JNU Attendance row

posted Feb 13, 2018, 1:39 PM by Abhishek Ojha   [ updated Feb 13, 2018, 2:05 PM ]

Disclaimer: I am not from JNU. On a WhatsApp group a very good friend who is a JNU alumnus shared couple of articles about attendance row in JNU (written by JNU profs). This was my response. (Yes, I do write long messages sometimes and pardon my English - IT WAS A WHATSAPP MESSAGE!!!)


I disagree. And I am sure you will agree to at least some of the points below... and won’t say ki tum kya jaano JNU kya hai :)

I don't see the point how attendance can be against any spirit? There should be ways to accommodate those who cannot attend classes for a valid reason or different norms for research scholars in field. (It seems there is already!)

Attendance is just plain accounting to make sure all students are participating. If they are already participating then there is never going to be an issue at all. The arguments in article are flawed ... I will give an analogy. (for example) I own an NGO that does a great service to society but we don't do any accounting. If someone asks us to show my financial accounts should I just start arguing about how this will be against spirit of my NGO? How I have been doing great work and keeping accounts will just be an additional burden and a waste of time? Why anyone rational, who is not part of my NGO, will not question my motives? Why won't they argue that I am running an agenda of routing money and all people working for me are just doing aish on money collected in the name of charity? How will you make sure that there is no corruption? 

Do you think there are some research scholars who get paid and never show up in the class and their guides agree to it? even one? What if a faculty member says - you don't need to show up, Keep doing what you are doing (get a job?) I will take care of everything.  How would you know a faculty member is not doing it for his or her ideology (left or right, Islamic or Hindutva, Naxal or anything else)?

I think attendance should be tracked but not forced as a control. Data always helps, so no harm in tracking. If students don’t like a particular class, attendance will provide support for that too. Do some data analysis on attendance and beautiful results might emerge to introspect! Get a class cancelled if there is not enough interest. And if students should have absolute right not to attend classes then shouldn’t JNU administrator also have absolute right to fail someone? Fair?

Interesting that science faculty (25%? of JNU) is silently away from all this (maybe because evaluation is more quantifiable in science). Rest few who are boycotting, their argument is oxymoron- you attend all the classes so you are boycotting the attendance?. That argument is logically inconsistent. If they attend all classes attendance is not going to do any harm, To None of the things mentioned in article. Pregnant ladies attend Ivy League too and they teach too etc. etc.! A single argument against all those things - JNU is not only university that has field works and I am sure there are ways to accommodate that, if not - that should be protested.  Attendance tracking needs exceptions not the no-rule anarchy. If someone wants to study all the time without attending classes why they even need to be a student at JNU? That place is called a bookstore or library or Google - not the University. To do real social work (which students claim they need to do and learn) a person doesn’t need an enrollment, a degree, a hostel or govt money! As you said even students from DU come to attend lectures of few Profs at JNU... So let the students also do that without enrollment and do whatever they want. They will have all the freedom to change the society, and all the time in this world to study. Ye waise hi hai jaise paise ke liye hue har jhagde ke baad log kahte hain baat paise ki nahin hai baat ijaat ki hai. JNU waale kah rahe hain baat classes attend karne ki nahin hai baat regressive policy ki hai. Believe me if someone is that intellectually curious, they don’t need no University in world neither they will have time to protest, so that claim is just…

How can something as simple as plain attendance be unproductive or meaningless... if it is then so is a degree. So is HR department in my office and all sorts of accounting in this world. Why audit and why accounting… all Enrons are fair till they are not. No one is stopping a student to study at a Dhaaba (they should have an unofficial Dhaba attendance too, if they are that serious about it!) but from administration perspective profs should make classes interactive and even those students, who don’t go to compulsory Dhaaba sessions, should get a chance to learn from each other in classes. 


