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‘Known for Protests’: Faculty, Students & Management at War in Haryana Varsity

Favouritism, academic delays, and protest – Haryana's State University of Performing and Visual Arts is in trouble.

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(*Some names have been changed on request.)

The Dada Lakhmi Chand State University of Performing and Visual Arts (DLCSUPVA) – which houses north India's only government institute for film and television studies, besides three other institutes for design, fine arts, and architecture – is located deep in the heart of Haryana's Rohtak district, 70 km north-west of Delhi.

Every day since 2 May 2023, at least 17 professors sit on a peaceful protest in the lawns of this university, spread over a massive 36 acre campus designed in red sandstone, first from 1-1.30 pm during their lunch break, and then from 5-6 pm after classes.

Among the faculty's many demands and complaints is their allegation that they've been denied pay scales approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC), Seventh Central Pay Commission (CPC), and related promotions for over a decade by the university administration.

Favouritism, academic delays, and protest – Haryana's State University of Performing and Visual Arts is in trouble.

The founding faculty members of Dada Lakhmi Chand State University of Performing and Visual Arts in Rohtak, have been on a protest for over 150 days to demand UGC approved pay scales and promotions due for over a decade. 

(Photo: Edited by Kamran Akhtar/The Quint)

"For over 10 years I have been earning half the salary I should have rightfully got as per UGC approved pay scales," alleged Dushyant Kumar, one of the agitating professors. "Instead of listening to our demands, they (administration) are now slapping us with show cause notices and dragging us to courts. They're using every tactic in the book to harass us," he added.
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In a letter to the university registrar dated 23 April 2023, the teachers association alleged that while new recruits hired after September 2022 were paid salaries as per UGC approved pay scales and seventh CPC, the founding faculty members were neglected.

"For more than a decade, we are suffering social, economic, and psychological harassment and our families are suffering with us. It is disappointing to note that while new recruits are being offered salaries according to UGC approved pay scales and seventh CPC, the founding faculty members have been ignored and left out of the scheme," the letter read.

What Kumar and other teachers described, however, was just the tip of the iceberg. The Quint spoke to several current and former students and faculty members, and assessed multiple documents which lay bare a severe crunch of infrastructure and resources, academic delays, allegations of favouritism in appointments to higher management posts, and alleged attempts by the administration to intimidate students and faculty members for staging protests on campus, among other issues plaguing the university.

This report will delve into each of these issues, one at a time. 

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  1. But First, a Quick Background of The University

    The Dada Lakhmi Chand State University of Performing and Visual Arts was established on 5 August 2014, by integrating four Government Technical Institutions, namely: 

    • State Institute of Fine Arts (SIFA)

    • State Institute of Design (SID)

    • State Institute of Film and Television (SIFT)

    • State Institute of Urban Planning and Architecture (SIUPA)

    The protesting faculty members were first hired for these technical institutions as per the state government pay scales of the time. Later, even though were absorbed by the university in 2014, their pay scales were not upgraded.

    Speaking to The Quint Gajendra Chauhan, the vice chancellor (VC) of the university, claimed that he personally requested the Haryana government to give these protesting teachers UGC approved pay scales. "After I took over as the VC, I personally went to the concerned authorities and even though they shouldn't be getting UGC-approved pay scales because they were technically hired as per state government pay scales, I requested the authorities to make a personal favour in my name," Chauhan said.

    If VC Chauhan solved the issue, why are the faculty members still protesting?

    "It's very simple. It's true that at the Government Technical Institutions, we were hired as per the state government pay grades. When these institutions were merged to form a university, we demanded UGC approved pay scales. The UGC pay scales are higher. At the time of hiring, most of us, were at the scale of 7,600 grade pay as per the state government system. However, there was no corresponding scale for this in the UGC system – the scales were either lower (6,000 grade pay) or higher (7,000 and 8,000 grade pay)," explained Indronil Ghosh, president of the university's teacher's association and a faculty member in the Film and Television department since 2013.

    "If we were at the 7,600 pay scale, we should be taken to 8,000 grade pay. Instead they are asking us to retrospectively go back to the 6,000 grade pay. How can they downgrade us? This isn't just financial loss. It is also a loss of experience because these pay grades correspond to different levels of experience," Ghosh said.

    At present, the university offers 14 undergraduate degree-level programmes; four in the Faculty of Fine Arts, four in the Faculty of Design, five in the Faculty of Film and Television, and a Bachelor of Architecture programme in Faculty of Urban Planning and Architecture.

    In addition, it also offers four postgraduate programmes. These include Master in Fashion Design, Master of Applied Arts, Master in Mass Communication (Media Production), and Master of Planning (Urban and Regional). The Master in Mass Communication course, however, was discontinued from 2023-24 session onwards. 

    Favouritism, academic delays, and protest – Haryana's State University of Performing and Visual Arts is in trouble.

    The university which houses north India's only government institute for film and television studies, besides three other institutes for design, fine arts, and architecture — is located deep in the heart of Haryana's Rohtak district, 70 km north-west of Delhi.

