Faculty selection in JNU: Cracks on campushttps://indianexpress.com/article/education/faculty-selection-in-jnu-cracks-on-campus-5042818/

Faculty selection in JNU: Cracks on campus

The Indian Express tracks how JNU Vice-Chancellor’s decision to pick experts on his own has become a bone of contention on campus

JNU, Faculty selection, JNU VC, Jagadesh Kumar, JNU VC and Faculty Selection, Delhi News, JNU News, Indian Express
In a deviation from the norm, V-C Jagadesh Kumar nominated experts from outside the list of names provided by the Centre concerned and approved by the Academic Council. (Express Photo/Praveen Khanna)

Their recommendations on who gets to pick faculty members ignored, at least five Centres of learning in Jawaharlal Nehru University have spoken out in the past year. The Indian Express tracks how the Vice-Chancellor’s decision to pick experts on his own has become a bone of contention on campus

The Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice-Chancellor made changes to the composition of the Selection Committees — constituted to appoint faculty members — in at least six cases in 2017. In a deviation from the norm, V-C Jagadesh Kumar nominated experts from outside the list of names provided by the Centre concerned and approved by the Academic Council (AC), The Indian Express found. In five of the six cases, the Centres expressed their disagreement with his decision.

According to the 2010 University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines, recruitment of faculty should be done by “duly appointed Selection Committees”, which should include “three experts in the field concerned nominated by the V-C out of a panel of names approved by the relevant statutory body of the university concerned”. However, in at least six of the 30-odd interviews held last year, this was not the case.

Kumar took over as V-C on January 28, 2016, while his predecessor, S K Sopory, held the post from January 2011-16. He was preceded by B B Bhattacharya (2005-11) and G K Chadha (2002-05), both of whom are no more.

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Sopory said he always stuck to the list of names provided by the Centre. “I don’t know the details but usually we did (nominate) only from names approved by the AC. I did not put names on my own… There is a long list from which you can pick two-three names. The UGC laid down how a Selection Committee should be, so we went according to that,” he told The Indian Express. “Maybe the V-C can take one or two names (from outside the Centre’s panel) but I’m not sure if that is permissible under UGC norms.”

Incidentally, in an AC meeting on December 26, 2016, Kumar had passed an agenda item that gave him powers to intervene in the list of experts for Selection Committees. This had led to furore, with 20 AC members alleging that the item was not discussed. They had also asked how the V-C could have enough expertise to pick experts for all Centres.

The Selection Committee comprises the V-C as Chairperson, the three experts, the Dean of the School, the Chairperson of the Centre, the Visitor’s nominee, and an observer from the SC/ST community. The Indian Express sent a detailed questionnaire to the V-C, marked to Rector I. However, repeated reminders seeking answers, as well as a request for an appointment, did not elicit a response.

Faculty members who were chairpersons of the six Centres during Sopory’s time attested to the fact that he was a “stickler for rules” and did not pick experts from outside the panel. The Indian Express spoke to Vidhu Verma, chairperson of the Centre for Political Studies from 2013-15; Rajat Datta, chairperson of the Centre for Historical Studies from 2013-15; Parul Dave Mukherji, Dean of the School of Arts and Aesthetics; Kamal Mitra Chenoy, chairperson of the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory; and Saitya Brata Das, chairperson of the Centre for English Studies — and all of them confirmed that Sopory stuck to the panel’s recommendations. Jayati Ghosh, former chairperson of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, recalled only one instance when an expert was called from outside the panel: “Somebody backed out at the last moment. Even in that case, Sopory called me to ask if that person was okay.”

Contrast this with the six examples of experts being picked from outside the panels last year:

Centre for Historical Studies

The Centre held an interview for the post of assistant professor, with specialisation in Ancient Indian History, on September 28. None of the three experts were part of the Centre’s panel. In a dissent note to the V-C, two faculty members from the Centre, including chairperson Kunal Chakrabarti, wrote that the three — Adhya Saxena from Baroda University, Kapil Kumar from IGNOU and Aruna Sinha from Benaras Hindu University — were not experts in Ancient Indian History. Sinha had been in news in September 2017, when the BHU V-C granted her “emeritus” status despite her department allegedly finding certain parts of her CV fake.

“The composition of the expert panel is unsuitable as they were not subject experts,” the dissent note submitted on September 28 read. However, Kumar and Saxena said they had been teaching courses on Ancient India to postgraduate students. Sinha said a response to the dissent note had been sent to the administration. An expert who did not wish to be named said, “If they had objections, they should have got this recorded at the beginning of the Selection Committee… Both of them waited because their candidate was not selected.”

