JNUTA opposes the new ‘leave committee’ procedure

Teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University do not need to be reminded of the discriminatory treatment and harassment faced by them in the tenure of the last Vice-Chancellor and his administration. Amongst the many impediments placed in the professional development of teachers was the continuous problem of delay/denial in the granting of academic leave to them, using various flimsy and illegal pretexts. As a consequence, several teachers were forced to approach the courts for relief over the years. In all the cases, the courts upheld the rights of the teachers, as these requests flowed from the JNU Act, Statutes, and Ordinances as well as the UGC Regulations that determine the service conditions.

The JNUTA had hoped that, with the change in administration, this era of punishment by procrastination and arbitrariness would come to an end. To its dismay, however, it finds only a continuation of the same harassment. Hot on the heels of the April 2022 attempts of the JNU administration to delay the grant of study leave to a JNU Assistant Professor (a move eventually thwarted by the intervention of the Hon. High Court of Delhi), eight JNU faculty have once again been made victims of arbitrary decision-making by the JNU Executive Council in its 300th meeting held on May 5 2022. Five of these applications were for Sabbatical Leave (for the purpose of writing books/research monographs) and three were for Extraordinary Leave (for the purpose of taking up research fellowships). As per the JNU Ordinances and the practice, both EOL and Sabbatical Leave applications are decided upon by the Executive Council.

The JNUTA is extremely dismayed to learn that the 300th EC did not deliberate on the leave applications of these eight colleagues. Instead, without any agenda justifying this proposal, the EC has simply noted against each individual case that it has decided to set up a Leave Committee to be constituted by the Vice-Chancellor, which will scrutinise all long leave applications (sabbatical, study leave, EOL etc) and submit its recommendations to the VC. It is the VC who will then decide whether to grant leave in each case or to refer the matter to the EC.

The JNUTA is at a loss to understand why these applications, all submitted in a timely fashion, all duly approved by the Centres and Chairperson/Dean of the Schools concerned and all vetted by the Academic Branch (which assists the EC by providing the relevant factual information), were not discussed and decided upon by the EC. All these applications were made well before this whim of a Leave Committee seems to have struck the JNU administration, but they have been held hostage to the decisions of a body that is yet to come into existence, whose composition is not known and whose norms of functioning have not been notified, and whose procedure will retrospectively be applied to decide on their applications!

All of these applications are time-sensitive, and the absence of any decision on them is inexplicable as they they meet all the conditions for the grant of long leave. In two cases, the leave applications pertained to a start date that preceded the date of the EC meeting, so the current status of those faculty members is particularly unclear. Three of the applications are by Associate Professors, so this refusal to process the applications by the Competent Authority adversely affects their careers. Four applications are by women faculty, and the JNUTA would have expected that had the JNU EC been gender-sensitive, it would take into consideration the special challenges that women face in planning long leave, and process the applications expeditiously.

Further, the JNU administration will surely be aware that the requirement that no more than 20% of the faculty may be on long leave at a time entails that faculty at the Centre level need to plan the sabbaticals/study leave/ EOL leave applications years in advance, so the introduction of a new hoop that faculty has to jump through in the system has an impact that goes far beyond the individual, and has a cascading effect at the Centre/School. Finally, lost/delayed opportunities for fellowships or delayed research publications only damage the university’s research profile and its position in national and international rankings.

In the JNUTA’s view, the EC’s decision to constitute this Leave Committee not only adds another impediment to the efficient processing of such leave applications, it allows for considerations extraneous to the Ordinances and the operational UGC Regulations to influence/interfere in decisions, in a way that runs counter to the letter and spirit of the JNU Act. It demands that the EC rescind this decision for the following reasons:

  1. The proposed Leave Committee will lack the requisite expertise to examine/scrutinise the long leave applications of faculty members from different schools. The JNUTA cannot see any academic value in the input/assistance that such a body may give the VC/EC in arriving at such decisions. Applications for long leave are submitted with the recommendations of the Centre faculty and Chairperson of Special Centres /Deans of Schools, who are the statutory authorities for overseeing research, and are the best placed to make academically informed decisions on the viability of an individual application. Adding on a Leave Committee to the established institutional process will only create a redundant, additional layer of complication, including potential contradictions in which decisions made at the Centre/School level are overturned by this Committee.
  2. No arguments have been presented by the EC as to why a change of procedure is necessary at all. As the eight applicants for long leave to the 300th EC will testify, there is no shortfall in the delay, confusion and harassment that these faculty have had to go through in submitting these applications in the first place, and the introduction of a mechanism that has the potential of legitimising procrastination and delay in deciding applications on long leaves only heightened JNUTA’s apprehension that this process is potentially directed towards further arbitrary decisions and harassment in such matters. JNU administration’s suggestion of a leave committee that has been arbitrarily superimposed on the existing rules is in complete contradiction with a time-bound, fair, and transparent process for granting a long-term leave.
  3. The JNUTA is apprehensive that the unstated goal of this new procedure is to dilute the power of the various authorities instituted by the JNU Act and to introduce an undesirable centralisation of the decision-making process in the office of the VC. This is particularly so as the yet-to-be-formed Leave Committee reports not to the EC but to the VC directly, and therefore does not derive its powers from JNU’s statutory frame and undermines the powers of the Centres/Schools as well.

The JNUTA therefore urges the EC to withdraw the resolutions setting up this Leave Committee process. It also demands that an Emergency EC be convened to consider the pending leave applications of these eight colleagues.

1 Comment

  1. Clear and well presented case. The administration must provide a rationale for why it is inventing this new procedure so that it can be seen if its new initiative serves their stated purpose.

    Like

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