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Sid Chauhan exit letter calls for new ethos & 'leadership change' at NLSIU Bangalore

NLSIU Bangalore alum Sidharth Chauhan, who was dismissed from his temporary faculty position at the law school last month, wrote an open letter to the NLSIU community on Friday alleging that his dismissal was “a warning meant to discourage other members of the faculty and administrative staff from asking difficult questions”.

On 31 January, the NLSIU administration terminated Chauhan’s temporary contract of service without an explanation over email.

He told Legally India on the day of his dismissal, that the development was a direct result of his “criticising the VC [vice chancellor]”.

Chauhan had sent two open letter emails to NLSIU VC Prof R Venkat Rao in December, copying in NLSIU's faculty, student body and administration. In his emails he criticised Rao’s manner and method of imposing a curfew on students, following an alleged rape of a student nearby.

When asked by Legally India, Rao declined to comment on the decision, attributing it to the Executive Council (EC) of the school.

Thursday, 28 February was Chauhan’s last day on campus. In Friday’s 2,000-word email, sent to the Student Bar Association (SBA), LLB and LLM students, faculty, research centres, and the administration, Chauhan alleged:

While it is open to the Vice-Chancellor to attribute my dismissal to the Executive Council, let us not keep up with any pretence. Those who were present at the emergency meeting of the Executive Council (EC) on January 13, 2013 have confirmed that there was a resolution passed in that meeting which authorised Prof. R. Venkata Rao to act as he deemed fit in my case.

This was evidently in response to the tabling of the e-mails which I had sent to all of you on December 12 and 13, 2012 as well as a private e-mail sent to the Vice-Chancellor on December 17, 2012. Hence, it is not plausible to say that my dismissal is unrelated to these e-mails which were openly critical of some of the Vice-Chancellor's decisions in the recent past.

It is clearly a decision made by Prof. R. Venkata Rao in the exercise of his own judgment, albeit under the authority of the EC. Needless to say, it reflects a retrograde approach which is out of place in a 21st century law school. Institutions such as ours have evolved in an environment of self-criticism and open dialogue, both with respect to academic and administrative matters. However, the present incumbent has refused to recognize the instrumental as well as intrinsic value of deliberative decision-making, primarily by discontinuing the established practice of weekly faculty meetings.

Furthermore, my dismissal comes across as a warning meant to discourage other members of the faculty and administrative staff from asking difficult questions. The head of the institution seems to have worked out a convenient strategy. He chooses to ignore the inputs and the opinions of the faculty members by refusing to call meetings and then hides behind the authority of the EC to push through ill-considered measures. Never mind that the EC has a floating membership that largely consists of sitting justices, practicing lawyers and civil servants who visit the school twice or thrice in an academic year and hardly have the time or the inclination to understand its inner workings.

If there were indeed some other reasons behind this decision, those reasons should at least have been informally communicated to me before the issuance of the notice. Were there serious inadequacies in my own teaching? To the best of my knowledge, the feedback received from students has largely been on the positive side. [...]

NLSIU was designed so as to be insulated from the pressures of partisan politics and short-term thinking that could undermine academic pursuits. Its' autonomous character not only signifies independence from undue influence by external parties but also a certain degree of autonomy for its faculty and staff. While a centralized style of functioning maybe appropriate for some settings, it has no place in an academic institution that claims to be the national leader in the field of legal education.

In the school built by Dr. N.R. Madhava Menon, the faculty, staff and students have a duty to constantly ask questions about their immediate environment so as to collectively work for its improvement. Building an academic institution is an arduous process and consolidating it is even harder. In the twenty-fifth year of its teaching programmes, the school can profit from more robust questioning of its own workings.

By dismissing me and seeking to silence his critics, Prof. R. Venkata Rao is desperately trying to undermine the deliberative ethos of the institution. What is even more serious is the evident lack of communication amongst the faculty members. [...]

Given the absence of regular faculty meetings, there now seems to be a presumption of distrust among several factions as well as a reluctance to collaborate in meaningful pursuits [...]

Hopefully this is not the endgame for me at the NLSIU and there will be a chance to return on the other side of a doctoral degree and more importantly a leadership change that will see the restoration of the deliberative ethos of this institution.”

Chauhan concluded that he was in talks to join another institute in the coming academic year, “proceeding in the hope that the idea of an autonomous law school is not a lost cause”.

Rao declined to comment when contacted.

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