Stick for ‘Covid posers’ in IISER
Two research scholars at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkata have been suspended allegedly because they raised questions about the institute’s handling of Covid testing on the campus.
The two students of the Kalyani institute — one pursuing PhD and the other MSc-PhD (integrated) — said they wanted to know from the authorities why the canteen staff were not being asked to undergo tests at a Covid-19 testing facility on the campus.
The letter of suspension issued to the researchers by the dean, students’ affairs, on November 13 reads: “You are suspended for a period of two months with immediate effect. You are not allowed to enter the campus during the period of suspension. You must go for proper counselling by a proper counsellor and you need to submit the certificate by the counsellor to the students’ affairs office.” It adds: “Note that any case of future misbehaviour will result in harsher punishment.” One of the suspended researchers has resigned protesting the alleged highhandedness.
The director of the institute, Sourav Pal, told Metro: “The decision on suspension was taken based on the recommendation of a committee. The resignation of the research scholar has not been accepted.” The two researchers told Metro on Tuesday that the authorities had told them that they would not receive their monthly scholarship of Rs 43,000 during the period of suspension. On October 19, all students of the institute had received a mail from the students’ affairs council (food, health and hygiene) about tests for Covid-19 to be conducted on the campus the next day. The students who wanted to get tested were asked to fill in an online form. On October 20, a canteen employee who had given samples for a Covid test at a centre outside the campus learnt that he had the disease.
The same day, seven students, including the two who have been suspended, met the professor who was facilitating the on-campus testing drive and asked her why the canteen employees had not been approached for the test and why many of the students who had filled in the form the previous day had not been called for the test.
The professor, who is also a member of the institute’s Covid Task Force, told the students that eight samples had been collected that day. “We requested her to clarify on what basis were the eight persons (whose samples were collected) prioritised?” said the MSC-PhD student. The two researchers were suspended within three weeks of that conversation.
“Although the letter of suspension does not mention the grounds of suspension, we suspect the professor whom we had approached took offence as we dared to raise uncomfortable questions about Covid testing on the campus,” said the PhD student.
The professor told this newspaper she had no idea what happened to the two students.
“I just reported to the administration about the altercation I had with the students over the functioning of the Covid Task Force…. I don’t have any idea why they have been suspended. I just informed the chairman of the task force about what happened with them (the students) and the problems I was facing in running the facility,” said the professor, from the department of biological science.
The dean of students’ affairs, Balaram Mukhopadhyay, said the committee was of the view that the behaviour of the suspended duo breached decorum. “Teachers are not willing to volunteer to hold any testing camp after what happened that day,” he said.
Altercations between the IISER authorities and students are not new. In 2015, students got into an argument with then director R.N. Mukherjee during a protest on mess-related issues.