JNUSU’s Letter to VC on upcoming AC Meeting of 7 Oct 2016

To

The VC, JNU                                                                                                                                                             06 Oct 2016

Sub: Students’ concerns for the upcoming AC Meeting of 7 Oct 2016

JNU remains one of the last few institutions of higher education in the country where affordable and quality education for students, particularly for those from deprived backgrounds, has been ensured through proactive policies of inclusion due to the consistent efforts of the university community. The fact that JNU ranks as the topmost university of the country is an outcome of its affordable and equitable character and its cherished atmosphere of free debate and discussion. It is these factors which have ensured its truly plural social composition and a rich engaging academic climate. At a time when higher educational institutions are being turned into exclusive enclaves of the privileged sections and their very character and content is being ‘restructured’ to suit the diktats of the ‘market’ and obscurantist ideas, it becomes doubly important for us in JNU to defend the unique vision of JNU.

This involves (a) progressive policy interventions (b) ensuring essential enabling infrastructural provisions like Hostels, MCM and other fellowships, adequate Library facilities, Placement cells, Wi-fi in residential areas, better Health Centre, sports and cultural activities facilities and (c) nurturing academic autonomy and spaces for discussion, debate and dissent.

JNUSU, since 22 September, is on an Indefinite Sit-In Vigil at the Ad Block against the administration’s gross insensitivity towards the massive hostel crisis and demanding speedy resolution of some important policy issues to make JNU more socially inclusive. However, we have not any hearing to our demands so far. On the contrary, once the AC agenda came to the fore, we are faced with a fresh round of anti-academic, anti-student policy proposals.

It is in this context we would like to draw your attention to and seek support for the speedy redressal of the following urgent concerns of the student community in the Academic Council meeting of 7 Oct 2016.

On the SLL&CS Proposals of High CGPA to Continue in BA-MA: JNUSU would like to draw to your urgent attention to an extremely arbitrary, undemocratic and anti-student proposal from the Dean, SLL& CS for the revised Ordinance of the “5-Year M.A. Integrated programme” in SLL&CS. The proposal is going to be placed in the Academic Council (AC) meeting (Item no 7).

The AC Meeting of 25th April, 2014 resolved to accept the revival of the integrated B.A – M.A programme in SLL&CS, scrapping an earlier decision of delinking of B.A and M.A. But the new proposal, once again, is trying to dismantle the Integrated BA/MA and deliberately attempting to push out students through demands of absurdly high CGPA for promotion.

The minimum CGPA requirement for promotion to 2nd year BA is proposed to be raised from 3.0 to 5.0 in core courses; minimum CGPA requirement for promotion to integrated M.A is proposed to be raised from 4.0 to 6.0 in core courses; students getting CGPA between 5.0 and 6.0, will be awarded BA Pass degree after three years, and those getting CGPA 6.0 will get BA (Hons) degree only if they decide to discontinue- no BA Degree shall be awarded to students who continue to be enrolled in the five year integrated MA programme; the CGPA requirement for obtaining M.A. degree is being raised from 4.0 to 5.0!

Further, as per record, these proposals were ‘passed’  in the SLL&CS BoS of March 2015 in Part B, that is, by keeping the student community and student representatives in the dark. It is highly unfortunate and disturbing that instead of addressing the serious problem of large scale drop-out faced by the students of SLL&CS, the SL admin has chosen ways to push–out more students. JNUSU urges you to drop this highly retrograde and anti-student proposal from AC agenda.

Speedy Hostels for ALL: The  failure of the JNU administration to start constructing new hostels has created massive crisis where thousands of students, coming from far off places, are spending days in extremely traumatic conditions. After JNUSU and JNU student community’s continuous interventions the administration was forced to complete the construction of dormitories near Teflas, constructions and expanded accommodations in the Damodar complex, and dormitory facilities in some other hostels. However, after some initial advances, the construction of Shipra–2 remains stalled and the administration has not worked out alternative plans like the setting up of the promised Porta Cabins for temporary accommodation-for which funds were supposed to have been allotted funds months back.

The massive hostel crisis is further aggravated by the terribly slow and non-transparent hostel allotment process by the DoS office. For example, the students who got admission under different streams in one centre are facing discrimination as the merit lists of different streams are being merged despite the fact that different streams held separate entrance tests. It is indeed unfortunate that instead of fulfilling  its basic responsibility of providing hostels, the DoS is busy tampering with every existing norm and procedure and unilaterally imposing new ‘rules’ and ‘procedures’ causing harassment to students in every possible manner.

 JNUSU has been demanding that while arranging for more dormitories and spaces for alternative accommodation, the administration must immediately start constructing new hostels.

