SAU: Teachers Suspended Allegdly for Demanding Resolution of Student-Admin Deadlock
SAU, New Delhi | Image courtesy: sau.int
Four teachers at South Asian University were suspended on June 16 for “misconduct under Regulation 17.8 and the code of conduct prescribed in the by-laws of the university”. The South Asian University is a joint collaboration of members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
The suspension came months after teachers requested university administrators resolve issues arising from a student strike for increasing scholarships and fellowships in November and December last year. The teachers had also denounced the administration calling the Delhi Police inside the international campus at Akbar Bhawan in New Delhi.
A teacher who requested anonymity told NewsClick that 11 teachers had signed both statements but notices were issued to only five teachers. “It is beyond comprehension. The teachers were asked to answer hundreds of questions in writing before a fact-finding committee through pen and paper. It is deeply humiliating for any teacher,” the teacher said.
A letter prepared by suspended teachers comprising Chronological Summary of the Recent Incidents at South Asian University (SAU) stated, “On December 30, 2022, five faculty members received notices from the university administration asking them to respond to several charges, including: writing letters to the university community questioning certain administrative decisions in relation to the student protests; instigating students to protest; failure to perform appropriate duties and to follow university rules, regulations, etc.; association with a Marxist study circle.”
The faculty members individually responded to the notice on January 16, 2023.
It added, “On May 16, 2023, the four faculty members mentioned above (point 10) received an email notice stating the following: ‘The Fact Finding Committee (FFC) constituted by the Competent Authority would like to interact with you on Friday, May 19, 2023, at 11 am in the President’s Committee Room (ES 402). Kindly make it convenient to attend’.”
On request from two faculty members, a notification dated March 29, 2023, was shared with them, which announced the formation of the FFC “for consideration of responses received from certain faculty members on l6 January 2023 and for ascertainment of the facts as per the SAARC Intergovernmental Agreement, Rules, Regulations and Bye-Laws.”
The committee comprised Professor Sanjay Chaturvedi, chairperson (Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences); Professor Deepa Sinha (Dean, Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Sciences); and Professor Ravindra Pratap (Dean, Faculty of Legal Studies).
During the interaction with the FFC on May 19, 2023, the faculty members were asked to answer around 132 to 246 questions in writing by the end of the working day, using pen and paper and sitting in front of the committee members. They were told their responses might be used as evidence to decide on further proceedings against them.
The committee refused repeated appeals to share the questions with the faculty members electronically, to allow them to respond by email, and to give them more time (these requests were made to the committee during the interaction orally as well as in writing). “Responding to most questions would have required extensive research and legal advice, which was not possible given the guidelines laid down by the committee,” it said.
The suspension was condemned by the Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association, which termed it unjust and intimidating to instil fear among faculty members. In a statement, D K Lobiyal, President, JNUTA said, “The suspension notice issued to the faculty by the SAU administration on 16.06.2023 came after a spate of humiliation of the four faculty members by the Fact Finding Committee that on May 19, 2023, asked them to provide handwritten answers to over a hundred questions sitting in front of the committee members. The faculty raised objections to this process and wrote to the FFC and the SAU administration, but they received no reply.”
Lobiyal added, “On the contrary, they were served with suspension orders that justified it by accusing the faculty of ‘inciting and leading students and outsiders’, and ‘anti-social acts’, among other things, without following due process of investigation. This illegal and unacceptable suspension notice has directed them not to leave the station without permission, vacate their offices, return their office computers and identity cards, and register their attendance on all working days in the offices of their respective deans.”
The statement condemned “unprecedented harassment, coercion, and intimidation of the SAU faculty by the administration. There are several news reports that the university served notices and expelled/suspended/rusticated several students protesting against the reduction of monthly stipends without following the due process." It further said, "Several faculty in SAU have also raised their concerns regarding the arbitrary actions of the university administration against the students. These notices of expulsion and rustication have put the students under tremendous stress, both mentally and physically.”
The condemnation also poured in from the Federation of Central Universities Teachers Association, which said that the South Asian University had been witness to a creeping process of autocratisation that is the necessary complement of the commercialisation and saffronisation of higher education. In a statement, it said, "The current Union government of India has undermined the South Asian character of the university. Last year, students of South Asian University began a protest against the reduction in monthly stipends. The administration of South Asian University failed to pay heed to these protests and instead sought to brazenly crush them.”
It added, "In a shockingly illegal move, the four faculty members were suspended on June 16, 2023 on legally untenable grounds of ostensible misconduct. The four faculty members have been directed by the Administration of South Asian University not to leave Delhi without prior permission, vacate their offices in the university premises, return their office computers as well as their official identity cards. Besides, and this is possibly the height of illegal brazenness, the four teachers have been ordered to mark their presence every day in the offices of the Deans of their respective schools.”
Aheibam Prahalad, Public Relations Officer, South Asian University, told NewsClick, "No teachers were suspended for their support to striking students. Also the fact finding committee was not biased towards teachers and gave them a chance to respond to it."
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