    (Illustration: Kamran Akhtar/The Quint)

    Considered a brainchild of Deepender Hooda, former member of Lok Sabha from Rohtak and son of then Chief Minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the university was set up with the aim to put the state on the map as a destination for arts and culture studies.

    "It's unfortunate that a university that had the potential to be a pioneer in inter-disciplinary arts and culture studies is self combusting. Right from the year it was established, this place has been (in)famous for protests...be it by teachers over pay scales, by students over changes to syllabus and lack of infrastructure or protests over the administration flouting norms while appointing people to higher posts," said Indronil Ghosh, president of the university's teacher's association and a faculty in the Film and Television department since 2013.

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  1. Many Accusations and a Letter to The Governor

    60 days into their protest, Ghosh and other protesting faculty members wrote a letter to Bandaru Dattatreya, the governor of Haryana. The many allegations made in the letter, a copy of which was accessed by The Quint and signed by 17 faculty members, include:

    • Details of several instances of 'contractual' employees beyond the age of 65 years recruited by the university. These include VP Nandal (currently managing the affairs of advisor to administration, Officer on Special Duty to the Vice Chancellor, Controller of Exams, and the Registrar), Rajbir Hooda (visiting faculty at the university since 2018), Prem Singh (appointed as a consultant in the library in 2018. In July 2023, he was appointed as the academic advisor to the Vice Chancellor Gajendra Chauhan), and Sunil Kumar (appointed as faculty in the Visual Arts department) among others.

    As per norms laid down by the University Grants Commission (UGC) – a statutory body under the Ministry of Education, charged with coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education in India – retirement age for faculty members in universities affiliated to UGC should be between 62-65 years.

    VC Chauhan told The Quint that the allegations by the professors do not hold much ground. "These people have been appointed as advisors and consultants and not as 'contractual employees' as alleged by the faculty. They have considerable experience in administration and no rule stops anybody from employing them," he said.
    • The faculty also alleged absence of proper representation of regular faculty members in the Executive Council of the university.

    As per UGC guidelines, the Executive Council – the principal executive body of a university – should consist of not less than 9 and not more than 15 members. These include the vice chancellor, four members from among deans of Schools of Studies (appointed by the VC the by rotation according to seniority), one professor who is not a dean by rotation according to seniority (appointed by the VC), one associate professor, by rotation according to seniority (appointed by the VC), one representative of the state government, and the registrar.

    VC Chauhan, however, refuted this allegation claiming that the faculty coordinator or dean of Academic Welfare is invited to all meetings. "I cannot go around distributing personal invites. It is the faculty coordinator's job to let others know about what was discussed at the meeting," he said.

    As per minutes of an Executive Council meeting held in October 2022, accessed by The Quint, the Dean of Academic Welfare, Dr Ajay Kaushik was indeed invited to the meeting. Though, no faculty member or representative held a permanent place on the Council.

    The letter to the governor also alleged:

    • Recruitments of new faculty members without the involvement of the Head of the Department (HoD) in the selection committee as per UGC and Haryana government guidelines, and without a regular Registrar with admissible age for service as per Haryana government rules.

    • Instances of extension of contract of re-employed employees for a period of three years. As per the University Act, the vice chancellor (VC) can only appoint or extend a contract for six months.

    "There is no chance of irregularities in appointments. They're all done in the presence of an observer sent by the state government. If this is true, it can land us in jail," VC Chauhan told The Quint.

    He added, "The Executive Council authorised the Vice Chancellor to extend contracts of re-employed employees thrice – first in 2018 to two years, then in 2020 to three years, and finally in 2022 to five years."

    "When the university was being set up, many courses which are taught here were not being taught at any other university in Haryana. Except for the department of urban planning and architecture, faculty members for all other courses were hired from different parts of the country including West Bengal, Kerala, and Delhi among others," explained Mitesh*, one of the protesting faculty members.

    "The problem, however, is that this a very regionalistic society. There is a strong caste dominance here. So people came in at influential posts and indulged in favouritism. Even the Vice Chancellors facilitated this," the professor added.

    Since its inception in 2014, the university has had four VCs including Chauhan, who took over the post in December 2021. A member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and former television actor known for his portrayal of Yudhishthira in the historical TV series Mahabharata, Chauhan had a controversial stint as a chairman of the Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in 2015.

    Favouritism, academic delays, and protest – Haryana's State University of Performing and Visual Arts is in trouble.

    Massive protests erupted on the campus of Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in 2015 over the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the Vice Chancellor.

    (Photo: Edited by Kamran Akhter/The Quint)

    He was appointed to the post in June 2015 for three years, with retrospective effect from March 2014. His appointment, however, led widespread protests by FTII students and alumni, who felt it was the government’s attempt to "saffronise the institute." Due to the protests he could assume office only in January 2016, getting only a 15-month tenure.

