As vice-chancellors walk tightrope between protests and protocol, creation of room for dissent may remedy admin lapses at campuses

  • The violence witnessed within Jamia, AMU and JNU stirred up a movement seeking safety within campuses, serving as a reminder of the strength of politics

  • Jagadesh Kumar’s tenure has been fraught with controversies - from the 2016 sedition row to the hunger strike against the online entrance exam system

  • Jamia VC Najma Akhtar had to be forced to come out of her residence when students surrounded it this week, demanding a FIR be filed in connection with the 15 December clashes

The violence witnessed at Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) stirred up a movement seeking safety within campuses all over the country — serving as a reminder of the strength of politics, but also showing the administrative heads of the affected institutions in a grim light.

The JNU hostel fee hike row, which came for the first time in 40 years, was supported by those citing maintenance and non-payment of salaries to staff as a reason, while those against the move cited the economic background and demographic of students that enrol in the college and the government’s failure to grant the educational institutes an increased budget allocation. Apart from the protests and clashes witnessed at JNU, what reportedly struck the wrong chord was vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar’s lack of availability for a dialogue or discussions with JNU Students’ Union and JNU Teachers’ Association.

 As vice-chancellors walk tightrope between protests and protocol, creation of room for dissent may remedy admin lapses at campuses

Representational image. PTI

“He (the VC) is never available in the campus; he doesn’t want to meet the students. No interaction has been held with us. What is wrong if we seek clarification on a sudden rise in room rent and other charges? How will the students who come from the EWS category pay?” asked Aishe Ghosh, JNUSU president, who was grievously injured during the 5 January attack within the campus. A letter was also written to President Ram Nath Kovind blaming Jagadesh Kumar for rejecting every effort made to find a solution to the crisis at the university.

Amid growing pressure seeking the vice-chancellor’s removal and the HRD ministry’s refusal to do so, Jagadesh Kumar broke his silence on Tuesday. He blamed students and teachers for derailing peace on the campus. He had also said in December last year that he was manhandled by students, less than a month after the varsity saw the first wave of protests against the fee hike. Students stormed into the administrative building in November, refusing to leave till until the matter at hand was discussed. Orders were later passed to disallow any protest within 100 metres of the administrative building and to give additional security to the vice-chancellor. A meeting held between Jagadesh Kumar and 18 hostel presidents turned out to be an inconclusive one.

Jagadesh Kumar’s tenure has been fraught with controversies — from the 2016 sedition row to the hunger strike against the online entrance exam system in March last year to a protest trapping HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' inside the convocation auditorium. He has also been accused by the JNUTA and JNUSU of making appointments that were in violation of seniority and rotation. Twelve of 14 such appointees were made hostel wardens, proctor and chief proctor.

At other campuses that saw protests against the amended Citizenship Act, especially AMU, security remains beefed up. Vice-chancellor Tariq Mansoor wrote an "urgent" letter to the district police chief expressing apprehensions of threat to his life by "anti-social and lumpen elements" and demanded appropriate security for himself. Washing his hands off the police atrocities within the campus on 15 December, he said that he is not competent to discuss the contentious Act, even as the teachers’ association demanded that he take steps to ensure “false charges” against students are withdrawn. However, a statement that would give some comfort to students injured in the clashes came too late. A month later, on Wednesday, Mansoor, who admitted that police were allowed to enter the campus, but not hostels, to ensure peace, said an FIR will be filed against the cops.

AMU teachers, students and non-teaching staff, on the other hand, issued a letter “expelling” Mansoor and registrar S Abdul Hamid soon after the restoration of internet services last month, adding that the university administration will be boycotted till the two resign and leave the campus.

Meanwhile, Jamia vice-chancellor Najma Akhtar had to be forced to come out of her residence when students surrounded it this week, demanding a FIR be filed in connection with the 15 December clashes. The students’ demand to postpone examinations till normalcy is restored was accepted, even though no complaints were filed. Delhi University too has been witnessing protests by professors and ad-hoc teachers for over a month. Braving harsh winters, protesters, alleging vice-chancellor Yogesh Tyagi has shut his gates to them, have stationed themselves outside his office and are demanding the absorption and promotion of the ad-hoc teachers.

Torn between protests and protocol was Banaras Hindu University (BHU) vice-chancellor, where protests were staged against the appointment on Professor Firoz Khan in the Sanskrit department. Even as protesters refused to relent despite assurances that the appointment was in accordance with the BHU Act and central UGC guidelines, the stir only calmed down after the professor switched faculties.

BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta, vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty and others were confined for six hours in a building of the Visva Bharati University in West Bengal last week as hundreds of Left-leaning students staged a sit-in outside accusing the politician of promoting hatred among communities. The vice-chancellor allegedly went on with the programme even as the students pleaded that programme would “hurt” the basic motto of the university which promotes neutrality. The two could finally leave the central university campus at Bolpur in Birbhum district after the students withdrew the sit-in at around 10 pm. Dasgupta had been invited to deliver a lecture on the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Jadavpur University vice-chancellor Suranjan Das and West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankar were shown black flags at the varsity in December after the varsity’s decision to defer the 24 December special convocation ceremony was declared invalid. A similar protest was held the previous day, when 300 students gheraod Das and said they will not take their degrees if he attends the ceremony.

Amid protests, a worrying increase of police presence is being seen on campuses. Last year, on the demand of the vice-chancellor of Vishva Bharati, the Central government permanently deployed the Central Industrial Security Force on the campus. In the same year, CRPF was called on the JNU campus to deal with the students’ agitation. A demand to deploy paramilitary forces at BHU was made in 2017.

The lack of involvement of a section of students and teachers in decisions like fee hike or blatant disregard of their opinions, as in the case of Dhankar at JU, might be the reason behind the crises engulfing campuses. Having ranked in the list of top institutions often and having a coveted posse of alumni, JNU, Jamia and DU are cases in point when it comes to the importance of dialogue over academic and political differences within campuses. As the heads of the institution, vice-chancellors must be instrumental in ensuring every voice is heard.

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Updated Date: Jan 16, 2020 08:47:00 IST