Objections were also raised about the candidate selected. In their dissent note, the professors wrote, “At least four candidates interviewed were far superior to the selected candidate, Birendranath Prasad, in… source-critiquing ability, analytical skill, domain knowledge, research output…” Prasad was a student of JNU, and a batchmate said he was an ABVP member during his MA days (1997-99), but would restrict himself to writing pamphlets, many on ‘cultural nationalism’. Shiv Shakti Bakshi, executive editor of Kamal Sandesh, said Prasad was his senior and was not ‘actively’ associated with the ABVP. “He did his own independent thing. He was academic- minded, not politically active,” Bakshi said. Two candidates who did not make the cut said the panel seemed “uninterested” in interviewing them.

“The questions reflected a lack of knowledge of the field. The V-C was not keen on asking questions, he left the interview mid-way,” a candidate claimed. Another candidate said the experts looked like they had “made up their mind” on who they wanted to appoint. When asked about his ABVP connection, Prasad told this reporter to call the next day.

The following day, when asked about the experts on the Selection Committee, he said, “I’m not the right person to talk about that.” Before the question about his appointment could be asked, he disconnected the call. On whether Prasad may have been selected because of his ideological leanings, an expert said, “We evaluate candidates on the basis of their academic merit. When earlier appointments were made by CPM or CPI, was it not a political appointment?”

Centre for English Studies

CES held two interviews for professor and associate professor posts on September 27. None of the experts — Maya Shankar Pandey from BHU; Shravan Kumar Sharma from Gurukul Kangri Vishwavidyalaya, Haridwar; and Kamal Mehta from Saurashtra University, Gujarat — were from the Centre’s panel. CES chairperson Udaya Kumar wrote a dissent note on the day of the interview, objecting to this. “The experts were not from the panel approved by the statutory bodies of JNU,” he wrote.

Kumar also objected to the appointment of Dhananjay Singh as professor. Singh, until then an assistant professor, bypassed the stage of associate professor, Kumar said. Singh was ABVP’s presidential candidate in the 2004 JNUSU polls. “Singh was not shortlisted by the CES screening committee because he does not have five published papers in UGC-approved journals… However, he was included despite repeated clarifications by the Centre,” Kumar wrote.

He said he “felt that the responses of many members of the Selection Committee were biased in favour of a single candidate”. He also objected to the fact that the post of associate professor was not filled. One of the candidates who sat for the interview claimed he was constantly “nudged” by the V-C to “finish”.

“In my presentation, I mentioned an essay that interrogates the idea of the ‘aesthetic regime’ proposed by French philosopher Jacques Ranciere… The experts told me that instead of engaging with ‘foreign thinkers’, I should concentrate on our ‘own tradition’ and produce work on it. One expert directly asked me if I had generated any work on Indian authors. I told him that I had worked on Bangla literature, and published on the early novels of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. He dismissed it, and said he meant Indians like Panini and Bhartrihari,” he claimed.

Pandey refused to comment on Singh’s selection, saying the matter was “confidential”. Mehta said he was not aware about how he was picked for the panel. However, he added, “I did not know anybody giving the interview; it was conducted in a very fair manner.” Singh defended his appointment, saying, “It is not for the first time an assistant professor has been made a professor. As per UGC guidelines, anyone with 10 years of teaching experience and 400 API points can apply for professorship. I have 11 years and the required API points.”

On his political background, he said, “Do they mean somebody from ABVP or a specific ideology cannot become a professor? I have been teaching for so many years; there is not a single incident where I have acted in a biased manner. None of the 13 PhD students I guided were so-called ABVP members; most of them were Left sympathisers or members of other organisations. That’s not how I see students.”

Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory

An interview for assistant professor (SC) was held on August 2-3 last year, and apart from Rajen Harshe, former V-C of South Asian University, the two experts — G Gopal Reddy from Osmania University and Pawan Kumar Sharma from Atal Bihari Vajpayee Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, Bhopal — were from outside the Centre’s list. This is something the then chairperson, Nivedita Menon, objected to. On September 18, the Executive Council removed her as chairperson, allegedly over charges that she had “insulted” and “misbehaved” with Selection Committee members.

In a letter dated October 12 to the V-C, Menon wrote that it was decided that all Selection Committee members would mark candidates and the average marks would be used for selection. However, she alleged that after the marking was completed, the administrative staff, SC/ST Observer Umesh Kadam and the V-C stepped out of the room with the papers, and came back in to declare Pravesh Kumar as the candidate with the highest average marks.

“The candidate with the highest ‘average mark’ was one who had performed very poorly in the interview… He was unable to answer simple questions from two of the experts on Political Theory,” she wrote. Harshe too did not sign the Minutes sheet. When contacted, Harshe said he would not comment on the proceedings, but added, “I did not sign the paper because morally and intellectually, I was not satisfied. It’s not about Left or Right. I am an educationist and I believe there cannot be a compromise on the standards of excellence anywhere.”