The administration must also right away undertake the repair-work in old hostels, furniture, facilities and water crisis in dormitories must be immediately solved. Dismantling the residential character of the University will be a body blow to the very character and purpose of JNU. We demand that all options for immediate alternative accommodations must be arranged and special drives be made to start new hostel constructions without delay.

Reduce Viva-Weightage Now: Reduction in weightage of viva marks in JNU admissions has been one of our central concerns in our efforts to make JNU’s admission policy more equitable and inclusive. Since March 2012, JNUSU and the student community have been raising this crucial demand at every possible forum. After the AC meeting of March 2012, a committee with JNUSU representation, was formed to look into this matter. The data analysis of viva has clearly shown palpable evidence of huge disparity in evaluation, particularly in the marking pattern for SC/ST/OBCs. While the impact was seen to be stark for students from deprived sections, the subjective biases embedded in any viva evaluation can jeopardize chances of general students as well.

JNUSU has consistently maintained that the core problem in the way of fair evaluation is embedded in the structure of 70%-30% written-viva ratio, whereby the extreme marking in 30% viva (in the range of 0-5 to 25-28) washes out the performance of the candidates in the 70% written. As a result, marking in 30% viva becomes the only effective criterion of selection and performance in 70% written remains only a qualifier.

Indeed, our demand is not premised on casting aspersions on the interview board, where subjectivities/biases can creep in for intended and unintended reasons. Rather, our demand is premised on the principle that an evaluation process, which has both written and viva component, can be fair only if it is ensured the impact of intended and unintended subjectivities or biases, unavoidable and inherent in any viva process, CANNOT BECOME OVERWHELMING ENOUGH to wash-out and nullify the performance of the candidates in the written.

High Viva Weightage: Legally Untenable

Way back in November 1980, a 5- Judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court comprising legal luminaries like P.N. Bhagwati, Y.V. Chandrachud (CJI), V.R. Krishnaiyer, Syed Murtaza Fazal Ali, A.D. Koshal) had clearly said:

“We are of the view that, under the existing circumstances, allocation of more than 15% of the total marks for the oral interview would be arbitrary and unreasonable and would be liable to be struck down as constitutionally invalid

Again in 2011, the Supreme Court in a viva related case of ICAR, UPHELD the validity of this 1980 verdict in yet another judgement.

It is therefore important that the viva weightage be reviewed and that we move towards an immediate reduction of the viva weightage to 10-15%. The last Academic Council meeting in May 2016 saw reasonable agreement around our demand. We must ensure that the issue is resolved NOW and it is not derailed any further.

Concrete policies to address large scale drop-out:  To address large scale drop-out, JNUSU reiterates the demand for the provision of repeat/improvement provisions in M. Phil course work with additional semester, improvement provisions after 1st year in BA languages – flexibly adjusting the additional year option available for BA. JNU must also form a committee at each school, comprising of one student councillor, one member from teaching faculty of that school in co-ordination with the equal opportunity office to study the issue of drop outs at the middle of each semester and present their findings to the AC/BoS along with the action taken report. Large scale drop-out happens in M.Phil., often after course work before dissertation writing and also after M.Phil. degree when students fail to get enrolment for Ph.D. due to CGPA shortage. Students from deprived backgrounds suffer the most due to stringent CGPA requirements as there is no provision of repeat/improvement in M.Phil. Repeat/improvement provisions should be introduced in M.Phil. course work and stringent CGPA requirements be lowered to redresss large-scale drop-outs in M.Phil./Ph.D.

Reservations in Direct Ph.D.: After the JNUSU’s consistent pressure, the AC Meeting of April 2015 was forced to agree to implement reservations in Direct PhD. Unfortunately, the decision stood violated in the very first instance of Direct Ph.D. admissions in 2016 Winter semester. JNUSU strongly demands that JNU must correct such shameless violations of previous AC decisions to scuttle social justice in actual implementation. JNUSU also reiterates that the huge space for discrimination in direct Ph.D. admission should be regulated through transparent norms.

Minority deprivation points:  Minority Deprivation point in JNU admissions has been a long standing demand of successive JNUSUs and JNU student community. The Sachar and Ranganath Mishra committees had highlighted the under-representation and educational deprivation of minorities and recommended corrective measures. In JNU also, there is severe under-representation of Muslims in schools and centres outside Urdu-Arabic-Persian centres in SLL&CS. Earlier, the RN Menon committee (2012 – 13), which was constituted to examine the provision of Minority deprivation points, had abruptly ended its meetings, after supposedly ‘receiving legal opinion’ that such a provision would not be tenable. However, we believe that this needs to be reasoned more clearly. Firstly, deprivation points are not the same as reservation. Secondly, there is a certain double-speak by those who say that affirmative provisions should not be based on any religious community. Then why are the Dalit Muslims denied reservations on account of being Muslims? Isn’t religion then being used to restrict affirmative action? Then why can’t deprivation points based on the socio-educational backwardness of the minorities be a ground for expanding affirmative action?

