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NLS students go on media offensive vs ‘hostile’ admin, ‘Orwellian future’ sans VC • Regi denies at fault

Students call out registrar, admin for stalling VC appointment
Students call out registrar, admin for stalling VC appointment

NLSIU Bangalore’s Student Bar Association (SBA) has taken the offensive over the (possibly) inexplicable delays in the appointment of Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy as its new vice chancellor (VC), with students wearing black bands today.

According to one student, today’s protest is “against the opacity in the appointment procedure” of the new VC, and that the delay is “dishonouring the decision of Hon’ble Justice Bobde-backed sub-committee and the EC”.

On top of that, as we had reported last month, the student body had begun to question the administration’s policies, such as charging student associations for halls, as well as a general unresponsiveness to student needs.

Several additional factors have led the student body to pass a resolution condemning the delay in the VC appointment last Sunday, and circulating a press release to newspapers yesterday: the Deccan Herald, The Hindu and Times of India.

According to the SBA statement (full copy below), it had lost “confidence in the present interim administration”, alleging that “it had reasons to believe” that the registrar and secretary Prof OV Nandimath was “needlessly obstructing” Krishnaswamy’s appointment.

The SBA suggested that he:

“should recuse himself from this process owing to his obstructionist behavior and evident conflict of interest, having been one of the 16 applicants for the position of Vice-Chancellor. It is quite inappropriate that one of the applicants for the position has control over the administrative formalities and is patently abusing his existing position as Registrar of NLSIU to delay and possibly derail the appointment process.”

Nandimath, when contacted, clarified that his role was only that of a “messenger” and it was the complexity of systems, which might be causing delays.

Nandimath declined to comment further.

However, in a first in the drawn-out process so far, Krishnaswamy publicly commented to the Deccan Herald, saying: “This timeframe, to finalise the appointment, cannot be described as normal. After all, the process began last November. Now, it is September 2019.”

Many back-breaking straws

Besides the issues we had reported on last month and the ever-mounting delay, several other factors came into play galvanising the student body.

In the words of an internal message circulated amongst students:

The current NLS administration has come out with a handbook on how to destroy an institution; here is a summary

Step:1 Make the fees prohibitively high so as to exclude most of the students from joining the institution.

Step: 2 Discourage students from inviting subject experts for lecture by charging them for the lecture hall and the tea that will be served to the guests and you yourselves invite none.

Step: 3 Make student committees impossible to function by charging them for using most of the basic university amenities.

Step: 4 Ensure students don’t participate in external competitions by denying financial assistance, attendance etc.

Step: 5 Charge recruiters for conducting interviews so that there are no placements from your university and also charge the student committee that actually did all the work.

Step: 6 Fail all the students who in spite of all these join your institution by enforcing archaic rules and change rules as per your whim and fancy so that those who continue to study in your institution are exhausted dealing with the bureaucracy.

Step: 7 [...] looting the students, engage in dirty politics and have no vision for the institution.

And here is the perfect recipe and guess what! It works!”

Point 6 relates to more than 70 students having been notified of potentially year losses, out of around 300 students (with a student body of nearly 400, of whom around 20 have dropped out and 80 are in their first year where being held-back is not possible).

In effect this means that a quarter of students face potentially have to repeat a year, if they do not clear carry-over exams, backlogs or other requirements.

According to an internal email circulated by the SBA:

It is clear that all the assurances generously doled out to the student body have been as hollow as a sepulchre. The empathy just a façade. It is clear that the voice of the student body was intentfully stifled. The first provisional promotion list indicates that upwards of 70 people have an year loss, although we should be wary of relying on this list, it should also be kept in mind that most of these year losses would have been saved if the administration had stayed true to their word about the academic reforms. The upcoming EC meeting is extremely important as the issue of VC’s appointment also directly affects the results of the academic reforms which we so desperately need.

In part, many of those rules had not been enforced strictly under predecessor VC, Prof Venkata Rao, but the new administration appears to have unceremoniously changed the yardstick when it recently posted up the list of more than 70 students.

Secretive decision making

According to an SBA email sent to students before the Sunday meeting, the administration have continued to be “exceedingly unapproachable” in their decision-making, “systematically” excluding the SBA and students from weekly faculty meetings and decisions:

An example of this unilateral way of decision making came to light an hour back when the security guards started asking the students who were using the classrooms of the academic block to vacate them by 10pm as the administration has directed them to lock the acad by 10pm. While (after hours of convincing) we were able to convince them not to lock the rooms tonight, the fact that this decision was taken by the Registrar 15 days back and the student body got wind of it only an hour back says something about the way that the current administration believes in taking decision.

