Set­back for free­dom of academia

The Asian Age - - Edit - A. G. Noorani

On Oc­to­ber 13, Pro­fes­sor K. N. Panikkar sounded the alarm. As re­ported, In­dia’s Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion let all cen­tral uni­ver­si­ties know some time back that ser­vice rules that were ap­pli­ca­ble to union gov­ern­ment ser­vants should also be rel­e­vant to cen­tral uni­ver­si­ties and “Crit­i­cism of gov­ern­ment will hence­forth con­sti­tute a vi­o­la­tion of ser­vice rules”.

The Cen­tral Civil Ser­vices Con­duct Rules as­serts: “No gov­ern­ment ser­vant shall, in any ra­dio broad­cast, tele­cast through any elec­tronic me­dia or in any doc­u­ment pub­lished in his name or anony­mously, pseudony­mously or in the name of any other per­son or in com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the press or in any pub­lic ut­ter­ance, make any state­ment of fact or opin­ion which has the ef­fect of an ad­verse crit­i­cism of any cur­rent or re­cent pol­icy of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment or a state gov­ern­ment.” This will re­duce teach­ers to ser­vants of the gov­ern­ment.

A pro­fes­sor pointed out that “Aca­demic free­dom in class for a crit­i­cal dis­cus­sion on poli­cies may suf­fer; some­thing that dis­ci­plines like law, po­lit­i­cal science, eco­nom­ics or jour­nal­ism, may bear the brunt of.”

The Fed­er­a­tion of Cen­tral Uni­ver­si­ties Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tions said, “Sev­eral of the new cen­tral uni­ver­si­ties cre­ated by the Cen­tral Uni­ver­si­ties Act, 2009, have adopted the CCS Con­duct Rules.

The Ali­garh Mus­lim Univer­sity is very much a “cen­tral univer­sity”. The Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion seems not to have the faintest con­cep­tion of aca­demic free­dom. Its fiat is shock­ingly ar­chaic.

Bri­tain’s Ed­u­ca­tion Act, 1986, is an in­struc­tive model. It im­poses du­ties on the gov­ern­ing bod­ies of uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges. It im­poses on the gov­ern­ing bod­ies “( t) he duty to en­sure, so far as is rea­son­ably prac­ti­ca­ble, that the use of any premises of the es­tab­lish­ment is not de­nied to any in­di­vid­ual or body of per­sons on any ground con­nected with ( a) the be­liefs or views of that in­di­vid­ual or of any mem­ber of that body; or ( b) the pol­icy or ob­jec­tives of that body”. This ap­plies to teach­ers, stu­dents and visi­tors.

The Supreme Court of the United States wit­nessed a sim­i­lar up­heaval dur­ing the McCarthy era. In a se­ries of de­ci­sions it up­held the in­de­pen­dence of the academia, jus­tice Wil­liam Dou­glas wrote: “Where sus­pi­cion fills the air and holds schol­ars in line for fear of their jobs, there can be no ex­er­cise of the free in­tel­lect. Supine­ness and dog­ma­tism take the place of in­quiry. A ‘ party line’ — as dan­ger­ous as the ‘ party line’ of the Com­mu­nists — lays hold. It is the ‘ party line’ of the or­tho­dox view, of the con­ven­tional thought, of the ac­cepted ap­proach. A prob­lem can no longer be pur­sued with im­punity to its edges. Fear stalks the class­room. The teacher is no longer a stim­u­lant to ad­ven­tur­ous think­ing; she be­comes in­stead a pipe­line for safe and sound in­for­ma­tion. A dead­en­ing dogma takes the place for free in­quiry. In­struc­tion tends to be­come ster­ile; pur­suit of knowl­edge is dis­cour­aged; dis­cus­sion of­ten leaves off where it should be­gin.”

A univer­sity is a com­mu­nity within the larger com­mu­nity of civil so­ci­ety. The US Supreme Court has fre­quently de­clared that free­dom of ex­pres­sion is par­tic­u­larly nec­es­sary in the aca­demic con­text if the univer­sity is to per­form its func­tion. This con­sid­er­a­tion ap­plies to the fac­ulty mem­ber. He can­not be re­stricted in one ca­pac­ity with­out de­stroy­ing his free­dom in the other. The Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion’s fiat is un­con­sti­tu­tional. At a time when, the world over, the in­de­pen­dence of academia is prized, it is dis­heart­en­ing to see a re­verse trend in In­dia.

By ar­range­ment with Dawn

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