Hours after it issued a circular saying faculty members could access their offices for conducting online classes, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) post midnight Saturday withdrew the circular with “immediate effect” citing “security reasons”.
In an supposed bid to ensure completion of the current semester on time in light of the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the JNU had issued a circular saying faculty members could access their offices and computers for conducting online classes.
Several teachers and the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) alleged this was a call for violation of the lockdown as many teachers stayed outside the campus, and even those who stayed in campus were not being allowed to exit their homes except to buy essential services.
“The faculty members are allowed to access their computer and internet connection from their respective school/centre offices for the purpose of their online lectures/academic activities after completely adhering to the Covid-19 guidelines. They can contact the security office to gain access to their office,” JNU Registrar Pramod Kumar said in the circular.
Linguistics Professor Ayesha Kidwai who stays outside the campus and is a high-risk patient due to auto-immune problems, said the registrar was calling for violation of the lockdown. “I am to violate lockdown in order to go to my office on a daily basis so that I can take online classes using my office computer?… People are not allowed even to take a walk on JNU campus by security guards but faculty are to throng the School buildings so as to legitimise the university’s refusal to declare vacations and to resume the semester as soon as we can reopen?… I hope the Delhi govt will immediately file an FIR against the JNU Registrar,” she wrote on Facebook.
She said the university was making a desperate bid to complete the semester on time. “This is a result of many teachers saying that they have difficulty in access to internet or course material at home. But there are many students also who don’t have internet access, so how will they study?” said Kidwai.
Professor Kavita Singh from the School of Arts & Aesthetics also said the circular was “pointless” and “unworkable” since it was impossible for her to reach campus. “Moreover, while there is now a pressure to hold online classes, when the lockdown was declared, there was no preparation by the JNU administration by way of discussions with teachers on how this can be worked out considering the problem of access to internet,” she said.
A faculty member staying inside the campus also said it was not possible to reach schools or centres, since announcements were periodically being made on loudspeakers that legal action would be taken against those violating the lockdown by stepping out of their homes.
Terming the circular “bizarre”, the JNUTA said through the circular the administration was making obvious that for them “academics is not about serious engagement and only a matter of clocking time”.
“Not only is this a violation of the government provisions in force on account of the Covid-19 threat, the circular implicitly admits a truth that it also denies in the same breath. If faculty who are residents on campus need this ‘privilege’ to do online teaching, the same must be also true for the large number who live outside the campus and cannot come to the University. If faculty need access to this infrastructure to do online teaching, surely students can’t participate in the learning side without a similar access,” the JNUTA said in a statement.
Registrar Pramod Kumar did not respond to queries seeking comment on how teachers were expected to reach their offices during lockdown.
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