JNU’s VC tweaked rules, got loyalists on key posts
The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration, headed by vice chancellor (VC) M Jagadesh Kumar, appointed several faculty members who were either freshly inducted with changes to the selection process or promoted in alleged violation of seniority and rotation norms to key roles that allowed them to control crucial administrative functions of the university over the last three years, according to several people familiar with the matter.
These appointments, the elected faculty body JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) and elected students’ body JNU Students’ Association (JNUSU) allege, allowed the administration to push forward its schemes in a bid to “change JNU’s decision-making process” and the “nature of the university”.
According to JNUTA, which has about 600 members out of JNU’s 700-strong faculty, in at least 14 cases of recruitment in the past three years, the selection committee was changed to favour “loyalists”. Of those, 12 appointees were later made wardens in JNU hostels and the other two were given key roles as proctor and chief proctor.
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There are also allegations that the university administration violated “norms of seniority and rotation” in appointment of at least eight Deans of Schools and 21 chairpersons of Centres between 2017 and 2019. These people hold positions in the top decision-making bodies of the university – all in the Academic Council (AC), and four in the Executive Council (EC).
While the AC takes all academic decisions such as admission, attendance and recruitment, the 23-member EC is the final authority and takes calls on all matters passed by the AC. The EC is also in charge of the general management and administration, including the revenue and property of the university.
In the last three years, some of the decisions taken in the AC and EC, including making seat cut in MPhil and PhD in 2017, making attendance mandatory for students and teachers in 2018, inviting bids to replace dhabas with cafeterias in 2018 and adopting online mode entrance exam in the same year, became major contention points between the students, faculty and administration.
Of the 47 faculty members appointed by Jagadesh Kumar during his tenure, 26 are now wardens across 18 JNU hostels.
A senior faculty member said, “There are around 70 wardens across the 18 JNU hostels. Of them, 26 are new recruits. Majority of them are the members of the newly formed teachers’ group JNUTF.”
The wardens live in the hostels, and are responsible for security, administration, and play a role in the formulation of hostel rules, including those governing fees.
JNUSU vice president Saket Moon said that the appointment of “VC’s loyalists” as wardens was the main reason behind the ongoing fee hike controversy in the campus. “If the wardens were not VC’s loyalists, they would have raised objection towards the hostel fee hike during the Inter-Hall Administration (IHA) meeting last year when the decision was taken,” he said.
Most of the newly recruited or promoted teachers are part of a breakaway group of about 106 faculty members who formed a parallel JNU Teachers’ Federation (JNUTF) formed last November. Even as the JNUSU and JNUTA have demanded the resignation of the VC, HT reported on January 10 that all the five members of a committee set up to probe the mob attack in JNU on January 5 were members of the JNUTF.
Aswini Mohapatra, dean of the School of International Studies and a representative of JNUTF, said, “It will be wrong to say that all those who were recruited or get promoted under Jagadesh Kumar later joined the JNUTF. We have many old faculty members in the federation as well. We had to make this group in November last year because the elected JNUTA has failed to do its work at the campus and was hand in gloves with the students who have been creating ruckus at the campus.”
JNUTA president DK Lobiyal said that it submitted a written statement mentioning all the cases of alleged violations in recruitment and promotions to the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry on Monday. “As per the JNU’s past practice and norms, the senior-most professors are appointed as the dean of schools or chairpersons of centres. However, in many cases the university has surpassed the norm and appointed even the junior-most faculties, who are their loyalists, to the top posts,” he said.
Officials at the HRD ministry confirmed the meeting took place.
Mohapatra’s name was also mentioned by the JNUTA in its representation to the MHRD mentioning that his appointment as the dean violated norms. Reacting to this, he said, “They can move court if they have any issue with my appointment.”
Lobiyal alleged that the University administration also violated the 2010 University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines, which say that the faculty recruitment is done by a selection committee constituted through certain norms. “UGC guidelines say that there should be three experts in the field concerned in the committee. These experts are selected by the VC from a list of names approved by the centres. However, the VC in 2016 passed an agenda and gave him the power to select people on the selection committee from outside,” he said.
