Open Letter to All Those Concerned with Presidency University.

Posted by Srimati Ghosal
November 17, 2017

NOTE: This post has been self-published by the author. Anyone can write on Youth Ki Awaaz.

To all those concerned,

I feel that as a concerned student activist of Presidency University and an insider to a number of stories that do not always receive media attention, it is important that I speak up now. The institution is a second home to most students who have had the opportunity to study here and ask any one of us, we will be able to tell you that we love it better than our own homes. I, am currently in my fifth year and have seen the changes brought about by this administration over the last four years and it pains me to see what this institution has come to and the way everyone is using it as an excuse in their power games. The Vice-Chancellor holds her agenda, the education minister makes her wait, there is random mudslinging that happens and no one comes to the real problems. Yet I’ll put my life to it, one could ask ANY student in Presidency and come to clear indications as to where the problem lies.

No, contrary to what solutions have emerged, the problem is not in the reserved seats, or the high cut offs. It isn’t in the need to downsize “unpopular courses either”. It is in the academic environment this institution provides today.

The first time I actually discussed the agenda of academics of Presidency was in a meeting with me, the Vice-Chancellor, the Registrar and the Dean held on 24/1/17 on the promise of which I had withdrawn my five day long hunger-strike the week before. In that meeting, the minutes to which were supposed to be forwarded to the Governing Body, I had pointed out the problems very clearly. I never came to know what the follow up to this was but the issues remained and were complicated further by the authority trying to victimise any student or faculty members that spoke up on it.

In reality, the academic environment is actually dealt a serious blow by the way this administration treats its faculty. The first thing that we must know is all faculty members are extremely accomplished in their own fields and teach despite the visible difference in the facilities and remunerations offered by private and central universities. Despite this, they are ill-treated and are silenced in various ways thus refusing to engage in conversation about the issues till such time as they can leave. Once they leave it is the students who suffer. Students have repeatedly stood by professors, from departments like History, Bengali and Hindi. We requested the professors leaving to stay back; we were repeatedly and personally told that this ill-treatment is unbearable. An HOD of History resigned and the application was accepted despite students writing to the authorities  from all five years requesting that this application not be accepted. Bengali department has seen an exodus in professors and in the Hindi department two professors were summarily dismissed after year long harassment and have even come out to file cases about the same.

In my own department when a seminar was planned last year, it was not funded and the reason provided was that students from the department did not attend the science lectures in the course of the 200 years celebrations. In my first year there used to be a lecture series conducted jointly by the students and professors. Various academicians from around the world were invited to speak on recent topics. As  a very excited first year I remember writing a mail to Noam Chomsky inviting him over. It did not materialise but the fact remains, we were allowed to be involved in the academic environment. The lack of compulsory attendance left us free to wander about in seminars in other departments and come up with inter-disciplinary ideas. In my first-year the campus was replete with extra-curricular activities, film clubs, drama societies, debates, literary societies and quiz groups functioned actively. Is it overnight that this culture died down? Presidency University had a culture of student-organised seminars on everything including proactive science societies visiting remote villages to campaign against superstitions. This was systematically discouraged to the point that all of the four state-of-the-art auditoriums are now barred from any student-organised programs, limiting us to only fest scale programs on the grounds.

 The Gen-ed system greatly helped us too! We were introduced to the concepts of science that interested us as humanities students and vice-versa. I remember a Physics lecture theatre thronged with students from across the batched and even beyond campus to attend the 1st semester Physics Gen-ed or the sociology course on “Love” in the second semester. Today, the authorities have to call meetings to threaten students to attend Gen-ed classes.

While remarkable faculty members have left Presidency University and have been thrown out, not a single board, council or group was established to bring in more accomplished faculty members. The recruitment process will not bear investigation and a number of inexperienced guest teachers are often put to teaching serious and important lectures. The lack of diverse faculty also curtails on our specialization options and in my last 3 years not one special paper option was provided to us, we just had to study what we were given. We were told new departments like women’s studies, gender studies, film studies, comparative literature and cognitive studies. We are still waiting for “enough space in the new campus”, while almost all departments are being thrown out of the main building and luxurious rooms are being designed for the administration and its meetings, students don’t have enough classrooms for newer courses and existing ones.

The research facility in the university is in ruins, in-take is not regular and funds for non-NET research is not available. We had an UPSC coaching facility that was stopped; placement is at an all time low. What we have instead is entrepreneurship workshops in a institution that doesn’t offer any commerce course.

As to why new student aren’t coming, they are not given the opportunity to. Presidency stood for the diversity of the socio-economic backgrounds of its students. This is systematically discouraged. The admission process is being made increasingly expensive and elite. There has been close to 15% fee hike in the overall admission procedure. The process involving the WBJEE has been made unnecessarily complex and difficult to follow. As a second year student I remember guiding incoming juniors through the complete process of admissions, now we can’t be involved and the authorities care little as to the casualties that this complex process leads to. The process starts so early on (mostly because WBJEE so wishes) that students aren’t adequately informed either. It is finished before the joint entrance results are out leaving the seats thus vacated empty. The Hindu Hostel has been under renovation since 3 years now; students who do not come from the city are discouraged anyway for the lack of residence. Those who have studied in the vernacular backgrounds cannot cope even the first semester when they are forced to write in English without minimum training. Thus a huge section of students are discouraged anyway to join.

There were attempts to victimise students who spoke up on these issues. The system of supplementary and special supplementary examination has been revised to create a pressure cooker of an environment. Students lose a year at the drop of a hat, a number of modules are not subject to review and it is these same modules that if failed leads to a year loss. These rules emerge in newer and more dangerous avatars every semester, sometimes a good two months into the semester. The major silencing factor is of course the attendance criteria. Even the course review forms are not regular and follow up rarely happens.

What worries me particularly is the tone of the solutions being provided, it seeks to downsize the university, leading to fund cuts and seat cuts, it seeks to make it more elite by dereserving seats and finally destroy the standard of students who come in. The problems lie elsewhere and only a dialogue with the students who face it on a regular basis can pin point it.  We have repeatedly tried to tell the government and the authorities of this problem, but they remained more interested in taking graffiti off walls and victimizing students. Not even in the Governing Board is there a student representation.  Very often despite being infuriated by harassment of a beloved faculty member we are asked to keep quiet. Though there were attempts to form a faculty association, the professors who undertook the effort were victimized and some summarily dismissed from their positions.

It is important to ask the real questions and investigate into the real agendas before summarily directing superficial solutions. This authority is not interested in the academic welfare of the university. It is not today that we want Prof. Lohia to resign suddenly. We have been talking of the issues regularly and repeatedly. On the movement initiated in 21st August, 2015 we had made these very demands and were not heeded! There is never any discussion possible or fruitful with this authority. On a number of discussions we were merely called in to be accused of trivial things completely by-passing the real agenda. What need have we of a vice-chancellor that doesn’t listen to us? When we take our problems to her she sings rabindra sangeet, when the government ministers are unwelcome in the university she bends to them in supplication. She is unconcerned not only with the spirit of the institution but also its well-being. It is to the best of all our interests that she resigns and immediately.

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