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Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

Xavier’s VC on professor resignation row: ‘A teacher is supposed to be a mentor… should vibrate principles of the university’

In an interview with The Indian Express, Father Felix Raj, Vice-Chancellor of St. Xavier's University in Kolkata, said the institution doesn't have a code of conduct but expects its teachers to role models for our students.

St Xavier’s College and University alumnus and many former teachers of the two institutes have taken to social media to slam the university authorities (Image credits: University website)

Denying allegations about forcing a professor to resign over swimsuit photos she posted on Instagram, Father Felix Raj, the Vice-Chancellor of Kolkata’s St. Xavier’s University told The Indian Express that the university could have “terminated” the teacher as she was on probation but did not to “protect her career”.

The teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said that a “kangaroo court” was held with the administration on October 7 last year where she was “intimidated, bullied and taunted with sexually coloured remarks”. Raj denied this and said the teacher accepted giving students access to her Instagram and apologised for the same before the inquiry committee.

Excerpts:

A former female professor has alleged that the university forced her to resign over her Instagram photos…

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St Xavier’s did not force anyone to resign. When someone is on probation, if the university is dissatisfied, either of the two sides can give notice and end the relationship. The teacher concerned was on probation and had completed just two months (at St. Xavier’s). If the institution wanted, it could have terminated her services. But as a Jesuit institution, we always look out for our teachers and students. We wanted to protect her career.

When a complaint came, a committee was formed to look into it. But things turned out to be just the opposite. The teacher admitted that she had given students access to her Instagram profile, her private space.

The other thing we wanted to establish was whether the pictures sent to us were indeed hers. She said yes to that as well. When the photos were uploaded is not our concern. We had to check whether the complaint’s content was correct. She even tendered an apology for the same on October 8 (2021) and then we closed for (Durga) puja vacation.

There is no question of any contact with her during the vacation. We reopened on the 25th, and she sent her resignation letter. I accepted her resignation. This cannot be interpreted as forcing someone to resign.

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The teacher has alleged that the complaint against her was not genuine but lodged with an intention to malign her. Did the university try to verify the identity of the complainant?

We verified the complaint. There was correspondence between the complainant and us. There is no question of it being dubious. We didn’t go to the person’s house to verify, but we tried verifying the content of the complaint.

The teacher accepted that she had given students access to her Instagram profile. If she said otherwise, that those were not her pictures, we would have maybe taken a different course of action.

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The professor says that committee members shamed her in a “kangaroo court” held on October 7 last year…

I don’t want to comment on the photographs. We have not shown the photographs to anyone. She had lodged a police complaint. When the police came asking about this case, we even did not share photos with them. She has been our professor, we have to protect her. We have not shown the photos to anyone, unless necessary..

But she says that she was grilled and shamed for what she was wearing…

I don’t think that ever happened. She didn’t tell me that in her apology letter. She should have openly told me then. When she met me, she said that we had given her a chance, that she made a mistake, and that she will now review her social media.

The professor has said that the pictures were shared in June 2021, before she joined the university. Does that impact her current position?

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How does it matter whether she had posted it one year ago or ten years ago, if those posts are available on her Instagram and she has given her students access to those photos. The very fact that the teacher gives access to what she considers private…. is this not wrong?

Will a parent appreciate the teacher providing her students access to her Instagram where she is posting her photographs? My point is this, when the committee asked her (about the photographs), she accepted that she posted them and gave access to the students and apologised.

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Should a teacher be asked to apologise for posts on a private account?

When a complaint came, it said “my son is befriending a teacher”. We always promote a healthy relationship between the teachers and students. You keep your private life private. Giving access to students is a mistake. It is not expected in an institution like ours. Any educational institution will not appreciate this.

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Has the professor violated any particular rules of the institution?

We are not a company that has a strict code of conduct. A teacher is a teacher and is supposed to be a mentor. We know that teachers should behave as role models. In a sacred institution, we need to be sacred. We need to vibrate the decent image of the institution.. vibrate principles of the institutions.

We have a code of conduct but we don’t enforce it. We tell them to be a role model for our students.

How do you respond to the criticism about moral policing and misogyny?

These are criticisms on social media. St Xavier’s is a brand and everyone on social media wants to attack (us). Will social media be a judge?

We were not inhuman to her. We were kind to her. She was one of our students earlier and now our teacher.

But the institution did send her a defamation notice…

It was not a defamation notice. She sent us a notice and our lawyer sent her a response. Our lawyer said that for “defaming the university, you are liable to pay such and such”. That was it.

Now suddenly, she has gone to the press. Can I go to the press? Can I wash dirty linen in public? We would like her to progress in life. We have nothing against her. During probation, we could have terminated her service, but then her progress would have been difficult.

What is the university’s stand now that the professor has decided to move the court against it?

She is saying that now. I don’t know (whether she has actually done it). Why did she go to the press at all? I don’t understand. We have not done any injustice to anyone. We did not indulge in any harassment or anything.

First published on: 20-08-2022 at 09:31:14 am
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