Putting the issue endlessly on the backburner is unjust. JNU’s deprivation point system of 1994 has provisions for includes deprivation points for OBCs (till the implementation of OBC reservation in 2008)  for women; for those from backward regions; for Kashmiri migrants; for widows/wards of Defence personnel killed in action; wards of serving personnel and ex-servicemen disabled in action; widows/wards of Defence personnel who died in peace time with death attributable to military service; and wards of Defence personnel disabled in peace time with disability attributable to military service. The awarding of deprivation points to minorities will not only serve the interests of students aspiring to enter JNU, but also shape the terms of discourse throughout the country by a positive step to address the socio-economic-educational backwardness of the minorities. So, instead of being guided by dominant  prejudices, Minority Deprivation points in admissions must be awarded for socially and educationally deprived minorities to address their educational deprivation and under-representation.

Centre for Studies in Discrimination and Exclusion must not be shut down on any technical pretext. There is widespread speculation doing the rounds that this Centre is going to be shut down. The Administration must put to rest any such speculation by a categorical assurance in the AC that there is no move to close down this Centre.

Ensure that Centre for Studies in North-East India (CSNEI) is Declared Full-fledged SSS Centre: This issue was discussed in the 27 May AC meeting, and a decision was taken to upgrade the North East Centre into a full-fledged SSS Centre. However, unfortunately, there have been attempts to derail the same: some ‘options’ (i.e. of rotating the Chairperson of the Centre between five Schools, and setting up a fresh ‘Committee’) have been introduced, which were not part of the 27 May 2016 discussions. It is essential that the future of the first batch of M Phil students not be compromised by this ad hoc functioning. CSNEI must immediately be declared an independent Centre in SSS.

Institutionalize minority cell: JNUSU believes that the institutionalization of a minority cell to deal with the grievances of the students and employees in JNU campus who hail from the religious minority communities in India is essential. This, along with the already existing SC/ST cell and the Equal Opportunity Office can co-ordinate the organization of remedial classes to students who may require it and can also organize coaching classes for JNU entrance tests to students who desire to continue/pursue their higher education in JNU.

Proper Implementation of Reservations for Students with Disabilities (PWD) in Admission: We are alarmed at the gross negligence in implementing PWD reservations in admissions this year. This calls for serious course correction. We demand that a proper roster be announced for implementing reservations for PWD students.

Disability Fund: We seek that a separate fund be earmarked for implementing provisions and schemes for students with disabilities on the campus.  

Make Admission Results With Marks Break-Up Public on the Website: It is months now but the JNU admission results have not yet been uploaded on the JNU website with due break-up of marks as has been the established practice. This has led to serious apprehensions among applicants and is eroding the credibility of JNU’s admission process.

There are other discrepancies too that require serious investigation: for example, there are reports that armed forces wards have not been given 5 deprivation points; several students failed to receive any intimation by letter or mail about their selection; some students found that their online selection status initially showed ‘not selected’ while after uploading of marks, it is clear that they are ‘selected’, and the admission branch maintains they were selected and intimated. All these discrepancies in admission results need to be investigated in a credible and time-bound manner. The admissions results with full break-up of marks must be made transparently available to the public without further delay.

Reservations in Faculty Positions: Reservations must be properly ensured at all levels/cadres of faculty appointments and all backlogs must be speedily cleared. OBC reservation in faculty appointments in all cadres must be ensured, including in Associate Professors and Professors posts.

Defending JNU’s Academic Autonomy: The need of the hour is to safeguard JNU’s academic autonomy and quality, given JNU’s already strained academic and physical infrastructure. We thus have serious concerns regarding some proposals of new Centres and ‘Certificate’ courses, which are dictated either by funding agencies, commercial interests or political motivations:

On the Special Centre for Disaster Research: We have several crucial concerns regarding the proposed setting up of a ‘Special Centre’ for Disaster Research.

Regarding autonomy: This Special Centre originates from a Transdisciplinary Research Cluster (TRC). According to the Governing rules for TRCs in JNU (http://www.jnu.ac.in/TRC/rules.htm), it is clear that the “relevant funding agency” will get to play a crucial role in any Centre which emerges from a TRC. Obviously, this in itself is a serious concern because it undermines the academic autonomy and credibility of any programme/Centre and JNU as an institution. Clearly, before approving any Centre in JNU, we must make sure that the intent, content and curriculum should NOT be compromised by the interests and the predilections of a funding agency.