Kadam denied the charges: “These are lies. Marks were filled in front of the Selection Committee. Nobody takes the paper outside.” Asked if marking sheets were taken outside, Reddy, also a UGC member, first said, “I don’t know. We followed all the procedures.” When asked again, he said, “No such thing happened.”

The candidate in question, Pravesh Kumar, said, “Political appointments were done by the Left. My ideology does not matter. There is no denying that I am RSS-minded. I was never part of (BJP-backed) NDTF but I had asked them for a ticket (for the DU Teachers’ Association) polls. If they had agreed, maybe I would have joined. But these things shouldn’t be mixed with my appointment.” He added, “Appointments are completely academic. My API score is 96 out of 100… My interview lasted 45 minutes; if I was not capable enough, I would have been sent out in 10 minutes.”

Centre for Political Studies

The interview for assistant professor (people with disabilities) was held on May 2. Except for Rumki Basu from Jamia Millia Islamia, the two experts — Gopal Reddy from Osmania University and Sanjeev Kumar Sharma from Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut — were not part of the Centre’s panel. On May 8, the chairperson of the Centre as well as the Dean of the School wrote to the V-C expressing their “deep anguish”.

“We did not give any dissent since we consider it a constitutional obligation to fill a post reserved for the PWD. We would however… wish to convey our dismay at the disregard shown to the collective wisdom of the faculty of CPS and the Academic Council,” they wrote. Anupama Roy, chairperson of the centre, confirmed that two names were from outside the panel.

Tapan Kumar Bihari, chosen for the post, was unit vice-president of the ABVP in 2010 when he was studying at the University of Hyderabad. He was suspended from campus for six months for allegedly being involved in a scuffle. One of the students from SFI, whom he was allegedly involved in a scuffle with, claimed, “We were pasting posters… Some ABVP members beat us up. He (Bihari) and five others were suspended, while we were fined.”

Javvaji Dileep, ABVP’s Hyderabad city secretary, confirmed the incident. Asked about any possible link between his appointment and his political affiliation, Bihari said, “No comment about this.” He further said he would speak the next day, but stopped responding to calls and texts.

Centre for Economic Studies and Planning

The interview was held on August 28. Except for Naresh K Sharma from the University of Hyderabad, the two others — N K Taneja, V-C of Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut; and Mohan Lal Chhipa, former V-C of Atal Bihari Vajpayee Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, Bhopal — were not on the Centre-approved panel. Sources said a dissent note was sent to the V-C by the then Dean of the School of Sciences.

Sources also claimed there were “problems” with the questions posed to candidates. Devesh Birwal, a candidate whose work is on livestock, said he was asked whether he had visited a specific gaushala in Rajasthan. “I said I had been to gaushalas in my village, and that I knew about institutions like the National Dairy Research Institute and the Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University, but that I hadn’t heard of this specific gaushala. One of the examiners then gave a description of the gaushala without following it up with a question,” claimed Birwal.

“Had it been followed up with a question on how gaushalas are managed, cow slaughter or anything related to its economics, it would have made sense. But after telling me about the gaushala, they asked me to leave the room.” Another candidate claimed the experts asked him “silly questions”. He said it seemed like the outcome of the interview was “pre-decided”. Sharma refused to comment on the matter, calling it “confidential”.

Taneja said, “I can only say I did not ask such a question. But economics is a wide subject and if somebody asked about gaushala, that also has an economic significance.” Chhipa said, “I don’t remember what questions I asked. But whatever flowed from the conversation was asked. I had gone there to select an Economics teacher, not for gaushala.” The candidate selected was Manoj Kumar Diwakar, who has done his MPhil and PhD in Statistics from B R Ambedkar University, Agra. “I was not asked anything out of context. My interview was good. I don’t know about the issue of experts,” said Diwakar.

School of Arts and Aesthetics

The interview for assistant professor (PWD) was held on January 30. Former NSD director Anuradha Kapur was picked from the panel, while dancer Geeta Chandran and Kamlesh Dutt Tripathi from BHU were from outside. Tripathi ultimately did not show up as he had some work. Eventually, sources said, all three experts ended up being from performance studies, and the streams of visual arts and media studies were not represented.

Despite this, sources claimed several good candidates showed up, but the Selection Committee did not select anyone. “We have got many letters from the PWD Commission asking JNU to fill up these posts, but it was still left vacant. This happened because two experts and the Dean favoured one candidate and the V-C another,” a source claimed.

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A candidate, who has done work on music history, said, “It seemed like the Selection Committee was satisfied with my presentation. But at the end, no one was selected.” Chandran said the decision was unanimous. “There was no one suitable for the post. It is true that the demand of the School and the kind of people who came did not match. There was absolutely no friction among the members, the V-C came and supported us,” she said. Kapur did not comment on the matter.