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Letter to NLSIU Communtiy by Sidharth

Letter to NLSIU Communtiy by Sidharth

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Published by Raghul Sudheesh

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Published by: Raghul Sudheesh on Feb 01, 2013
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11/12/2013

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Dear NLSIU community,I am afraid that this latest notification comes across as a disproportionate andpotentially counterproductive measure. Prof. Nagaraj had suggested theadvancement of the permission time from 12:30 am to 9 pm in the facultymeeting that was held on November 8, 2012 i.e. a few days before theemergency meeting of the Executive Council on November 11, 2012. Yesterday'snotification indicates that the decision to implement this change is in pursuanceof the deliberations in the Executive Council. Therefore, it would be safe toassume that both Prof. Venkata Rao and Prof. Nagaraj can point to the minutesof the said meeting in order to defend this notification. However, the issue is farmore complex than that.In the faculty meeting, many of us had expressed our reservations aboutadvancing the time for restricting the movement of students. At a verypreliminary level, this measure has no rigorous causal link with the physicalsafety of students in general. While students have been and can be advised toavoid dangerous areas in the vicinity of the campus, imposing such blanketrestrictions is an unduly paternalistic move. There have been numerousinstances of sexual harassment and physical abuse of NLSIU staff and students inbroad daylight. These problems cannot be eradicated with a simplistic measuresuch as constraining the movement of students after 9 pm. In fact suchrestrictions are likely to result in more students choosing to stay off-campus inthe future, thereby escalating the risks to their physical safety. As the word getsout, it may also affect our attractiveness for prospective applicants, exchangestudents and visiting scholars among others. It is also quite foreseeable that notallowing students to enter after 9 pm may result in numerous instances wherestudents can be left stranded in the vicinity. In addition to these practicalconcerns, there is a larger question of the symbolism inherent in the institution'sresponse. Given that these restrictions are clearly a knee-jerk response to acrime committed against one of our students, we are indirectly engaging invictim-blaming rather than addressing the root of the problem.Another cause for worry is the opacity with which such a decision has beenmade. With all due respect, the members of the Executive Council are not well-informed of the ground realities of this institution. The constantly floatingcomposition of these bodies and the relative detachment of their members isexplicitly intended to ensure independent oversight over the affairs of theinstitution. However, they ought not to intervene in the day-to-day managementof the institution. The role of the governing bodies is to make surgicalinterventions in case of a sustained pattern of institutional failure. Being anautonomous institution, the onus is on ourselves to keep our own house in order.In matters such as these, the leaders of the institution should have heldmeaningful consultations with all stakeholders, namely faculty, current students,parents and alumni before issuing such a notification. At the very least, the Vice-Chancellor and the Registrar could have explained their respective point of view
 
in an open meeting for the NLS community. It is very easy to selectively ask afew individuals for their opinions and make sweeping decisions that haveadverse consequences for the immediate stakeholders. I am afraid that this isexactly what seems to have happened in this instance.I do realise that being in a temporary teaching position, whatever I say can besummarily brushed aside by the Vice-Chancellor, the Registrar and the seniorfaculty members. The larger point worth examining at the moment is the gradualerosion of democratic practices within the NLSIU administration and facultymembers. Educational institutions are not expected to be democracies in thestrict sense, since the relationship between teachers and students is akin to thatof trusteeship. However, there are certain norms of consultation and deliberationthat should be followed among the faculty members as well as the administrativestaff, irrespective of claims of seniority or past experience. The last few yearshave witnessed the non-continuance of weekly faculty meetings (the recent onebeing an exception) and an unprecedented centralisation of decision-makingboth with respect to academic and administrative matters.I am not qualified to comment on administrative matters such as constructionand fund-raising but I do have serious objections to the way in which theacademic programs are being handled. I have already expressed my oppositionto the untrammeled interference with evaluation through the GrievanceRedressal Mechanism contemplated in the rules for the undergraduate program. The manner in which this provision has been interpreted and enforced over thelast two academic years is a direct assault on teacher autonomy and therebyviolative of the structural features of NLSIU. While there is no principledopposition to the inclusion of such a remedial power, the nature of theseinterventions has severely distorted the incentives for students and teachersalike to apply themselves to their expected roles. Given the absence of regularfaculty meetings on academic issues (the Undergraduate Council has not meteven once in the current academic year), there has been no forum to questionthe interpretation and enforcement of the said rule. Likewise, there seems tohave been no vertical or horizontal check on teaching standards for quite awhile. Several courses have more or less collapsed since they have either beenallocated to instructors with no previous background in the respective fields orpoorly-performing instructors have been allowed to continue in their roles onaccount of extraneous factors. In some cases, instructors have a self-aggrandized view of their own teaching capabilities whereas their actualperformance is far below what students expect in an institution such as NLSIU. The most surprising factor is that the recommendations of administrative staff are often given more weightage in decisions about subject-allocation as opposedto the views of faculty members who are directly engaged in teaching. I can of course go on with a laundry-list of complaints, but that would detract from theissues at hand. The main point is that unless we revive the channels fordeliberation that had been developed in the past, we will continue to makesuboptimal and potentially harmful decisions.

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