JNU history faculty, teachers body object to letter to Romila Thapar
The context of the controversy is a letter sent to Romila Thapar by the JNU administration asking her to send her resume in line with a March 2019 change in the guidelines for the grant of professor emeritus/emerita status to its retired professors.
The Centre for Historical Studies (CHS) and the JNU Teachers’ Association have objected to the university administration’s letter to historian Romila Thapar, asking her to submit her resume for review of her position as Professor Emerita at the Centre where she taught for decades.
The letter, sent to the university administration in early August, says that the faculty has been “greatly honoured that Prof. Thapar accepted the decision of the University in bestowing the honour on her for life”. It adds that Prof. Thapar has graced the academic activities of the Centre and enjoys worldwide recognition as a scholar.
Expressing dismay that Prof Thapar has been asked to provide further justification for her academic standing, it adds that the faculty disagrees with the proposition that she should be asked to reapply for a position for which she did not apply in the first instance. For the Centre, the letter says, the issue of freshly assessing her work “does not arise.”
This apart, the JNUTA also issued a statement expressing “outrage” over the administration’s alleged attempt to “denigrate the teaching and learning traditions of JNU via its tasteless communications”. “The insult to Prof. Romila Thapar is just another politically motivated step in this regard, motivated no doubt by the active and steadfast support and inspiration she has provided to the teachers and students of JNU in line with the vision and ideals embedded into its foundations,” the statement said.
The context for the letter sent to Prof Thapar is a change made in March, 2019, by the university’s executive council to the guidelines for the grant of professor emeritus/emerita status to its retired professors.
“Once appointed, EC as an appointing authority will consider the continuation or otherwise for each Emeritus Professor after attainment of her/his age of 75 years by considering her/his health status, willingness, availability, university needs, etc., so that more positions will be available to other potential candidates,” say the guidelines. “For this purpose, EC will appoint a subcommittee for each existing professor emeritus above the age of 75 years, which will examine each case as it deems fit, including by interaction, inviting latest CV, peer group reviews, etc. The recommendation of this committee will be considered by EC for its decision.”
Professors emeritus/emerita at JNU have not received a salary for the same.
Globally, norms for professor emeritus/emerita status vary from institution to institution. Thus, while the Cornell University website says that the status is to be renewed one year at a time, the Harvard University website says it is lifelong, once granted.
The BJP publications and journals department national convenor Shiv Shakti Bakshi, who has a PhD from CHS, JNU, had as different view: “Why should emeritus status be for a lifetime in a democracy? The JNU EC approved new guidelines in March to review it after the age of 75. Once a review process is underway, there is a standard format for every appointment/review/application. Even a minister has to fill in his/her details when he/she wants to contest as MP, irrespective of how well-known a politician he/she may be. The idea of a democracy is to move from a regime of privilege to a standard regime of equality among citizens.”
The controversy, among several concerning higher education in the last few years, is unlikely to die down soon.