Bent not broken: Suspended SAU teachers slam varsity

- June 30, 2023
| By : Ahona Sengupta |

Months after cracking down on protesting students, the South Asian University is at the centre of a storm after it suspended four teachers over “misconduct”

IN THE EYE OF STORM: The entrance gate of the South Asian University

Four teachers, who have recently been suspended by Delhi’s South Asian University, have slammed the institute for its “vague” justification and described it as “arbitrary”.

The suspended faculty members are Dr. Snehashish Bhattacharya from the Faculty of Economics, Dr. Srinivas Burra from the Faculty of Legal Studies, Dr. Irfanullah Farooqi from the Faculty of Social Sciences, and Dr. Ravi Kumar from the Faculty of Social Sciences.

All of them were sent letters of suspension on June 16 by the university administration over charges of “inciting students against… the interest of the University” in violation of SAU’s code of conduct.

‘Vague and selective’

Calling the allegation of misconduct “completely baseless”, one of the suspended teachers said, “The university has accused us of instigating students. Whereas we never supported or took part in any of their demonstrations. Rather, we requested the institute to follow proper protocol for taking any action.”

“All of us urged the university to engage in a dialogue with students to resolve the matter. The whole issue could be resolved in 30 minutes had there been proper communication from both sides. That has been our consistent message to the administration,” he said.

The suspended teachers have demanded an explanation of the “code of conduct”.

An office order, dated June 16, states, “…there are allegations of misconduct under Regulation 17.8 and the code of conduct prescribed in the Bye Laws of the University… which need to be investigated…”

“This is an old scheme. It is vague and selective. Where is the definition of misconduct,” asked a faculty member on condition of anonymity.

The suspended professors have now decided to pursue the matter legally.

Terming the actions “patently illegal”, the faculty members have called upon the university administration to withdraw the orders at the earliest.

“There has been no response from the university on the points raised by the suspended faculty members. We did not violate any university norm. All we said was to follow protocol and respect procedural sanctity. There are protocols in place even in taking disciplinary action against someone. But the administration has its own grammar of communication,” one of the suspended teachers said.

While SAU has confirmed to Patriot the reason behind the suspension order, it did not respond to the objections raised by the teachers.

While SAU has confirmed to Patriot the reason behind the suspension order, it did not respond to the objections raised by the teachers.

On the allegation of “inciting protests”, the teachers said, “As academics, we believe in the democratic process, but then we never directly supported any protests. In fact, we met people from the administration — acting president and vice president — asking them to set aside their egos and invest in an earnest dialogue

Brief history

The matter dates back to the students’ protest in October last year.

Protests broke out in October 2022 as scholarship for Master’s students was reduced from Rs 5,000 to 4,000 and students sought a hike in stipend for all M.A. scholarship to 7,000 a month. Besides, they demanded that support for international PhD students be increased from Rs 25,000 to Rs 31,500 a month, at par with the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF), as foreigners are not eligible for the entrance exam.

They had sought an increase instead, along with representation in statutory bodies, particularly those on gender sensitisation and sexual harassment.

The university rejected all these demands and expelled several students who actively participated in the protests. One of them was Ammar Ahmad, who was expelled on November 4. However, after he suffered two back-to-back cardiac arrests and seizures leading to complete paralysis, the varsity rescinded his expulsion order.

The expulsion order was revoked after thirteen faculty members had written to the university administration condemning this move and advised for taking up dialogue with the students.

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, as well as certain other communications; “instigating students to protest”; “failure to perform appropriate duties” and to follow university rules, regulations; “association with a Marxist study circle”; visiting Ammar in hospital; among others.

These faculty members individually responded to the notice on January 16, 2023.

The university administration set up a ‘high-powered committee’ comprising the deans of the university that considered the responses.

On May 16 this year, the four faculty members received an email that sought to interact with the fact-finding Committee on May 19.

During the interaction with the FFC on May 19, 2023, the faculty members were allegedly asked to provide answers to around 200 questions in writing that would have been used as “evidence on further proceedings against them”.

Cut to June 16, the orders were issued placing the four faculty members under suspension with immediate effect, given that “there are allegations of misconduct” and violation of the code of conduct of the University, “which need to be investigated”.

The faculty members have been directed 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.