Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has been the site of administrative experimentation for some time now. A circular dated December 22, 2017, made attendance mandatory for students of Masters, MPhil, and PhD courses. Further, it directs departments to maintain an attendance record of the students. Prescribing 75% compulsory attendance for eligibility to sit for exams, it does manage to consider cases on medical grounds and research work. The student and teaching fraternity of the adjudged Best University at the Visitor’s Award, 2017 find these directives to be a severe blow to the culture of the university.
The JNUSU and JNU Teachers’ Association have boycotted the circular. At a recent protest, students drew graffiti of an attendance-register on the Vice-Chancellor (VC) office’s entrance steps. Departmental Deans present at the Academic Council meeting maintain the proposal for attendance regulation was passed arbitrarily by the JNU-VC without any constructive debate. They claim their dissent wasn’t even registered in the minutes of the meeting.
Dissent to the attendance regulation bought right and left on mutual grounds. The JNU-unit of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) described the move as unfortunate, a severe blow to the essence of the JNU campus. Nonetheless, the blame game gets reflected in their press releases. The JNUSU claims this to be a continuation of the VC’s ‘Sanghi’ propaganda, on the other hand, the ABVP suggests that a mutual consensus among the left-ideologue professors led to its implementation.
The JNUSU President Geeta Kumari informs that it was not among the proposed agendas of the Academic Council meeting. She elaborated that the proposals were passed purposely during the holidays to eliminate strong student dissent. The JNU Students’ Union stated the arbitrary ‘farmaan’ kills the essence of JNU’s excellence by dismantling its democratic and inclusive nature. The teaching fraternity at JNU too state the same.
The university had no attendance criteria for any of its programs until now. The attendance norm is now similar to the IITs, mandating 75-80% minimum attendance (varies with campus) for M.Tech, MPhil, and PhD programs.
JNU Vice-Chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar previously served as an assistant professor at the IIT-Delhi and Kharagpur. The IIT-model, however, is unrealistic in the JNU-setting.
Attendance at JNU was flexible, never a compulsion. “Most students here are very serious about their education. They do not miss out on classes despite their prior commitments”, says Aman Sinha, pursuing Masters at the Centre of Historical Studies. However, there’s a considerable number of UPSC-aspirants at JNU, and they tend to miss out on classes preparing for the same.
Postgraduate students are required to submit a certain number of tutorials and assignments. Failing which, they are debarred unless they present a valid reason. Professors do not object in case students miss out on classes for some constructive engagement.
MPhil and PhD students are required to meet their moderator or guide occasionally. This is done primarily to monitor the progress of their research, and furtherance. MPhil students have a limited number of lectures on research methodology and specific themes; PhD students have group discussions. History students occasionally head outside the campus or city for groundwork, as part of their research. Science students spend considerable time in labs. Research students usually spend significant time at the library. Their in-attendance is considered under these circumstances.
The new proposal does away with all this. Though the attendance guidelines are awaited, compulsory attendance would surely constrain the scope of their research work.
Students and teachers find it a new form of surveillance being imposed on them. At the beginning of the previous semester, students were asked to get themselves registered only with their Aadhar card. It was deterred as a move of the ruling government’s scheme of mandating Aadhar Card. Furthermore, the administration tried to install CCTVs at hostels. The moves were rejected and resulted in massive student protests.
Students allege the security guards carry secret cameras, handy cams, and try taking pictures on mobile phones of student gatherings and protests. “Surveillance is not new to us. These measures make us feel like we’re back in school, the extra-institutionalisation mechanism is pointless,” says Somaya Gupta, a student at the Centre for International Studies. Vocal students and activists and their activities are monitored stringently.
It is rumoured that the administration plans to install biometric attendance monitoring systems. Presently, they are placed only in the Admin block.
Reacting to claims of a probable plot to curb activism, JNUSU President stated, “Students are into activism for a reason. We don’t go on missing lectures for the sake of activism. We attend our lectures and then manage time to raise concerns about what we believe is wrong. We too have exams to pass.”