In early June 2017, Saitya Brata Das, an associate professor at the Centre for English Studies (CES) in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), was denied a promotion to the post of professor. Das alleged that he was not given the post due to his caste, and that M Jagadesh Kumar, the vice chancellor of the university, was responsible for this action. According to Das, caste discrimination against faculty members belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes had always existed at JNU, in “subtle” forms. He added that the manifestation of this discrimination, especially from the administration, became “blatant” after Jagadesh took over as the university’s vice chancellor, in January 2016. The personal testimonies of faculty members belonging to these communities and the record of the university’s appointments and promotions seemed to reflect this discrimination. “Born as a Dalit, I’ve become used to discrimination,” Das told me. “I’ve spoken out now because it affects my academic career.”
Das joined JNU as an assistant professor in 2012 and was promoted to the position of associate professor in 2013. He teaches philosophy and literature at the CES. I spoke to several of his colleagues, all of whom said that he deserved to be promoted. Milind Awad, an assistant professor and Das’s colleague at CES, told me, “He is a good candidate. His qualification is more than that required for the post.” “I have a very high opinion of Saitya’s work,” Udaya Kumar, a professor and the chairperson of the CES, said. Udaya was also a member of the selection committee that interviewed Das. “I firmly believe that a person with that kind of caliber deserved to be promoted,” he added. Udaya told me that he had given a dissenting note to the seven-member selection committee that he didn’t agree to the committee’s decision to deny Das the promotion.
At the university, the appointment and promotion to professorship is governed by a JNU Ordinance on minimum qualifications for teachers and the University Grant Commission’s regulations on the same. Both have three common conditions for an associate professor to be considered for a promotion to a professor position: the completion of three years at the associate post; a minimum academic performance index (API) score; and a minimum of five publications after appointment as a stage-three assistant professor—the final stage before the associate professor position. An API score is a self-assessment process through which teaching staff assign themselves scores on three categories: teaching-learning activities, professional development activities, and research and academic contributions. The Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC)—the university’s record-keeping department that vets the applications for promotions—reviews the applicants’ self-evaluated scores and assigns a verified score. The final stage is the assessment by a selection committee.