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NLSIU sacks alum prof & student-admin diplomat post rape-curfew talks

Chauhan: Threw the kitchen sink
Chauhan: Threw the kitchen sink
Breaking & exclusive: NLSIU Bangalore faculty and alumnus Sidharth Chauhan was yesterday dismissed from service, little over a month after he wrote to vice-chancellor (VC) R Venkata Rao criticising his non-consultative manner of imposing a 9pm ban on opening the law school gates.

Chauhan, who was a visiting faculty at NLSIU since July 2011, was appointed by way of a temporary contract the terms of which allowed the administration to relieve him at any time without stating reasons.

He received an email from the administration yesterday afternoon summarily ending his contract, with one month’s notice. 28 February will be his last day on campus.

“I was a bit surprised. Generally there has been a culture of dialogue and discussion at NLS,” said the 2008 NLSIU graduate adding, “I have been the first one [to have been relieved] for criticising the VC.”

He told Legally India that in addition to his letter critical of the manner of imposing a curfew on campus, he had also opposed Rao’s leadership style, including his allegedly top-down interference in faculties’ evaluation of their courses and the dwindling number of faculty meetings.

He said that as opposed to the previous system of weekly faculty meetings, there had been only three meetings in the whole of last year – two in connection with the incident of alleged rape of an NLSIU student near campus in October, which was the reason for instating the curfew.

“I just threw the kitchen sink at them. To be fair, if somebody criticises them directly and personally, they have a right to [let him go],” he said. “But given that the NLS model is being copied by others [we need to evolve better systems]. Criticism and dialogue is part of our daily routine and we’ve had far serious disagreements in the past.”

“What is holding us back is leadership which is stuck in the slightly hierarchical style,” he added.

Curfew & discipline

On 13 December Rao, two months after the alleged rape, had warned students’ parents in a letter that “disciplinary measures such as issuing of warnings, imposition of fine, suspension from Hostels, and suspension from classes and dismissal from the University” would be taken against students found violating his 27 November order instating a 9pm curfew on campus.

He had also warned of leopards and rising crime rates in Bangalore, and that students “resisting this good initiative of the University for the safety of the students” by way of going on strike, will face serious action and that their parents should be “mentally prepared for the consequences”.

Chauhan responded on the same day in an emailed open letter to Rao, copied in to all faculty and students.

“While the belated attempt to reach out to parents is appreciated, some of the language in the said letter is downright embarrassing, especially since it is coming from the head of the institution….”

“Initial queries with some attendees in the EC [executive council] meeting have revealed that there was no definitive vote or agreement on the reduction of the curfew time. Furthermore, there was no agreement on the same in the faculty meeting that had preceded the EC meeting. Hence, this is a decision that can be clearly attributed to yourself and Prof. Nagraj [NLSIU’s registrar] (since he voiced the proposal to start with) in a personal capacity.”

Trying to persuade Rao for an open student-and-faculty meeting with the administration on the issue, he wrote: “Using threats of disciplinary action is likely to be as counterproductive as the initial proposal for reducing the curfew time. There is still time to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.

“There are bound to be disagreements and tensions in the working of any institution. It is always a far safer strategy to tackle such disagreements through an open dialogue instead of continuously avoiding difficult questions.”

Losing game?

A final year student of the college speculated that owing to Chauhan’s popularity with the student body his exit was deliberately timed to coincide with NLSIU’s current vacations, adding that it was “a huge loss not for [Chauhan] but for the institute”.

Chauhan commented: “In terms of attracting people to teach, I don’t think he [the VC] knows that there is a market for law teachers as well.”

Rao today told Legally India that Chauhan’s dismissal was a decision of the executive council, but the VC was not available for further comment at the time of going to press due to an ongoing meeting.

Chauhan's exit leaves only three NLSIU alumni currently teaching at the college: 1999 graduate and associate professor Sarasu Esther Thomas, 1998 graduate and visiting faculty Aditya Sondhi, and 2008 graduate Neha Mishra who joined in 2012.

Door policies

The administration met NLSIU’s student bar association (SBA) on 13 January to negotiate the curfew timing after the SBA wrote to the VC on 17 December. The SBA alleged a consultative deficit with students and parents and misrepresentation of facts to parents in the 13 December notification, such as citing the presence of leopards on campus.

The SBA had pushed for entry into the campus until 12:30am, and exit until 10pm, subject to checking identity cards at the gate.

A member of the SBA told Legally India that in the 13 January meeting, the administration extended lglthe curfew timing by an hour, to 10pm. However, unlike the 27 November notification about the lowered curfew timing, there has been no official notification about the extension granted on the 13th yet.

Click here to read a copy of Chauhan’s open-letter email to the administration

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