A view of the School of Physical Sciences building, JNU. Photo: JNU.
New Delhi: On November 23, eight professors of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Physical Sciences wrote a letter to the President of India alleging irregularities in recent faculty recruitment at the department – especially that the vice-chancellor was admitting people of “questionable credentials”.
The eight professors are Sanjay Puri, S.S.W. Murthy, Subhasis Ghosh, Sankar Prasad Das, Subir Kumar Sarkar, Brijesh Kumar, Satyavrata Patnaik and Debashish Ghoshal. A copy of the letter is available to view here.
‘Gross violation of ethics’
The letter, addressed to President Ram Nath Kovind and copied to JNU vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar and chancellor V.K. Saraswat, alleged “violations” in the recruitment process in October.
Seven candidates had been hired in the month but the professors have alleged that none of these people have the requisite experience and qualifications for their respective positions. In one case, the letter said, a candidate selected to be associate professor post hadn’t even been shortlisted by the selection committee, as is required.
The eight went on to request President Kovind to intervene in his capacity as visitor to the university. They also asked that “the appointments mentioned be kept in abeyance until all aspects of the conduct and outcome of the selection process (including whether the best available candidates were selected and whether the external subject experts on the selection committee were qualified to meaningfully judge the quality of research in the relevant areas of specialisation) are scrutinised by a committee of leading physicists and astrophysicists.”
On November 25, two days after the letter was sent to the president, it was forwarded to the university’s 290th Executive Council meeting.
According to the eight professors, Jagadesh Kumar has had trouble following the university’s hiring process since he took over as VC in 2016.
Before this incident, students and professors at the university had demanded Kumar’s resignation after a group of armed people affiliated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) roamed around campus with sticks and rods beating up students in January this year. There had been numerous allegations that Kumar had allowed the violence.
The ABVP is a national students’ organisation connected to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
One of the letter’s authors said on condition of anonymity that Kumar’s activities at the university aren’t episodic but part of a larger scheme.
“Since the VC is from a science background, we thought he wouldn’t have wanted the science department to suffer academically, but it turned out to be false,” he told The Wire. (Kumar used to teach electrical engineering.) “There is a larger design … controlled from elsewhere to target JNU further” – an allusion to the government’s repeated attempts to malign the university, starting with the 2016 ‘sedition’ row.
He also said recruitments at the university have been politically motivated and are in truth a way to populate the university with people who will toe the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s line and not ask questions.
He added that one of the experts in the selection committee, the director of the Inter University Accelerator Centre, is being investigated for plagiarism. And during interviews for the mathematics department the following week, he said a professor of electrical engineering from IIT Kharagpur was invited to participate.
Moushumi Basu, secretary of the JNU Teachers’ Association, concurred, adding that a considerable number of people who had been recruited to teaching positions in the last few years have had ties with the ABVP.
She also echoed the unnamed professor’s belief – that Kumar’s actions together amount to an attempt to dismantle the university’s basic structure.
Kumar didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Wire. This article will be updated as and when he replies.
Basu said the Teachers’ Association plans to bring out a larger report after the new problem has been resolved. “This is the first time the school [of physical sciences] has spoken out, which is a very big thing,” Basu added. “We will definitely take it forward in a more consolidated manner – maybe a public enquiry.”