Ambedkar University Delhi on the boil as 17 Deans and Directors write a letter to the Vice Chancellor, voicing concerns about her style of functioning and the disregard for the reservation policy in the admission process

Published : December 21, 2020 19:34 IST

A view of Ambedkar University Delhi. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

In an unprecedented move, 17 Deans and Directors of Dr B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi have written a letter to Vice Chancellor Prof Anu Singh Lather, voicing concerns and apprehensions about her style of functioning.

Their major complaint is the absence of a forum for open discussions with the Vice Chancellor. The letter said: “In the existing meetings with the Vice Chancellor, not only is the agenda not shared prior to the meeting, but faculty members are unable to bring their agenda to the discussion…. Faculty members are demoralised by the lack of information on their prospects for career advancement and promotion (CAS), their application for leave (response time is usually long and there is hardly any interim communication) and issues relating to their pension. The insistence that faculty take leave for the period they undertook regular online teaching from locations other than Delhi during the pandemic led to unpleasant experiences for some of the faculty members…. The recent strikes of students and boycott of classes could have been avoided if there were regular conversations with Schools and School Deans on this matter.”

Students privy to the development told Frontline that the university has been on the boil since February 2019, when Prof Lather was appointed Vice Chancellor.

Aditi, a student activist, said: “The Vice Chancellor is trying to implement rules peculiar to technical universities in a liberal studies university, where the demographic, the kind of facilities the university offers its students and the fees it charges are very different.” Alleging that the culture of the university is being eroded slowly, Aditi said that the Vice Chancellor was always surrounded by guards and remained inaccessible to students. “In a university with less than 2,000 students, who does the Vice Chancellor want to barricade herself from?” she wondered.

In the past year and a half, several spaces on the campus were shut down and made off-limits. One of them is the Dara Shikoh lawns where students and teachers used to gather for discussions. Booking a room for a talk, which used to be a simple affair earlier, was bureaucratised to such an extent that it made it impossible for the students to get permission, she said. A “Code of Discipline” was announced during the pandemic, with a long list of Dos and Don’ts which the student community rejected outright.

A student said on condition of anonymity: “Some of the ‘rules’ are absurd, such as ‘don’t open windows in classrooms’, ‘don’t protest’, ‘don’t hang flags’, ‘don’t put up posters’, and so on. Except the Students’ Council, all other organisations, including the Students Federation of India, the Dalit Adivasi Bahujan Minority Students Association and the Queer Collective will no longer be officially recognised by the university. Most of these measures have been announced to scuttle our freedom to discuss issues, intellectually disagree or simply carry out the activities that make the university a vibrant space. It is also being done to target a certain section of students who disagree with the current right-wing government.”

More seriously, the Vice Chancellor has allegedly scuttled the progressive reservation policy of the university. When the university was set up in 2008 under Ambedkar’s name, certain social justice measures were woven into the fabric of the university. Students from the Scheduled Castes (S.C.), the Scheduled Tribes (S.T.) and the Other Backward Classes (OBC) got a fee waiver whether they came from National Capital Territory (NCT) or outside it. A Student Welfare Fund was incorporated through which students in need of money for transport, photocopy, food and other needs could be assisted. All these progressive measures, said the students, were scrapped by the Vice Chancellor during the lockdown period without any discussion with the affected communities. Despite the lockdown, the students vociferously protested against these measures and the university was forced to set up a review committee, they said.

Students also sought the Delhi government’s intervention but were told by Atishi Marlena, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA, that the government did not have funds and could not do anything. “A few days after the meeting, the Delhi government spent crores on a Deepavali puja. Where did they get the funds for that?” asked a student.

“What is happening in the university is part of the larger assault on academic institutions by the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] government at the centre. It is strange as the university comes under the AAP government of Delhi NCT. Is Arvind Kejriwal [Delhi Chief Minister] in cahoots with the BJP to destroy education?” wondered a student on the condition of anonymity.

According to a professor who spoke on condition of anonymity, the university administration has scuttled the reservation policy. The admission policy, he said, was replete with random decisions taken without consulting anybody but a select coterie around the Vice Chancellor. This proved to be the last straw for the Deans and Directors and they decided to write the letter to the Vice Chancellor, said the professor.

The dates of the entrance exam for 2020-21 were changed just two days prior to the scheduled dates, triggering panic among students who had booked non-refundable flight tickets and made arrangements for their stay. Several students were unable to reach the exam centres on the changed dates. The entrance exam was conducted by an external agency, EdCIL, which was paid Rs.50 lakh. “All the questions were MCQ [multiple choice questions]. How does one judge a students’ critical faculty through MCQ for a social sciences course?” said the professor.

Nevertheless, faculty members were asked to interview the students selected through the entrance test. “We were not told anything on the criteria used to select the students, the marks they got or if any of them belonged to the S.C./S.T./OBC communities. Moreover, when three students got the same marks, the oldest got admitted. This is a UPSC [Union Public Service Commission] rule which does not sit well in a public university. It is sheer discrimination,” said the professor.

To make matters worse, candidates who cleared the entrance exam and the interview found their admissions rejected on the university web site without reasons. Strangely, even as candidates in the first list were tackling these issues, a second and third list of candidates were released. “The University called some students, urging them to complete their admission process while it cancelled the admission of some who had secured admission in the first list. This is absolutely random and arbitrary,” said a student.

Moreover, the reservation policy of the government was allegedly circumvented by a new reservation model of the university. The Delhi government reserves 85 per cent seats for Delhi domicile candidates and the rest 15 per cent for non-NCT candidates. Within the 85 per cent and 15 per cent, there is further reservation for S.C./S.T. and OBC categories as per government norms. This year, the entrance criteria for the general category students was simplified in such a way that they did not have to prove their Delhi domicile but simply had to show the last attended institution to become eligible for admission. But reserved category students had to compulsorily have a caste certificate made from Delhi in order to be eligible for the reserved category. For instance, if a candidate had attended Delhi University but had a caste certificate from West Bengal, her application got rejected automatically from the reserved category and she had to compete under the general category.

“This is sheer assault on the reservation policy and we are planning to go to court over this issue,” said the professor.