At a time when even the Prime Minister is holding virtual meetings, Visva-Bharati, the only university of which he is the Chancellor, has been routinely convening physical gatherings of department heads and teachers, causing resentment they are unable to vent openly.
According to several teachers The Hindu spoke to, Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty has been calling for face-to-face meetings right from the early days of the lockdown, and they continue to be held regularly even though classes have still not resumed. On an average, at least 50 people are present at such meetings and, according to the teachers, safety procedures, such as thermal scanning, are not followed.
Even at 3 p.m. on Monday, a meeting of principals and department heads — there are 52 departments in Visva-Bharati — was scheduled at the seminar hall of Bangladesh Bhavana, reportedly to discuss the future of final year students. The University Grants Commission wants conventional exams to be held for final year/terminal semester students before September 30 — something that several States, including West Bengal, are opposing — and Visva-Bharati, being a Central university, is mostly likely to comply with the UGC directive.
According to a teacher who has spent more than two decades at Visva-Bharati, most of the meetings being held are related to the university’s evaluation by the NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council). The assessment is done every five years, the last time being April 2015.
“The evaluation should have been completed by April this year. But, for the evaluation to have been done by April, all relevant documents should have been prepared by October or November 2019, which was not done. That is why the hurry now, because obviously there is pressure from NAAC, and teachers are being persuaded to attend meetings in spite of the COVID-19 situation,” said the teacher.
“Even teachers who have toddlers at home and teachers who are vulnerable to COVID-19 are being required to attend these meetings, that too at a time when there is a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in West Bengal,” the teacher stated, requesting anonymity.
Teachers request anonymity
These days Visva-Bharati teachers request anonymity because the university has barred them from speaking to the media. The only official authorised to do so — the PRO, Anirban Sircar — did not answer his phone when The Hindu called him to ask why physical meetings were being held.
“Just because an employee showed COVID-like symptoms, the authorities shut down the central office and delayed our salaries by 15 days,” said another senior teacher, “but the same authorities think nothing of forcing us to attend meetings on a regular basis. This is a violation of the Central government’s dos and don’ts in the COVID-19 situation. The Prime Minister himself will be horrified if he came to know of this.”