Jawaharlal Nehru University is in the process of reviewing the position of all its emeritus professors who are above the age of 75 years.
At least five such professors, including renowned historian Romila Thapar and sociologist T.K. Oommen, have received letters from JNU’s registrar asking them to submit their curriculum vitae to a university-appointed committee which will review their position, despite the fact that these were originally lifetime appointments.
“It is embarrassing for professors emeritus to be asked such a thing,” Dr. Oommen told The Hindu . “Our CVs, the record of our work and achievements are easily available. What is the need to write and ask for such a thing?” he asked. In fact, the CVs of several emeritus professors, including Dr. Thapar’s, are available on the JNU website itself.
“In my response to the University, I mentioned the fact that the original appointment sent to me said it was for life,” said another professor who did not wish to be identified.
At its meeting on August 23, JNU’s Executive Council revised the guidelines for the emeritus professor designation. It now says, “Once appointed, E.C. as an appointing authority, will review the continuation or otherwise for each existing Emeritus Professor after attainment of her/his age of seventy five years by considering her/his health status, willingness, availability, university needs etc. so that more positions will be available to other potential candidates.”
The Council added that it would appoint a sub-committee for each existing Professor Emeritus above 75 years, “which will examine each case as it deems fit, including by interaction, inviting latest CV, peer group views etc.”
Elected teachers’ representatives to the EC recorded their dissent to this decision on the ground that this process amounts to insulting the retired faculty members whose immense contribution to JNU had made them distinguished.
Several professors also told The Hindu that they had received letters from the Registrar over a month ago, well before the resolution taken in the EC meeting on August 23.
“There is no move to discontinue their emeritus professor position if they reply to our letter and express their willingness to continue,” JNU Vice-Chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar said, in response to The Hindu ’s questions on the issue. In a statement, JNU said such “informed review” by the Executive Council was consistent with the practices at universities such as MIT and Princeton. However, the guidelines at these universities only mention the need to keep the university informed of research activities and the possibility of emeritus status being rescinded for unethical conduct.
There has been an outpouring of outrage within the university and on social media after JNU’s letter to Dr. Thapar came to light on Saturday, when Economic and Political Weekly published a letter from JNU emeritus professor Prabhat Patnaik. “This current action of the JNU contradicts the very basis on which the status of professor emeritus was conferred on retired faculty in the JNU,” he wrote. “There is much talk these days about improving the quality of our higher education. This would remain a chimera if our outstanding scholars are treated in this manner by their own universities.”
‘No need for removal’
Dr. Patnaik, who is under 75 years himself and thus not directly affected by the decision pointed out that emeritus professors do not receive any salary or perks from JNU. “It’s zero cost for the University, so they are free to appoint as many people as they like to the position. There is no need to remove someone in order to consider new candidates,” he said.
Several emeritus professors said that they had been abruptly asked to vacate their offices at JNU last year via a “sharply-worded” notice.
There is a wide range of involvement among the emeritus professors whom The Hindu spoke to. Some still go to the University daily, give lectures and publish papers. Others struggle with ill-health and are unable to partake of academic life.
“The emeritus professor designation was a recognition based on our CVs at the time, as it were. It really should not matter what we have done after that. It is based on past achievement, not future expectation,” said Dr. Oommen. “However, even if they wanted to know what we have done since retirement, they should have asked the Centres [which the professors originally worked with] or looked at their own annual reports. It is not right to demand a CV.”