Most top schools in the world have policy for attendance in place, which professors can use or not use so it varies by class. That doesn’t make them worse than JNU! Neither denies the freedom of any kind. Some Profs Care about it, most don't. If discussions are part of evaluation, especially in humanities, attendance becomes part of grade too. Again, Attendance as a policy is not regressive.  If we think that way all laws are regressive, traffic laws are regressive, police is regressive, putting a seat belt is regressive (should it be my choice?), anything that I don’t like is regressive ! I teach a master’s class and I don’t like taking attendance. I ask my TA to take attendance and inform me only if someone is missing from all the classes (that is mandatory to do). I also tell students in first class that they are free not to attend my classes but it is interesting that almost all of them still do. I guess it is not because I am a great teacher... but because... 1. Most students (especially foreign) have an incentive to get a job after the course so they try their best. 2. Because I am going from industry they have more incentive of doing some networking. Personally, I don’t think compulsory attendance makes much difference but incentives definitely do, and that is what I think is missing at JNU. Some students don’t have incentive to attend classes or graduate but to stay back in campus as long as they can! – Psychology 101.

In my limited experience, actually it makes more sense to have proper accounting in higher education (on the contrary of what you suggested that it is more important at undergraduate level) because students have more incentive to not study and stay longer at the colleges if they are getting paid (and prospects of getting job outside is not very good). And at least in US, all profs I talk to say that undergrad students are by far more serious, ask more questions, attend classes etc etc. and when you say attendance was not compulsory in IIT, that is not entirely true. Dual degree students, once they started getting paid had to mark their attendance [CS guys used to mark it 11.59PM and 12.01AM in CS building to mark two days at once, till it became an issue :)]. In the article it is emphasized that students who are 'adults' - well my argument is have you ever heard about a corrupt kid? You need accounting for adults and not the kids. Do you think all adult students are serious, honest and know what they are doing?


Also, I read completely different view from some other Profs at JNU itself, on why JNU needs attendance! (Couple of Profs on twitter and some articles). According to media, some research students get paid for doing nothing (which is in contrary to what is written in both the articles). I know a friend who came to US for PhD but converted his PhD in masters after 2 years because he was losing his scholarship. How many students at JNU in humanities have to work hard because they are afraid they might lose their scholarship? The article is saying passively that no one should lose scholarships, why? I am sure JNU has things in place too to make sure of integrity but if I believe other reports in media reality seems very different. No disrespect but if a prof has been teaching from last 30 years it also means that she will naturally be opposed to any change (my NGO example!). In my perspective, any Accounting is not regressive but fair and people don’t see other side if they are influenced by certain ideologies. If things are so fair in JNU, attendance will just attest that. The reaction should just be – oh come on, we are already fairest of fair! Rather than... how dare you ask me to attend classes? in my NGO example, say I am working for cancer patients and I argue that for years I have been doing best possible work in the world, how dare you ask me to show my accounts? How does that sound?


The issue seems to be how can Jagdish Kumar decide something about JNU, 'not my VC' kind of thing, unconditional opposition. If JNU promotes freedom it should also promote the freedom to see other side... I guess JNU needs more tolerance. Govt should just add more science disciplines, more interdisciplinary research and some free market thinkers, Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics kind of thought too.  From what I read it seems obvious that if someone is a staunch rightist student or faculty, then JNU gives them really really hard time. That’s how left has always been! You should know better about differences of ideologies in next door DSE and JNU economics departments (or ISI for that matter)... I think DSE sends more economists to industry? What makes the difference? In my view third way (middle way) is always better than one or another. I am not completely against cigar smoking arm chair thinkers, and people still fantasizing Marxism in 2018... but one thing JNU can teach them is to listen and respect the other side as well and think a little, just a little more rationally.

On personal note - I feel like I missed the opportunity; I should have taken admission in JNU for few years on govt money, with a job in Delhi (or maybe it is still not too late).

Saans le paate to Mauj ke din hote, after all Dilli mein hai :)

+ there is a thing called distance education too and real, I mean really real social work for those who are really interested.