Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has recently asked some of its Professors Emeriti, including historian Romila Thapar, for CVs to “review their position”.
Prof Thapar, who received the communication on July 12, has said the university is only trying to “dishonour someone who has been critical of the changes that have been introduced by the present administration”.
In her response to the university, Prof Thapar has pointed out that her conferment letter had said that the position was honorary and for life and that nowhere in the world is the status of Professor Emeritus re-evaluated after it has been conferred.
However, the revised rules of the JNU Executive Council published last year say that the Council would “review the continuation or otherwise for each existing Emeritus Professor after attainment of her/his age of 75 years by considering her/his health status, willingness, availability, university needs etc. so that more positions will be available to other potential candidates”.
So who is a Professor Emerita/Emeritus, and how is she/he appointed?
‘Emeritus’ (female equivalent ‘Emerita’, although the usage is often gender-neutral) is a Latin word that literally means a veteran soldier. Worldwide, ‘Professor Emeritus/Emerita’ is the title bestowed upon an eminent retired academic in recognition of their work and distinguished service.
In India, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has a ‘Scheme of Emeritus Fellowship’ in order “to provide an opportunity to the superannuated teachers who have been actively engaged in research and teaching programmes in the preceding years to undertake research, without any restriction of position or pay scales”.
According to the UGC’s website, eligibility for the fellowship “will be based on the quality of research and published work contributed by the teacher in his/her service career. The awardee (superannuated) can work under this scheme with a well-defined time-bound action plan up to the age of 70 years or up to two years (non-extendable) of the award whichever is earlier.”
“No extension under the scheme is admissible and hence the proposal should be well defined with a time-bound action plan so that it is completed within the prescribed tenure,” the UGC site says.
It also mentions an honorarium of “Rs 31,000/- p.m. for two years (non-extendable) and a Contingency grant (non-lapsable) of Rs 50,000”.
Jawaharlal Nehru University
In JNU, the departments (called ‘centres’) propose names for Professor Emeritus. The names are first approved by a committee set up by the university, and then cleared by the Academic Council and Executive Council. No salary is paid to Professors Emeriti.
Prabhat Patnaik, another Professor Emeritus at JNU, wrote in an open letter: “That the emeritus professorship is honorary means just that. The university does not have to make any special arrangements, financial or otherwise, to accommodate such professors. It is only a status that is conferred by the university on the retirement of a selected faculty member. So the question of making positions available for other potential candidates does not arise. It costs the university nothing. The choice of professor emeritus is a comment on the academic values of the university. There can be any number of such professors. It is quite clearly an honour that is given for life; therefore any periodic reassessment is out of the question.”
The JNU website currently lists 25 Professors Emeriti. The largest number — 14 — are from the prestigious School of Social Sciences. They include, apart from Professors Thapar and Patnaik, Professors Yogendra Singh, Amit Bhaduri, T K Oommen, Deepak Nayyar, Utsa Patnaik, Sukhdeo Thorat, and Zoya Hasan.
There are Professors Namwar Singh and H S Gill of the School of Language, Literature & Culture Studies; Prof R Rajaraman of the School of Physical Sciences, Prof C K Varshney of the School of Environmental Sciences, Prof S D Muni of the School of International Studies, and Prof Asis Datta of the School of Life Sciences.
Across the world
Across the world, institutions of excellence such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Oxford University, etc. have long lists of Professors Emeriti, who are considered to add to the prestige of the university.