Earlier this year Jawaharlal Nehru University decided to make attendance mandatory for students. At the time, there was severe resistance against this decision. In spite of this, the authorities went ahead and took another decision – this time, to make attendance compulsory for teachers.
“The diktat to make teachers mark attendance is as ludicrous as the one to make students mark it – there is no problem of teachers not holding classes or attending office, and if there is, there already exist official ways to address it”, said Ayesha Kidwai, a Professor at the Centre of linguistics, JNU.
“While JNU had already implemented rules of attendance for students and administrative staff, the 146th Academic Council (AC) meeting through its resolution has made attendance mandatory for teaching community as well. JNU faculty need to give attendance at least once in a day. Moreover, the AC also approved a rule that during the registration process at the beginning of every semester, all the incoming and continuing students are required to give an undertaking that they will abide by attendance rules,” said Rector I Chintamani Mahapatra.
The decision was made on July 13 by the Academic Council. At the meeting, it was expressly decided, by the Vice- Chancellor, that, there would be an introduction of a biometric attendance system for the teachers. This introduction was not taken well by the faculty.
“It was also announced that this regime will involve some kind of biometric verification, without even an examination of the several legal issues that arise from it or even the promise of a legal consultation. We expect it to be implemented without any further discussion, but all attempts to humiliate JNU teachers have always failed, and this one will not succeed either”, said Kidwai.
She also went on to tell us about how this decision hints towards an autocratic regime and how it would affect teachers. “Most teachers have classes four to five days a week, office hours, research study appointments, faculty meetings, meetings of various committees on campus, seminars, conferences. So much so that many teachers work on their weekends as well. As a teacher, I work 24X7 actually, reading students’ work after office hours at submission time, answering their text messages, and doing my own research. Is this attendance regime going to acknowledge any of this as the work I do for my salary? No. What it seeks to do is record just physical presence. The introduction of this measure is, like in the student case, intended primarily to harass teachers (selectively of curse), as any error, oversight, exceptional circumstance will be used to censure, launch inquiries, threaten salaries, etc. It will install a regime in which a teacher spending a few non-teaching days in a library will require ‘prior approval’, as will one going to conduct a viva voce in Delhi University,” she added.
The AC has also added to the responsibility of the teachers. It has now been made “mandatory for all teachers to show corrected answer scripts of all exams to students before finalising grades” to make corrections “more fair and transparent”.
The use of the discretionary power of the VC really bothered the teachers. And, the question of whether the above mentioned exercised power falls within the ambit of ‘discretionary powers’ remains.
“It wasn’t even part of the tabled items. It was only in the end during discussion of ‘any other matter’ that the VC casually informed that they were working on biometric system for student attendance. A faculty member jokingly said how about the faculty? The V-C was only too happy to pick it up and pass his verdict. Such an important decision cannot be passed as ‘any other matter’ without due deliberations,” Chintamani Mahapatra said, adding that there was “no scope for dissent” at the time.
“Anytime one hears the phrase ‘the VC’s discretionary powers’, one must read it to signal indiscretions of the third kind, i.e. based on an individual fantasy of what his powers under the JNU Act are”, added Kidwai.
Apart from this, there was another issue. The JNU Students’ Union and Kavita Singh, Dean of the School of Arts & Aesthetics, were prohibited from attending the AC meeting. There was an allegation of defiance of discipline in previous meetings, against them. Following this action; the JNUSU (Students Union) raised their complaints outside the venue. On the other hand, the JNU Teachers’ Association protested this prohibition by sporting black clothes.
At the AC meeting, it was decided to make the entrance exam entirely online from the forthcoming academic year. On this matter, Mahapatra said, “An important decision has been taken by the AC to make JNU entrance examinations completely computer-based. Many members pointed out during an hour-long discussion on this issue that the admission process in JNU will now be fairer, efficient, secure and bias-free.”
However, Sonajharia Minz disagreed with the above stances calling this move “exclusionary” and citing it to “not be friendly, especially to the deprived sections”.
As registrations for the next semester at Jawaharlal Nehru University begin Monday, research scholars applying will be required to sign an undertaking declaring that they are not employed. This circular has created a lot of unrest among various groups of students and teachers. According to them, the decision is against the university ordinances.
“As per UGC rules, no full-time research scholar can hold jobs anywhere. Since many people do not read the entire notification, we issue these circulars periodically to alert them. This rule existed earlier too, but it wasn’t very clear. In MPhil, there is no concept of part-time jobs, but at the PhD level, if somebody wants to work, they need to enrol themselves as a part-time research scholar, which means they can’t avail the hostel facility,” Mahapatra told The Indian Express.
However, former JNU Teachers’ Association president Ayesha Kidwai claimed JNU is violating its own ordinances. She said: “The 2016 prospectus allows the possibility of admitting 12.5% students who are employed in PhD. The university has already said that students will be governed by ordinances and prospectus in force at the time, and, since the 2016-17 batch is still undergoing the process of registration, they cannot stop them from registering.”
The students and teachers are waiting for a positive response to the problems that have been raised.