Updated: September 3, 2019 6:32:21 pm
The authorities of Jawaharlal Nehru University have caught the withering gaze of the academic community by calling for the CV of Romila Thapar, professor emerita, premier historian of ancient India and a student of AL Basham, to evaluate if she is competent to retain the honour. There are two absurdities here. First, Thapar’s CV is on the university’s own website and if the administration were to lose its way online, Google would be an infallible friend. And second, it is unlikely that anyone in the administration has the credentials to evaluate Thapar.
This exercise is apparently in pursuance of a 2018 ordinance which specified periodic revaluations. But that is illogical, and betrays the administration’s ignorance about the term “emeritus”, whose meaning in academic use has been clear from 1794 — the conferment of an honour for past achievements. These, being in the past, cannot have changed — unless the university has acquired the capacity to warp time by science fiction — and therefore revaluation would be a pointless exercise. Besides, such positions are seen as recognition of status, and no obligations adhere either to the university conferring it, or the recipient. Revaluation would have meaning in examining a contract, under which service levels may be gauged. However, in the case of professors emeritus, no such contract exists. Apart from such absurdities, in the matter of the supposed revaluation of Thapar, the change in the rules made last year is being imposed retrospectively.
The university has argued that it is simply following due process. How egregiously diligent of them, when due process is getting short shrift in so many vital matters in the public sphere, in JNU and outside it. Romila Thapar may be right in assuming that while her relations with the university may remain unaffected at the end of the process, the process itself would be the punishment, inflicting “dishonour” upon one of the leading lights of the institution who has been vocally critical of its functioning in recent years.
She is also correct in assuming that even if she were declared unfit by JNU, it would in no way harm her standing. On the contrary, one of India’s most prestigious institutions would stand much diminished in the eyes of the world. With its administration’s stunted understanding of academics and its willingness to play petty politics, it would be the laughing stock of the world of learning.
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