Jagadesh Kumar did not respond to repeated calls and text messages seeking comment.
Several teachers in JNU said that in some cases the selection committee did not have any member suggested by the concerned department. For instance, during the recruitment of Jaikhlong Basumatary as an assistant professor at the Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies (School of International Studies) in October 2017, all the three members on the panel were appointed by the VC from outside the university. “He was not suitable for the post because his PhD was on Israel (not in the Indo-Pacific region). He was appointed on the post because of his close proximity with the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyalaya Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtria Swayamsevak Sangh) cadre at the campus,” said a faculty member at the School of International Studies, who asked not to be named.
When contacted, Basumatary denied the allegation. “All I have to say is that I have been targeted,” he said. Basumatary, a member of JNUTF, was named in a written statement issued by JNUSU on January 11 in connection with the violence that took place on January 4 at the campus. He has denied his role in the incident as well.
Similarly, several teachers raised questions over the recruitment of Tapan Kumar Bihari as an assistant professor in the Center for Political Studies in 2017. “Only one member of the selection committee was from the list which was sent by the Centre and approved by the AC. Both the other members were not from the approved list,” said a faculty member at the centre, speaking on condition of anonymity. Bihari’s name was taken by JNUSU secretary Aishe Ghosh in connection with the January 5 violence.
Bihari did not respond to calls, text messages and an email sent to him for a comment.
A section of teachers in 2017 moved the Delhi high court against the changes made in the selection committee. Ayesha Kidwai, professor at the Centre for Linguistics, said that the court last year passed an order saying the VC cannot change the selection committee without being passed by the AC. “The VC then held an AC meeting for formation of selection committees in June last year, in the middle of the vacation, when majority of the chairpersons were on leave. He did not reveal the names on the panel with AC members in the agenda items. The names were then scrolled over a projector during the meeting. We were not even allowed to note any dissent,” she said.
Between 2017 and 2019, the elected EC members noted dissent in at least 23 cases of appointment of Deans and Chairpersons in JNU. Teachers had also moved to the court in some cases, including the appointment of Mazhar Asif, as a faculty member in the Centre for Persian Studies. “He was a member of the executive council (EC) that takes the call on appointments when he was recruited. One cannot be on the executive committee and also be an applicant. It is a conflict of interest, and it clearly shows he is the administration’s person,” Kidwai said.
Asif was later appointed as the acting dean of the School of Arts and Aesthetics. He was removed in March 2018 through a court order after a section of teachers moved the Delhi high court citing violations. He was then appointed as the chairperson of the linguistics centre in July 2018. Asif was again removed within a few days after teachers moved the court citing that a Persian professor could not be the chairperson of the department, according to the JNU appointment rules.
Asif did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comments.
Maushumi Basu, associate professor at the School of International Studies and an EC member, said: “In several recent cases of recruitment the faculty members were not even qualified for the post. We had noted our dissent several times against such recruitment.”
Professor Surajit Mazumdar, a former EC member, said: “The administration did not even record the dissent noted by the EC members in the minutes of the EC meetings. If nothing is illegal and everything is fine then why are they not ready to mention dissent in the minutes?”
According to teachers, the recruitment of Anshu Joshi, who was associated with the ABVP during her time as a student in JNU, in the Centre of Canadian, US and Latin Studies was “inappropriate” on the grounds that her specialty was in different field.
“She had done her PhD in disarmament and her selection in US and Latin studies was bizarre. When you appoint someone at assistant professor level the person has about decades of service left. They will be responsible for building the future of students,” said a faculty member at the centre, asking not to be named.
When contacted, Joshi said that her recruitment had happened following all “due processes”. “If anyone has any issue with that they can move to the court,” she said.
Joshi was also named by the JNUSU members in connection with the violence that took place on January 4 in the campus. She has denied her involvement in the incident.