The college says he had crossed certain lines and hurt religious sentiments.

Bengalurus St Josephs college sacks professor for disturbing opinions he hits backAshley Tellis (L), St Joseph's College (R)
news Controversy Friday, March 10, 2017 - 20:33

St Joseph’s college in Bengaluru sacked LGBT rights activist Ashley Tellis on Thursday citing his involvement in “anti-college activities” and for hurting the “sensitivities of undergraduate students from heterogeneous backgrounds” in his classes.

Ashley said in a Facebook post that the principal of the college, Father Victor Lobo, summoned him from a lecture he was taking at 9.30am.

Lobo then told Ashley that students were “disturbed” by his “personal opinions”, and that he should sign his release papers immediately. “The management has got to know of these opinions. I have been asked to relieve you with immediate effect,” Ashley said, quoting Lobo.

Ashley also said in the post that he was not surprised by the decision of the college. “I am not surprised by this. In classes, my students have talked about what they don’t like about this Principal, even as they love their college. This is my comeuppance for having those discussions,” he said.

The college, denied reports that mentioned that Ashley’s sexual orientation was partly the reason for relieving him. College authorities said that they have always supported the LGBT community.

“He had clearly stated his orientation in his application and at the interview – the college deemed this to be his personal choice,” the college’s media statement stated. “We appreciate diversity and we even have transgender persons coming and taking classes here. That (Ashley’s allegation) is not true,” a college spokesperson said.

Senior members of the staff claimed that they had received as many as 10 written complaints from students and also calls from distressed parents about Ashley’s opinions and utterances in his classes.

“He has said things like there is no need to stand up for the national anthem and why do girls need their uteruses and. We have also received complaints that he has hurt some students’ religious sentiments by the things he has said in class. It is his choice to be an atheist. It is also okay to have an informed discussion on religion, we all do that. But it appears Ashley did not do that,” a senior staff member told TNM.

Ashley has also alleged in his Facebook post that Lobo encourages gender-based segregation and discrimination in the college.

“This is the Principal who finds a boy and girl sharing headphones immoral and he penalises them for it. This is the Principal who finds a girl hugging a boy on his birthday offensive and penalises her asking what sort of family she comes from where people hug. This is the Principal who pulls students out of the exam, traumatises them by confiscating their ID cards because they have long hair (boys), are wearing ear studs (boys), have colour in their hair (girls), have a tear in their jeans (boys and girls). This is the Principal who allows teachers to not allow boys and girls to sit together. This is the Principal who has draconian hostel rules for boys, let alone girls,” Ashley said.

The college has denied practicing any gender segregation in the college inside or outside the class. They say that they do not impose a dress code but tell students that they should be dressed “decently” for an academic setting.

On the issue of students being pulled up during exams for coloured hair or ripped jeans, the staff members declined comment. “That is up to the examination committee. There may have been one or two instances, but it is not the norm,” said one staff member.

However, another staff member, who chose to remain unnamed, told TNM that things have changed ever since Father Lobo took over at the principal of the college in 2015.

While she is unsure if boys and girls were punished for sharing headphones, she admits that there has been hearsay about such an incident. She also says that students have been called by the principal and told that boys and girls should not sit together, hug or be in a relationship. “But students hardly talk about it openly as they are scared,” she said.

A student of the English department told TNM that there had not been any clarification from the college about why Ashley had been sacked. “We don’t really know why. But we used to look forward to his classes,” she said.

The student also expressed surprise at the college management’s claim that they had received many letters against Ashley. “No one in my class had any complaints,” she said.

When asked about the “anti-college activities” that was one of the reasons for Ashley being sacked, the senior staff members told TNM that Ashley was asking students to go against some of the regulations. “We do not know which regulations exactly as the students or management has not told us. It is the management which has taken the decision to let go of him, not us,” the staff members said.

Ashley said when teachers ask students to think critically, question the authorities and not be intimidated by “threats of being asked to take a Transfer Certificate (TC) and leave”, the teacher’s opinions are deemed as “disturbing”.

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