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Eight JNU professors write to President Kovind on ‘violation in faculty appointments’

Under the current V-C, whose term ends in January, repeated cases of alleged violations in appointments have surfaced in various Schools and Centres, with some cases also pending in the Delhi High Court.

Written by Aranya Shankar | New Delhi | Updated: November 27, 2020 9:42:44 am
jnu 2020Jawaharlal Nehru University (File)

Eight Physics professors from Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Physical Sciences (SPS) have written to President Kovind alleging “gross violation of ethics and procedures” in recent faculty appointments for Physics in the School. They have asked him to intervene in his capacity as the Visitor and keep the appointments in “abeyance” till they are “scrutinised”.

Under the current V-C, whose term ends in January, repeated cases of alleged violations in appointments have surfaced in various Schools and Centres, with some cases also pending in the Delhi High Court.

The eight professors of SPS – Sanjay Puri, Subhasis Ghosh, Sankar Prasad Das, Subir Kumar Sarkar, S S N Murthy, Brijesh Kumar, Satyabrata Patnaik and Debashis Ghoshal – have cited seven cases of violations in their letter dated November 23. They have alleged that either “weak” candidates were selected or names of candidates were added to the shortlist at the last minute and they ended up being selected. In certain cases, despite having strong candidates in the shortlist, no selections were made.

Speaking to The Indian Express, one of the professors said, “We had been seeing this happen in other schools and centres but thought Science schools will be spared as the V-C is from a science background. However, that proved to be wrong. We debated whether to write to university authorities but it was felt that whatever is happening is happening by design and not by chance. So we thought to write to the Visitor straightaway.”

For each post, JNU has a separate screening committee whose members are “either experts in the area of specialisation mentioned in the advertisement or have a broad enough command of the subject”, the professors wrote.

“These highly technical duties involved in shortlisting cannot be performed by non-experts and any act of altering the list of shortlisted candidates by any entity other than the duly constituted screening committee is illegitimate and is an act of malfeasance. Yet that is what happened repeatedly in these recruitments and the beneficiary in every case, in defiance of all laws of probability, was also the person who was ultimately selected,” they added.

In one case of appointment for a professor, for example, they said “several strong candidates, including a CSIR-Bhatnagar prize winner, were shortlisted”, but the “selection committee recommended a candidate who does not have even ten years of experience after obtaining the PhD degree”.

In one post for associate professor, they said the screening committee had “shortlisted only two candidates”, but “a new name was added just a few days before the interview in spite of explicit refusal by the two members of the screening committee to do so because of only a marginal overlap of the candidate’s actual research work with the required areas of specialisation”. The person was eventually selected.

In another case of associate professor, the screening did not select an individual because they had “no teaching experience at the MSc level, no experience of independent guidance of PhD students and only a marginal overlap with area specified in the advertisement”. Yet the candidate was selected.

“The processes and outcomes… will have the consequence that competent individuals will not apply for faculty positions here in future. The message that performance on the job is not the determining factor for career advancement will thoroughly demoralise our younger colleagues and push them towards a state of premature unproductiveness,” they wrote.

“We request you to intervene in your capacity as Visitor of JNU. We pray that the appointments mentioned be kept in abeyance until all aspects of the conduct and outcome of the selection process (including whether the best available candidates were selected and whether the external subject experts on the Selection Committee were qualified to meaningfully judge quality of research in the relevant areas of specialisation) are scrutinised by a committee of leading physicists and astrophysicists from institutions such as TIFR (Mumbai), IISc (Bengaluru) and IUCAA (Pune),” they added.

When contacted, Registrar Pramod Kumar said, “All due processes have been followed. Whether someone is deserving or not, only the selection committee can decide. Their decisions cannot be challenged by anyone.”

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