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  1. 'Missed Opportunity': Students Blame Faculty and Administration Alike

    In July 2018, when Nisha*, after passing class 12, expressed an interest in Visual Arts to pursue a bachelor's degree in painting as a specialisation, there weren't many government universities for her to choose from. 

    "I come from a lesser known village in Haryana's Bhiwani district. In our part of the world women education depends on multiple factors. First, there are families who do not encourage their girls to go to college or get a professional degree. Then there are those who let women pursue higher education on the condition that their areas of interest are fields such as medicine, engineering, and teaching. But one of the biggest factors which decides if a woman in Haryana will go to college or not is the distance between her home and the university campus," she told The Quint.

    For several students such as Nisha, DLCSUPVA, still remains their only choice when it comes to film, design, or visual arts studies.
    Favouritism, academic delays, and protest – Haryana's State University of Performing and Visual Arts is in trouble.

    For many women students in Haryana, the university is their only choice for fine arts and culture studies. 

    (Illustration: Kamran Akhtar/The Quint)

    "Most Government colleges and universities which offered Visual Arts education are in states such as Maharashtra (JJ School of Arts), West Bengal (Rabindra Bharti University), and Gujarat (Maharaja Sayajirao University) among others. My parents were relieved that we had a university in our own state and that is why they agreed to let me pursue my dream course," Nisha said. 

    On 18 August 2018, she first set foot inside the campus to pursue her bachelor's degree — and that is where Nisha's dream run ended.

    "The first year of graduation was great. We had workshops and seminars where artists from across the country and outside came and discussed their work. We also had regular interactions with students from other departments. As someone from a non-arts background, I felt that my language of the arts was being enriched...but soon, everything went downhill. The university plummeted into an administrative mess. There were strikes by students and teachers. We never got to make a proper portfolio which is why when I completed my graduation, I couldn't secure a place anywhere else for a post graduation degree. I was forced to continue here to do my master's," explained Nisha as she detailed a timeline of what went wrong at the university.

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  1. 'Academic Delays, Poor Infrastructure, and an Uncertain Future'

    Ankit*, another student from the 2017-18 batch, pursuing a bachelor's degree in film and television studies, is still waiting for his graduation.

    "I came to this university in 2017 and it all went downhill from there. Hopefully, my batch will graduate this year. Even then it will be two years too late. The administration is conveniently blaming the delay on the Covid-19 pandemic but a history of this university and the current scheme of things prove otherwise," said Ankit, sounding exasperated over the phone.

    He added, "The faculty members aren't completely innocent. They are primarily responsible for irregularities in our syllabus. In their fight with the administration, they didn't think of student welfare at all."

    Currently, there are seven batches of students enrolled in the film and television course – a four-year degree programme. 

    These include: a 2017 batch which was supposed in 2021, a 2018 batch which was supposed to graduate in 2022, a 2019 batch which is supposed to graduate in 2023, a 2020 batch which is supposed to graduate in 2024, a 2021 batch which is supposed to graduate in 2025, and a 2022 batch which is supposed to graduate in 2026. 

    Another student from the 2019-20 batch enrolled in acting course, told The Quint that 'ironically' the university, since its inception, is known more for student protests and little for its other achievements. "Students from this university have won awards at national and international film festivals and other events but unfortunately, due to the mess that the administration has created, it is known for protests more than anything else," he said.

    This student, who refused to be identified, was part of a protest staged by the student body of the university for 76 days, starting July 2022. "The protest mainly focus on irregularities in syllabus and more seats being added in several courses despite availability of fewer resources," he said.

    Favouritism, academic delays, and protest – Haryana's State University of Performing and Visual Arts is in trouble.

    The students at the university blame both, the faculty and the administration, for the state of affairs on campus. 

    (Illustration: Kamran Akhtar/The Quint)

    He alleged that the protesting students had to face police intimidation. "On 8 August 2022, the registrar filed a complaint against multiple students accusing them intimidation and attempting to forcefully enter the university. Students were assaulted and pushed around by the police...all because we demanded a correction of syllabus and proper allocation of resources," he claimed.

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  1. What Next? 

    Ghosh and other faculty members The Quint spoke to said that they will continue their protest till the university or the government of Haryana act on their demands. "We don't have an end date for this protest. The administration probably is not listening to us right now because the day-to-day functioning of university is not being disrupted by our protests," Ghosh said.

    Another faculty member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the daily protest is impacting the faculty mentally and physically. "It's not easy to do what we are doing, especially in the face of intimidation by those in power. But what other choice do we even have? So many faculty members have left in these years. Even I thought of quitting but how will that be justice to all the hard work that I have put into this place?" the professor asked.

    "Honestly, it isn't too late if they (administration) want to actually clean this mess. Fixing our pay grades and giving us our increments will be a good starting point," added Ghosh.

    (This story is a Quint Special Project, our segment where we bring to you text features, documentaries, investigations, and fact checks that make us stand apart in the clutter of mainstream media. Consider supporting this and several other such stories, and power our journalism.)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Education   FTII   Gajendra Chauhan 

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