KASARGOD: A top academic has resigned from the Board of Studies of English and Comparative Literature Department in Central University protesting against a circular restricting research to topics of “national priorities”.Meena T Pillai, professor, Institute of English, University of Kerala, said the circular was a “fundamental violation of the spirit of research and academic freedom”.
In her resignation letter, Pillai said the university’s order limited prospective research to select areas which are in accordance with “national priorities” is highly detrimental to the purpose of higher education in public universities, especially at a time when the spirit of education is increasingly being subsumed to the interests of neo-liberalisation, privatisation and corporatisation. “Who will decide what national priorities are?” she said.
Central University of Kerala (CUK) has dismissed the resignation as a “political” stunt. In a “clarification” issued on Thursday, CUK’s Vice Chancellor G Gopa Kumar listed out the “national priorities”. The statement said: “The usage of national priority in the circular means those topics that would benefit the economic, social and technological advancement of the nation and society.The research areas may include latest developments in information and communication technology, nano technology, nano medicine, artificial intelligence, space research, nuclear science, sustainable development, climate change, and organic farming.”
The ‘clarification’ is silent on research topics in art, literature, and humanities.On March 16, Express reported in detail about the circular which asked faculty members to create a ‘shelf of projects’ in accordance with ‘national priorities’ to be given to new research fellows. Several teachers said the circular was issued without the Academic Council discussing it, let alone clearing it.
Justifying the circular, Vice Chancellor G Gopa Kumar said a ‘shelf of project’ would be helpful for the young researchers because “a 25-year-old will not know what the country needs”.He said the circular was issued to ensure researchers did not take up “repetitive and out-dated topics”. He repeated the same in the clarification issued on Thursday. “It (the circular) will never affect the academic freedom of the student community for selecting their research topic.
There are no limits for research works,” the statement said. Several faculty members said the original circular served no particular purpose as the areas listed out by the VC could also have repetitive and out-dated topics.Pillai said the use of the term “national priorities” itself was problematic within academics as it curbed the autonomy of the researcher and compromised the ethics that should form the base of any academic endeavour.