New Circulars on Attendance and Skype vivas: The JNUTA response

Attendance

Schools and Centres have received the circular below on attendance.

Circular Attendance System.png

The attendance proposal has met with ridicule from all sections of the university, and Schools and Centres have reiterated formally, through resolutions and letters, their opposition to the imposition of this scheme. They have also provided, or offered to provide detailed comments on the proposed scheme, but all opinions expressed to the JNU administration have been ignored.

The JNUTA would like to reiterate its opposition to the scheme and some of the basic reasons behind its call for boycott:

  • There is no generalised problem of absenteeism, and that if an individual case or two crops up from time to time, teachers use the rules already available to tackle them.
  • Teachers and Centres already use a variety of methods to ensure maximum classroom attendance — class participation marks, presentations, group work, etc., to ensure that students feel like coming to class. These work.
  • The best penalty that a student defaulting on courses can receive is a poor grade, rather than being debarred from giving an examination.
  • In an interdisciplinary university where students can add and drop courses until a specified date, take more than the prescribed courses and even opt out of the course by simply not attending (taking an F in the course), attendance records mean even less than they do in an undergraduate programme in a more traditional university, where the number and schedule of courses is fixed and prescribed.
  • The proposed scheme of attendance records is poorly conceived. The rather bizarre method of getting students to sign the attendance sheet will take up much of the class time, and shall burden both the teachers and the administrative staff of the Centre/School. This highly unproductive work has no pedagogical value whatsoever and its implementation is not feasible.
  • The proposal that research students be required to sign in daily and take advance permission if they want to even go to a library just outside the campus gate is ludicrous. It must be emphasised that teachers already certify to the satisfactoriness of a student’s research performance on a monthly basis when they sign the fellowship forms. Surely, the administration must know that many of the larger centres have 250 or more research students registered every semester, and to expect a Centre office and Chairperson to organise the signing in every day, prepare attendance records, AND do the administrative duties required for running of a Centre/School is inhuman.
  • Teachers do not share the presupposition that students’ only work from 9 to 5 (many work at night), that they do so every day for five years or that indeed that they should (for a fellowship that is far below minimum wage for unskilled workers), or that being enrolled in an M.Phil. or a PhD requires a total suspension of daily life and leisure.

Despite the resistance, the circular today furthers this hare-brained scheme, withe (implied) addition that supervisors shall have to countersign the attendance sheet. JNU has already become an institution to be mocked in the media, with editorials being written against compulsory attendance. Reports of a teacher having incarcerated students, insisting that he would only let students walkout in protest if they signed the attendance sheet have severely embarrassed the university. If JNU administration’s insistence on attendance records continue, the situation may become one in which even though students are present, classes are not held. By what imagination can this be considered good administration of a university? The JNUTA advises the Vice-Chancellor to withdraw this scheme at once.  

Skype Vivas

The university has also today announced the guidelines for the Skype vivas:

Circular reg skype1.png

Circular reg skype 2.png

The JNUTA is impressed by the inventiveness of the JNU administration in creating a hostile working environment for students’ research in JNU. Given below are JNUTA’s comments on these ‘guidelines’, which have been formulated without any application of mind or taking cognisance of the ground realities.

  • The grand proclamation that the viva voce is to be conducted in rooms with videoconferencing facilities in point (2) is belied by the reality — most Centres do not have any such room. About 300 students get PhD, and 500 students get M.Phil.. degrees every year in JNU. The CIS has one hall equipped with this facility and will have to arrange up to three to four viva voce examinations a day, making the viva voce a mere formality, a kind of attendance that will be neither instructive nor rewarding for the students or examiners.
  • With regards to point (3), JNUTA commends the university for stretching the bounds of an illegal retrospective effect. All of the M.Phil. and PhD vivas that will be taking place will be of students whose degree were not subject to the UGC Regulations 2016. They did not have an RAC for the entire duration of their studentship in JNU, so where is one to be conjured up at the time of the viva? Does JNUTA need to remind the JNU administration yet again about the necessity of respecting the prospectus under which students were admitted?
  • Points no. (4) and (8) (blasphemously) forgets that in the case of M.Phil., the supervisor is also the internal examiner (a fact that also holds for PhDs by the hallowed UGC Regulations 2016). How are the supervisors’ grades to be recorded? Will the common convention of consultation between examiners as to what grade the work deserves be abandoned entirely? Why, when in the prescribed form there is only space for one grade?
  • Point no. (5) serves to substantiate one of the JNUTA GBM’s major problems with the videoconferencing mode of examination — that the class of examiners will be restricted to just the metro cities and institutions that have internet connectivity. The extreme churlishness in refusing to pay the examiner even local travel to an Internet cafe cannot be explained and only condemned.
  • Point no. (7) shall make, as the JNUTA GBM noted, the meaningful academic evaluation of the highest degree in academics an empty formality at best. The JNUTA will not accept the devaluation of the viva voce of the PhD defence.
  • Point no. (9) is either sinister or bumbling, because the RAC has no role, by the hallowed UGC Regulations 2016 in the evaluation of the candidate at the viva voce stage. Why have the guidelines given the RAC a locus standi in the process? And who is the Competent Authority in question — it cannot be the Vice-Chancellor (in “his capacity as Chairperson of the Academic Council”, which isn’t a capacity at all) as he cannot be presumed to be both competent and an authority on all matters pertaining to every thesis?

The JNUTA speaks for all JNU teachers in saying that the extent to which ineptitude an irrationality that has seeped into the academic administration of JNU is both alarming and frustrating. Not one circular that this administration has issued has been either fair, sound in reasoning, or dedicated to transparent functioning. While we understand completely that this is the goal — to reduce to rubble the scaffolding of rules that make a university function as one — that knowledge does not prevent us expostulating that JNU teachers are simply FED UP. We therefore request that the henceforth all administration circulars carry a statutory warning: READING THIS CIRCULAR MAY BE HAZARDOUS FOR MENTAL HEALTH!

Ayesha Kidwai   and Pradeep Shinde.

 

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