another RSS chaddi talking about what scholars should do. Why don't you ask Smriti Irani how she got her BA and BCom together in the same year. Also Why is Feku Modi degree a national security issue. Rss should first ask these questions before talking about JNU. Concentrate also on asking what is the educational qualifications of Bhago Bhagwat ? I am sure he must have failed 5th standard because that is his level. Focus on those benchmarks. JNU is too high for scum like you
                (2)(12)
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