The JNU faculty really needs to thank Rashmi Das (Who’s afraid of Vivekananda?, IE, November 30) for informing us as to what happened at the 290th Executive Council meeting held on November 25. This is so, because the chairperson of the EC, the Vice Chancellor, chose to call the meeting on a day knowing very well that there would be no elected faculty members present at the meeting. The term of the elected faculty on the EC had ended a week before and delayed notification on the part of the administration meant that this would be the first time in the last two years that there would be no representation of elected faculty members at the EC. So thanks to Das for letting the JNU faculty know through The Indian Express about the important matters that were taken up at the EC meeting.
Das is no stranger to JNU being an alumni herself, and so I am sure she would agree that JNU is a very special place which has attracted students from different parts of the country and with different ideologies for over four decades and more. This is reflected in the manner in which she has chosen to extol the retrograde notions of “manliness” and “kingly” values as embodied by Vivekananda to a democratic state, while another alumni on the other hand, recently critiqued the current political dispensation’s questionable patronage of statuary as “public” art. What might get lost in these narratives and counter narratives is the contribution of a migrant family that laid the foundation of the sculpture in the bitter cold of January 2019, long before the Prime Minister did a virtual inauguration. Accompanied by their small children, for whom the university administration provided no crèche facilities, the family’s subsequent erasure from view is a reflection of the casteist bigotry of the very same idol who now graces the entrance to the university’s administration complex.
It is this distinctive character of the university that is sadly being altered, in a top-down manner, without due process being followed. For example, the deprivation points that were awarded to candidates based on whether they had done their education from a backward district or not, that ensured a diverse and representative set of students, has been done away with. Similarly, a complete switch from traditional pen and paper examinations to online, from essay type questions to a system of multiple choice question and answers, from in-house execution to complete outsourcing of tasks to the National Testing Agency, epitomise the changes introduced by the administration, without substantial discussions with the faculty employed in different Centres and Schools of the University.
The question that we need to ask at this juncture is, does this new system of online admissions do justice to a university of JNU’s stature. In this respect, the binaries that Das seeks to build between the Left and the Right do not help much. Over the years irrespective of ideology, the JNU entrance examination is one exercise that has witnessed willing participation of faculty and the non-teaching staff of the university alike. The questions raised about NTA are a concern for all faculty, social sciences and sciences included. For JNU faculty, it is more a question of propriety and ethics. Can a research university providing PhD degrees afford to select candidates based on a random set of multiple choice questions (MCQ) that may be mastered through rote learning. The present examinations based in the MCQ format also goes against past practices of encouraging applicants to answer questions in their own mother tongue. In the past, it was common practice in JNU to receive answer scripts in various Indian languages, which allowed applicants who had studied in the vernacular to enter a space that they no prior access hitherto. The capacity to analyse and reason was what marked one applicant from the other, unlike the objective pattern that seeks to assign an uniform score to all those providing n number of correct answers.
This year the JNU administration went a step further, by outsourcing the entire process of examinations, from start to finish to the National Testing Agency. In 2019-20 JNU faculty were at least involved with preparation of questions with the NTA providing the online platform for hosting the examinations; in 2020-21, the university decided to pass full controls of the examination, from preparation of question papers to declaration of results to the NTA. It is important to note that at no time were the terms of reference signed between JNU and NTA mandating compulsory participation of the faculty in the examination process, ever made public. Nor were individual faculty members officially assigned the duty of preparing the question paper for the university. Faculty also took affront to the move to offer them extra remuneration for their cooperation with the NTA. The attempt by the administration to vilify faculty choosing not to work with the NTA, as “grave misconduct of service rules” is in this sense clearly malafide.
Why does the administration fear the faculty and the teachers association so much that it needs to have them as the counter narrative in every plot? Why can’t the administration learn to show some grace to its faculty who have through their hard work and perseverance helped JNU retain the number one spot amongst universities year after year? Das, I’m afraid you’re wrong when you ask the faculty to grow some spine. For all this while, it is the faculty that has been the spine of this university and it is now high time that the administration under the Vice Chancellor learnt to develop a spine too.
The author is a Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and was till very recent a member of the Executive Council of the University