JNU Attendance Row: Classes Boycotted Over “Hare-Brained Scheme”

Views from JNU on an attendance row that has everyone outside campus confused, and everyone within agitated.

Updated
Politics
5 min read
JNU Vice Chancellor Jagadesh Kumar is facing opposition from a number of students and professors for having implemented a compulsory attendance rule.
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Yet another standoff. Yet another protest. But this time, political outfits in JNU have united – the Left and ABVP have come together – to demand that the administration roll back the recently introduced rule of compulsory attendance. So much so that there’s currently a call to boycott classes till the Vice Chancellor climbs down and scraps the policy.

But why is there such a fuss about introducing compulsory attendance of 75 percent, something that is the norm in dozens of colleges and universities across the country? Why does a senior JNU professor call it “a hare-brained scheme implemented unilaterally by the Vice Chancellor”? And does everyone on campus think the same way?

Here are the views from JNU on an attendance row that has left everyone outside the campus confused, and everyone within agitated.

‘Difficult to Continue Classes’

An MA student in her second year, who spoke to The Quint on condition of anonymity, is not too happy with the manner in which the anti-attendance protests are being conducted.

It’s been quite difficult for us to continue with the classes. The political activists come inside our classes and ask the professor to take the class out of the building, because that is their way of protesting. Yesterday, we had class under a tree. They say things like “claiming your space” and “JNU spring” – and at that point, it gets really funny. Compulsory attendance doesn’t make sense to me. Any student who wants to attend, will do so. But I’m also pretty annoyed with how the activists are protesting against this, by boycotting classes.
MA second year student
Classes in JNU being conducted outside the classroom
Classes in JNU being conducted outside the classroom
(Photo Courtesy: Shubhanshu Singh/Facebook)

‘Compromise Works’

A second year MA student of International Relations says, “At the Masters level and above, we can do without the compulsory attendance rule. It gets pretty redundant. It gets in the way of field work, out-of-class work, etc. I am in favour of a rollback on the attendance rule.”

But does she support the call made by student organisations like the JNUSU to boycott classes till a rollback is announced?

I think that the idea behind the call for a boycott of classes is very noble, but ends up being counterproductive if classes stop or are disrupted as a result. So what’s happening now is that classes are being conducted outside the classroom, on the lawns, and attendance is not being taken. It’s a symbolic way of protest, a middle ground compromise that works for me. This way, the classes are on, and the protest is on too.
MA second year student, International Relations

Professors Divided

We asked Professor Ayesha Kidwai, who teaches at JNU, “Why has compulsory attendance become such a hotly contested issue in the university when it’s the norm in campuses across the country?”

If other universities do it, fine. But which is the No 1 university in the country? There has never been a problem of absenteeism in JNU. Why are we creating a bureaucratic structure when there is no problem in the first place? This is a hare-brained scheme implemented unilaterally by a Vice Chancellor who has not taught a single class in the University.
Professor Ayesha Kidwai, former President of JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA)

The JNUTA has been a vocal opponent of the administration’s “imposition of compulsory attendance”. But not all professors on campus agree.

Professor Makarand Paranjape, from the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, remarked on Twitter, “Nowhere in the world do a small band of disruptive students force the whole university to shut down, crashing its teaching & academic schedule.”

So is this opposition for opposition’s sake, we asked Kidwai. Is the anti-attendance protest only the latest way for student activists to express their displeasure at a university administration they are not fond of?

Kidwai retorts, “Not at all. This is not opposition for opposition’s sake. If I'm required to hold back a student because they showed up 70 percent of the time instead of 75 percent, that completely violates my code as a teacher. It's what they think that matters to me. If somebody doesn't come to class but writes my examination and does well, that's fine by me. Say if they're poor, or working somewhere, I only want to grade students for performance, not presence.”

When former JNUSU Vice President Shehla Rashid tweeted that JNU did not have a problem of absenteeism, Paranjape took strong exception to the comment.

Anti-Attendance Protests Unite Left and ABVP in JNU

The Left and ABVP, almost always at right angles with each other, are on the same page as far as the protests against compulsory attendance go.

JNUSU Joint Secretary Shubhanshu Singh says, “Students in JNU have always had an interdisciplinary approach. A lot of times, more students sit for a class than the number of students enrolled. This is the academic culture that has helped JNU be the number one university in the country. The attendance policy wasn't even discussed by the Academic Council, the highest decision-making body in JNU. If a policy is introduced, it must be deliberated with everyone – including students. But for this, even professors weren’t consulted.”

On 8 February, the administration issued a circular that announced the consequences in case students failed to meet the attendance criteria.

  • Any student who doesn’t reach the 75 percent attendance mark in a semester will be debarred from registering in the next semester.
  • Those students will then not be provided with hostel, medical facilities in the University either.
  • Fellowship and scholarship holders will have to make the attendance cut-off to “avail/continue with the concerned fellowship.”
A copy of the circular issued by the JNU administration on 8 February, announcing penalties for failing to meet the 75 percent attendance criteria.
A copy of the circular issued by the JNU administration on 8 February, announcing penalties for failing to meet the 75 percent attendance criteria.
(Photo Courtesy: Shubhanshu Singh)

Singh adds, “Since Friday, 9 February, classes are happening outside the buildings, on the lawns, but without attendance sheet. That is our call to boycott classes in the classroom till this 75 percent compulsory attendance policy is rolled back.”

When Will the Standoff End?

With neither side prepared to blink, will the Vice Chancellor climb down and revoke the compulsory attendance rule? Or will the protests subside with the passing of time? Till either of those happens, classes will seemingly continue outside the classroom. And an attendance row will mark itself ‘present’ in JNU.

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