11 suspended professors, rustic students, battle lines drawn on the Visva-Bharati campus
In the past fortnight, Visva-Bharati University has again been rocked by protests – this time over the hardiness of three students on August 23. On Wednesday, the High Court of Calcutta allowed them to join the courts, paving the way for a return to normalcy, there have been frequent protests – from both teachers and students – since Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty took office in October 2018.
Faculty members point to the unusually high number of suspensions. As of November 2019, 22 staff members – 11 faculty members, 11 non-teaching staff – have been suspended and more than 150 notices of presentation have been issued.
Some of the suspended faculty members said they were facing action for a variety of reasons, including writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against alleged irregularities at the central university. Others alleged that they were suspended on trumped-up charges, including neglect of duty and financial impropriety. Five have challenged their suspensions in court.
While Indian express spoke to some of the suspended professors, both VC Chakraborty and the university PRO, Anirban Sarkar, did not respond to calls or texts.
“The university suspended me for making derogatory remarks against a colleague, which is an unfounded allegation, and for circulating a complaint. Some of us had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is Chancellor of Visva-Bharati, President Ram Nath Kovind and Governor of West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar against the VC. These are not offenses that can be grounds for suspension, ”said Sudipta Bhattacharya, president of the Association of Professors of Visva-Bharati University (VBUFA) which is among those suspended.
The stay order, seen by Indian Express, cites “misconduct in mass-circulating a complaint and derogatory / defamatory / baseless remarks against a colleague and also forwarding copies of these to high-ranking officials by e-mail”.
The order was issued on January 7 this year, days after Bhattacharya wrote to the prime minister alleging irregularities in the appointment of a director of Patha Bhavana, who is part of the university. While the suspension was initially for three months, it was extended twice – for another three months, then for two months.
“Those who did not follow the line of the VC or speak against its operation were on the receiving end,” said Bhattacharya, professor of economics. “A professor in the physics department was suspended for visiting a professor who headed a committee investigating the allegations against me. Can this be a reason for suspension? The two teachers are close friends.
When contacted, the physics professor, who declined to be named, said: “I was suspended on March 6 after visiting the home of a fellow teacher. I have nothing more to say about it. Everyone knows the reason why I was subjected to such an action. The stay order cites an “attempt to influence the investigator”.
Bhattacharya alleged that a professor in the biotechnology department, Tathagata Choudhuri, was suspended after an altercation with the director of an institute close to the VC. The stay order dated December 2, 2019, seen by The Indian Express, says the decision was made after “considering the report of the individual commission of inquiry into complaints filed by Professor Kashinath Chatterjee, Principal, Siksha Bhavana ”.
Choudhuri challenged the stay order in the Calcutta High Court.
Three directors of Bhasa Bhavana – Abhijit Sen, Kailash Chandra Pattanaik and Narottam Senapati – also challenged their suspensions on June 4, 2020, for alleged financial irregularities. Sen has since retired.
An assistant professor who did not want to be named said he was suspended on March 13 this year for “neglect of duty in his department.”
“The official cover letter says that I visited the university and research section almost every day between 3:30 pm and 6 pm, neglecting my homework. As a teacher, I have the freedom to visit these sections, and I did so after my classes. This can never be a cause for suspension. The real reason was that I refused to sign against a colleague, when the university wanted to impose an embargo on her. I also protested against the ill-treatment inflicted on him. I told the VC that I will not sign against any of my colleagues. On March 13, I was suspended for three months, then it was extended for three months, ”he said.
“Tomorrow, I will complete six months of suspension. Six months ago, they gave me a cover letter; I answered. They formed a one-man commission of inquiry and then suspended me. I only received 50% of my monthly salary. Three months later, they sent me a notice saying the investigation had been opened and the suspension extended for another three months. But there was no investigation, no hearing. I have not been called by anyone… They deprived me of my freedom to teach. I was supposed to receive 75% of my salary after three months, but I did not receive it until August, ”he said.
Another physics professor said he and a colleague were suspended after filing a formal complaint against the VC with local police. Their suspension order cites “serious indiscipline and misconduct”.
“My colleagues and I rushed to the aid of the professors in the English department who had been unfairly confined to a room by the university authorities. Later, we filed a complaint against the VC at the local police station. We also wrote to the Prime Minister and the President against him. On August 23, we were suspended indefinitely, ”said the professor, who declined to be named.
VBUFA President Sudipta Bhattacharya admitted that the allegations against some of the suspended professors may be true. “It is a question of investigation to find out whether all are guilty. But a large number of them were wrongly suspended, which is quite clear from the cases cited by the authorities in these suspension orders, ”Bhattacharya said.
In addition to the suspensions, nine teaching and non-teaching staff were dismissed, including former officer VC Sabuj Koli Sen.
Along with former clerk Saugata Chattopadhyay and former finance official Samit Ray, Sen was removed from his post on August 28, 2020, just two days before his retirement, for falsifying the minutes of a council meeting in order to to extend the term of VC. .
University authorities have also reportedly stopped the retirement benefits of two teachers and two other non-teaching staff; and the salaries of three teachers and two non-teaching staff. Some other faculty members were also subject to measures, including their dismissal as directors, deputy directors and heads of departments.
From the suppression of the annual Poush Mela (winter fair) to the declaration of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen as one of the illegal occupants of VBU lands, the university has seen several controversies after Chakraborty took his VC functions.
Criticizing the actions of the VC, renowned historian Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri said: “Teachers and students are an integral part of any university institute. The VC angered them with his decision on the suspensions. He failed to put them at ease and to solve problems through dialogue and discussion. He is not a good administrator and acts like a dictator.
“You can’t upset everyone in a university. The VC should handle issues with delicacy, building trust in everyone involved. No university can function by opposing both the teaching and student communities. A university is not a factory with strict guidelines. A VC should keep in regular contact with teachers and students. He can never bring the situation to a point of no return, ”said Pabitra Sarkar, teacher and former vice-president of Rabindra Bharati University.