The SBA had also highlighted the financial policies of charging students to their detriment for on campus activities, including allegedly charging foreign law firm Herbert Smith Freehills to conduct on-campus recruitment interviews:

The committees are being forced to pay to use campus facilities; SIPLA has been charged 11k for conducting the SCC by Dr. Ashwani Kumar; L-Tech has been charged 23k for using the AnO hall. The university giveth the funds and the university taketh them away. This radical interpretation of the events as being organized at the university’s cost for which compensation has to be given over and above the “facilities fee” (paid as a part of annual fees, amounting to Rs. 18,750 per person) is against, student interests, established past practice, and wholly unexpected. Furthermore, the university has also charged HSF a hefty sum to allow them to conduct their recruitment interviews. Antagonizing the recruiters could not possibly be further from protection of student interests. Moreover, the fact that this decision is backed by a resolution passed in the faculty meeting to stop conducting such events is very concerning.

The SBA implored students not to “lose hope”, despite the administration “delaying Dr Sudhir’s appointment”:

It is high time that the student body takes cognizance of these issues and realizes that this is the last frontier. We do not know how long this transitory period will last, nor what else it will bring with it.

This administration is not apathetic to student interests, it is hostile.

Their encroaching violations of student expectations and interests should be recognized for what they are – salami tactics. Even the most basic liberties, such as no curfew (from 2nd Year onwards), can be taken away by a mere order of the VC, the Registrar, or the Chief Warden. The lack of an empathetic and friendly appellate authority is unprecedented and warrants immediate action. Any later is too late. If we do not raise our voices now, this college is looking at an Orwellian Future.

Full SBA press statement

The full statement sent by the SBA to several newspapers below:

The Student Bar Association of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore (hereinafter SBA) is releasing the following statement in relation to the pending appointment of the Vice-Chancellor for the institution, and also to air its grievances with the interim administration.

The previous Vice-Chancellor, Prof. (Dr.) R. Venkata Rao had stepped down from office on July 31, 2019, after leading the institution for more than 10 years. Earlier this year, a three member High-Level Committee consisting of Prof. (Dr.) M.P. Singh (Distinguished Jurist), Mr. K.K. Venugopal (Learned Attorney General for India) and Mr. Arvind Datar (Senior Advocate) had been set up by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, acting as the Chancellor of the University, to recommend a suitable candidate to succeed Dr. R. Venkata Rao. This High-Level Committee had shortlisted three candidates, in a stated order of preference, and found Prof. (Dr.) Sudhir Krishnaswamy to be the most suitable of the three.

Subsequently, in the 88th meeting of the NLSIU Executive Council (EC) held on July 6th, 2019 in Bangalore, this recommendation letter was tabled, as per the instructions of the Chancellor of the University, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India and after due deliberations, the Executive Council resolved to constitute a Sub- Committee, under the chairmanship of Hon’ble Justice Sharad A. Bobde (Acting Chancellor of NLSIU) to interact with the shortlisted candidates and to recommend a name for the post of Vice-Chancellor.

The minutes of the Sub-Committee Meeting, held on July 23rd, 2019 in New Delhi, state as follows: “The Committee recommend (sic) the name of Prof. Sudhir Krishnaswamy to be the Vice-Chancellor. Hence the Executive Council approves Prof. Sudhir Krishnaswamy as the Vice Chancellor.”

It has now been six weeks since Prof. (Dr.) R. Venkata Rao demitted office. The student body finds the undue delay in the appointment of the new VC, who has already been approved by the Executive Council, unfortunate and worrisome. The ad-hoc manner of functioning witnessed over the last six weeks does not bode well for any institution, much less for a prestigious institution such as NLSIU.

We are made to understand that the causes of the delay are the misleading and dilatory nature of communications from the present Registrar of NLSIU, Prof. (Dr.) O.V. Nandimath, who is the Ex-Officio Secretary to the Executive Council (EC). We have reasons to believe that he is needlessly obstructing the appointment of the next Vice-Chancellor. The requests made by the student body for making the communications between him and the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India public have gone unanswered. The student body has lost all faith in his ability to act in an impartial manner in this matter. The SBA at its General Body Meeting held on September 8, 2019, resolved to demand that the Registrar should recuse himself from this process owing to his obstructionist behavior and evident conflict of interest, having been one of the 16 applicants for the position of Vice-Chancellor. It is quite inappropriate that one of the applicants for the position has control over the administrative formalities and is patently abusing his existing position as Registrar of NLSIU to delay and possibly derail the appointment process. In these unexpected and extraordinary circumstances, it is only proper that the secretarial functions of the NLSIU Executive Council (EC) are performed by another Professor of the University who has no conflict of interest in this matter.

The present administration has also been systematically chipping away at the liberties granted to students of NLSIU which have evolved through the efforts of generations of students, faculty members and the previous Vice-Chancellors. The administration has been hostile to all requests made by the students, and has been taking away fundamental freedoms that students have had in residential campuses, like using the Academic Block for holding meetings and discussions after classes. Exorbitant costs have also been imposed for the use of University amenities such as conference venues for the organization of various events, which were previously made available without such rents. It is quite objectionable for a University to charge rent from its own institutionally-recognized student groups when they organise activities such as academic conferences, seminars and job interviews in order to boost the University’s own image and prospects.

The SBA does not have confidence in the present interim administration and pleads with the Executive Council to take note of the state of affairs and promptly appoint Prof. (Dr.) Sudhir Krishnaswamy as the Vice Chancellor, as has already been recommended.

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