How plainspeak turned tide in JU

As legal quibbles threatened to bog down the Jadavpur University executive council meeting on Tuesday, one question flew at vice-chancellor Suranjan Das.

By Subhankar Chowdhury and Mita Mukherjee in Calcutta
  • Published 12.07.18
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Jadavpur University Vice-chancellor Suranjan Das. File Picture

Calcutta: As legal quibbles threatened to bog down the Jadavpur University executive council meeting on Tuesday, one question flew at vice-chancellor Suranjan Das.

"If a child from the family of any of the council members had been among the group of students fasting barely 15 yards away for over 85 hours, would you still be splitting hairs on legalities?"

The question, according to multiple sources who spoke to The Telegraph on Wednesday, was asked by the head of a department of an engineering discipline.

"It absolutely changed the complexion of the meeting," said a teacher, adding that it prompted a turnaround by the heads of some departments who did not initially support written tests, which the fasting students were demanding.

Eventually, at least seven more members of the council who had earlier voiced support for the no-test policy changed their stand. The question about the fate of the students may not have been the sole reason for the change of mind but several members felt it did play a key role.

The decision, which the VC and the pro-VC were not party to, resulted in the hunger strike being called off and normality returning to the campus for now. It emerged on Wednesday that the tests would largely continue to be handled by the teachers. 

The VC, who had said he would seek the permission of the governor to step down, did not go to the varsity on Wednesday. Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi said in the evening: "I have not received any information that he is coming to me." 

The accounts about Tuesday's executive council meeting suggest an attempt was made to drag the meeting on - which succeeded somewhat as the council clocked over five hours in two sessions - and tie it up in legal knots.

It almost succeeded but for the intervention of the teachers who were growing alarmed at the deteriorating health of the students.

The VC had convened the meeting to "take note of the chancellor's advisory" on the BA admissions that had reached the university a day earlier.

While reminding VC Das that he was bound to adhere to the decision adopted by the council, the advisory had empowered him to deal with any deadlock on the campus.

Most of the council members had expected Das to apply the power. Instead, the initial discussions were restricted to "taking note" of the chancellor's advisory. According to the VC, the advisory meant he was supposed to abide by the executive council resolution drawn on July 4 that had decided to scrap admission tests, a council member said.

As the hair-splitting went on, one teacher said he spoke up. "He was sticking to a stand that would have only escalated the tension. At this point, I just wanted to know if it was not entirely up to him to decide whether a legal opinion would have to be accepted at all. I explained that the university takes legal opinion on scores of issues. But it is not binding on the VC or the university to accept all the opinions. The VC has to take a decision factoring in a prevalent situation," said the teacher.

Some other members expressed an identical view but VC Das reportedly stuck to the legal point.

The sources said it was then that the teacher from the engineering discipline drew a parallel between the fasting students and their own children.

The passionate plea moved all the heads of departments. At least three deans called for a "display of flexibility expected of a university administration".

The dean of interdisciplinary studies, law and management, Samita Sen, requested VC Das to be "flexible, realising the magnitude of the situation", said a teacher.

The members convinced Das to convene a fresh meeting of the executive council from 6pm, where the test-cum-marks formula was adopted.

"We were relieved that we could finally break the impasse by acting in a humane way," said the head of a department.