NLSIU Protests: Student body resolves to boycott exams in wake of crisis at University

Aditya AK September 22 2019

Students of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU Bangalore) have resolved to boycott the upcoming exams in the background of a "crisis" at the University.

While the administration's delay in appointing Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy as the new Vice-Chancellor of NLSIU seems to be the root cause for the protests, a letter addressed to law schools around the country reveals a number of issues faced by the students in the recent past.

Protests against the non-appointment of Prof Krishnaswamy began on Friday, when students decided to boycott classes and sit outside Registrar OV Nandimath's office. The sit-in protest was held in light of information that there was likely to be a change in the composition of the Executive Council (EC) of NLSIU, which would in turn have a bearing on the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor.

The Student Bar Association (SBA) had earlier alleged that the Registrar was responsible for the delay of Prof Krishnaswamy's appointment.

The protests continued into Saturday, when the Registrar and the Vice-Chancellor (FAC) Prof MK Ramesh addressed the students, who put forth certain questions to the administration. These included:

Did Prof Nandimath apply for post of VC at any point?

What is the cause for delay in appointment of Prof Krishnaswamy as VC?

Is the delay caused due to Chancellor’s office sitting on the file?

Has the composition of the 89th Executive Council changed?

Why is Prof Nandimath’s recusal as Secretary to the EC not being approved by the University?

How many members of the EC have approved/acknowledged appointment of Krishnaswamy?

Why have technical glitches surrounding the appointment process not been addressed even after 49 days since Krishnaswamy was recommended as the new VC?

At the gathering on Saturday, it was resolved that a committee of two faculty members and two student representatives would meet and discuss the issues, following which a report would be prepared.

This report, which has now been made public, reveals interesting aspects surrounding the delay in appointing a new VC.

Conflict of Interest on the part of the Registrar

After the retirement of Prof Venkata Rao, a High Level Committee comprising Prof MP Singh, Attorney General KK Venugopal, and Senior Advocate Arvind Datar was constituted to shortlist and recommend candidates for the post of VC.

The report reveals that Registrar Prof Nandimath, who is the ex-officio Secretary to the Executive Council, which is responsible for selection of the new VC, applied for the post himself, resulting in a conflict of interest.

The Registrar revealed this fact to the HLC, but was apparently allowed to continue in the capacity of Secretary to EC by the former VC. After the students brought up this conflict of interest, Prof Nandimath offered to recuse from the post. However, the VC (FAC) refused to accept the recusal, given that he was in a transitional position.

However, the Committee has now found that the VC (FAC) did indeed have the power to accept the recusal. The report states,

"In any case, a recusal is an ethical response to a situation and should not be subject to any approval by a higher authority."

50 days and counting

The report accepts that there has been an ordinate delay in processing Prof Krishnaswamy's appointment as VC since the approval of a five-member sub-committee. It has been 50 days since the sub-committee comprising Supreme Court judges gave its assent to the appointment. Though the appointment process should have ended there, the controversy continues, with no certainty as to when it shall be finalized.

Composition of EC

The five-member sub-committee constituted on July 6 this year was headed by Justice SA Bobde of the Supreme Court and had another Supreme Court judge - Justice Mohan Shantanagoudar - as a member. This sub-committee was formed at the 88th session of the EC, which convened for the purpose of appointing a new VC of NLSIU.

At this session, three special invitees - all judges of the Supreme Court - were invited. They were Justices Shantanagoudar, S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta. All the judges had apparently given their approval for appointing Prof Krishnaswamy as VC.

However, it now appears that the composition of the EC has been altered, a week before the 89th session is scheduled to take place on September 28. The report reveals that an additional member of the Bar Council of India (BCI) has been invited to be part of the EC. This, it is stated, is violation of the NLSIU Act, as the upper cap of five BCI members has already been reached.

Further, the Chairman of the Karnataka State Bar Council has also been invited to be part of the EC. The report states that it remains unclear under which provision of the NLSIU Act he has been nominated to part of the EC.

Moreover, the special invitees of the last session have not been invited to be part of the 89th EC. The report states that although there is no requirement, they ought to be invited, to secure procedural fairness and continuity of the decision-making process as regards the appointment of the new VC.

It is also suggested that the VC (FAC) should not be given voting power at the 89th EC session, given that his appointment is not in consonance with the NLSIU Act.

Back to square one?

The report that came out of the consultative process was expected to bring more clarity to the issues raised by the students. However, the students fear that it is again going to amount to nothing. During the meeting on Saturday, the VC (FAC) and the Registrar refused to answer any queries of the students, and walked out of the meeting without giving any assurances.

In light of these developments, the student body of NLSIU, in a letter addressed to law schools across the country, has stated:

"With events in succession, pointing to the definite instatement of a situation of crisis by the administration, the student body has now officially decided to boycott examinations keeping the severity of the situation at hand."

Other concerns

In this separate letter to other law schools, the NLSIU SBA has raised a number of lapses that have taken place at the University over the past few months. Unfortunate incidents had prompted the student body to ask for certain reforms, related to academics, mental health, sexual harassment, and infrastructural facilities. Sub-committees formed to address these issues had come up with certain recommendations. However, the administration has failed to act upon the same.

Reference is also made to the recent fee hike at NLSIU. The annual fees was hiked by Rs. 50,000 for existing Indian national students and almost Rs. 1,50,000 for the foreign nationals, without any consultation or due justification being provided. The students, who protested the arbitrary fee hike, were told that they could make a representation at the 88th EC session held on July 6. At that meeting, the letter states, they were invited inside for 10 seconds, wherein they were merely informed of the final decision of the EC to stick with the fee hike.

In the background of these events, the SBA has called upon law schools around the country to stand in solidarity with the oldest national law university.

Section of Alumni asks students to call off boycott

In the wake of the SBA's decision to boycott the exams, the Alumni Association of NLSIU has called upon the students to refrain from doing so. The Governing Body of the Association today interacted with student representatives urging them to call off the boycott. They were of the view that continuance of the examination boycott will only weaken the efforts of various stakeholders, including the Alumni Association, in ensuring a logical conclusion of the process for selecting the Vice-Chancellor.

However, it is understood that the stand of the Governing Body does not reflect the sentiment of the alumni as a whole. Other sections of the NLSIU alumni have expressed their solidarity with the boycott.

As things stand, the SBA has stuck to its decision to boycott the upcoming exams.

Read the report of the sub-committee:

Sub committee report

Read the letter addressed to law schools:

NLS Statement