Trust JNU's strengths, says former dean at University of Delhi

Anita Rampal opens up about JNU's pressures and challenges

110-Anita-Rampal Anita Rampal

When we think of a university such as JNU, we go back to the momentous vision statements of independent India’s first Education Commission on University Education. In 1948, when the country was struggling to bring people together after a traumatic partition, the Radhakrishnan Commission had stated that universities should be seen as the “organs of civilisation”, the “homes of intellectual adventure”, where we “must cultivate the art of human relationships, the ability to live and work together overcoming the dividing forces of the time”.

In almost prescient words, it went on to commit: “We must resist, in the interests of our own democracy, the trend towards governmental domination of the educational process. Higher education is, undoubtedly, an obligation of the State but State aid is not to be confused with State control over academic policies and practices. Intellectual progress demands the maintenance of the spirit of free inquiry. The pursuit and practice of truth regardless of consequences has been the ambition of universities. Professional integrity requires that teachers should be as free to speak on controversial issues as any other citizens of a free country. An atmosphere of freedom is essential for developing this ‘morality of the mind’.”

JNU and its committed faculty had, through serious deliberation over the initial years, evolved an admission policy which was true to the constitutional mandate of equity and democracy. It was probably for the first time that an institution of higher education acknowledged that the path to a university is disproportionately marked with severe hurdles for socioeconomically disadvantaged students. JNU worked on an affirmative policy to assign points during admission for disadvantage on various counts, and thus extended access to a large diversity of students from across the country’s uneven landscapes of inequality.

The entrance test was not the problematic type, such as CUET―the centralised, online examination with “multiple choice questions”, which our students are being subjected to under the present regime of the National Education Policy 2020. This is an unfair and unequal format that privileges those from better-resourced homes and from schools affiliated to the CBSE.

The JNU admission process, with fair attention to students’ written, analytical and oral explanatory capabilities, had been its major strength, coupled, of course, with an eminent committed faculty that strove to create a democratic environment in its classrooms. This is usually the biggest challenge for academics, who might think that their knowledge and oratory skills are enough to be a good university teacher. But in JNU, the faculty nurtured that critical intellectual space, in turn encouraging students to share the responsibility of cultivating academic freedom with criticality and the morality of mind essential for a university.

However, with the changes in the students’ admission process and teachers’ selection record we have to see how long JNU will be able to withstand the present pressures and challenges.

Rampal is former dean, faculty of education, University of Delhi.