Lack of Due Process: The requisite process for the setting up of a new academic centre is severely compromised in the case of Special Centre for Disaster Research. For a new Centre or a Special Centre to be approved by the AC, the proposal should first go through other levels of discussions and approvals. In this case, the proposal of a new Special Centre HAS NOT gone through any of the Board of Studies (BoS) of any of the Schools in the University. The proposed curriculum, course structure and syllabi has NOT been discussed at the BoS level. The proposal has NOT even been sent to the various Schools for discussion and deliberation. In other words, no systematic discussion has taken place, and no opinion has been sought from the larger University community.

The proposed Centre in a sense is being premised on an MoU signed by JNU with the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM). However, the proposal to set up a teaching programme as part of the TRC has NOT been discussed anywhere in JNU’s several decision-making bodies before the MoU was signed with the NIDM. We also need to remember that an MoU is NOT a legal commitment. A teaching programme in JNU, whether or not it emerges from an MoU or a TRC or any other means, CANNOT bypass existing structures and statues of the University.

Academic, Infrastructural and Institutional Concerns: Apart from the crucial question of autonomy mentioned above, where is the faculty for the proposed Centre to come from? Where is the building for the same? Will it come up by encroaching upon the existing academic and physical infrastructure? Transdisciplinarity is of course welcome, but this cannot come at the cost of undermining academic credibility or overstraining JNU’s already over burdened academic and infrastructural facilities.

Also a clear separation of faculty and research between existing centres and the proposed new Centre is essential, without which serious conflict of interest would arise. We cannot have a situation wherein existing faculty conducts/supervises research in an existing Centre, which is then passed off and used as research for the new Special Centre.

We would also like to emphasise that in the interest of the institution, faculty members involved in transdisciplinary initiatives such as the proposed one must not concurrently occupy positions in existing centres. Undue and disproportionate authority of few chosen faculty members across more than one centre is not desirable.

Moreover, the JNU Vision 2020 document which has been approved by the JNU Academic Council, has suggested that single centre units should NOT be set up.

Proposed Certificate Courses in Sanskrit Centre:  To begin with, JNUSU believes that ‘certificate courses’ should not be the priority of a primarily research-oriented University such as JNU. Secondly, the certificate courses being proposed do not even meet the specifications of ‘skill imparting, career oriented’ courses that are mentioned as criteria for certificate courses in the UGC scheme. Also, the courses are designed on a dangerous premise that ‘Sanskrit Studies can be equated to’ Indian Culture and that topics on only exclusivist Brahminical traditions are deemed and essentialised as a course on ‘Indian’ culture.

Defend JNU’s Culture of Debate, Dissent, Protest: We are extremely concerned at the spate of ‘show cause notices’ being served by the Administration to student activists for holding peaceful democratic protests against atrocities by Gau Raksha Dals, or celebrating May Day (International Labour Day) and so on. It is deeply deplorable that in a campus like JNU where debate and dissent have always been cherished, student activists are being systematically targeted for their opposition to the ideologies and politics patronised by the Government of the day. The Administrative notices mandating surveillance on public meetings are also disturbing because they seek to have a ‘chilling effect’ on the culture of public meetings that is JNU’s unique legacy.

We urge the Administration to respect JNU’s traditions of public meetings and protests, and stop trying to introduce a regime of ‘permissions’ and surveillance on protests and public meetings that has never had any place in JNU.

We also demand that the Administration act against all those who have openly indulged in hate-speech against Dalits, Muslims, and Kashmiris and those who prepared and disseminated a ‘dossier’ that spread discrimination against students from the North East, women as well as against feminist and Left activists.

Strengthen GSCASH and Safeguard GSCASH’s  Autonomy: We also seek strengthening of the GSCASH – the autonomy of the GSCASH must not be eroded on any pretext.

Ensure the Rights and Dignity of Contract Workers: The recent incidence of violence by supervisors on a security guard has once again exposed the vulnerability of the contract workers on campus and the impunity of the JNU administration authorities in violating the rights and dignity of its employees. JNU administration must take stringent actions against the concerned supervisor. Admin must also take all steps to immediately stop violation of labour rights in campus.

We seek your intervention and support towards resolving these crucial demands and concerns in the 7th Sept 2016 AC Meeting.

 Mohit, President, JNUSU      Amal, VP, JNUSU     Satarupa, Gen. Secy, JNUSU      Tabrez, Jt.Secy, JNUSU

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