Ambedkar Law varsity VC accused of overlooking reservation policy in PhD admissions

At least 24 candidates who were on the waiting list for PhD programs in the academic year 2021-22 were allegedly selected without following the reservation process.
NS Santhosh with Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi
NS Santhosh with Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi
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NS Santhosh Kumar, Vice Chancellor (VC) of the Dr Ambedkar Law University in Tamil Nadu, has been accused of overlooking the reservation policy while allocating PhD seats to waiting list candidates in the academic year 2021-22. He also allegedly allocated PhD guideships to the retired teaching faculty members, going against the guidelines of the University Grants Commission (UGC). PhD scholars and faculty members at the varsity alleged that the VC has also been acting as a guide for at least two PhD candidates, which is against the rules and regulations of the UGC. 

TNM accessed the data of PhD candidates who applied for their doctoral research programs in 2021-2022, and found that a total of 110 candidates were selected. As many as 35 candidates were wait-listed and informed that they could be allotted seats only in case of vacancies. An announcement to this effect was also published on the varsity’s official website. 

 Up to 34 of the selected candidates were in the Open Category (OC), 29 from Backward Class (BC), four from BC (Muslim), eight from Most Backward Class (Vanniyar) (MBC(V)), four from MBC Denotified Communities (MBC/DNC), eight from MBC, 16 from Scheduled Caste (SC), three from SC (Arunthathiyar), and one candidate from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.

The eight Vanniyar candidates were selected based on the internal reservation granted to the community by the then Tamil Nadu government, helmed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Notably, the apex court later struck down the internal reservation, and ruled it out citing “it is illegal in the eyes of the law and in violation of the Constitution of India.” 

Besides these 107 candidates, three more candidates were selected under a separate interdisciplinary program. 

Within a few weeks, despite there being no vacancies, up to 24 of the 35 wait-listed candidates were also absorbed into the programme, allegedly without following the reservation policy. 

As per the Tamil Nadu government’s 69% reservation policy, 30% of the total seats are supposed to be allocated to the BC category (26.5% + 3.5% internal reservation for Muslims), 20% for MBC, 18% for SC, and 1% for ST. 

Of the 24 waitlisted candidates who were admitted, at least 11 are from BC and 10 from SC, including one Arunthathiyar candidate. The other three candidates are from OBC. 

As the total number of selected candidates increased from 107 (excluding the interdisciplinary candidates) to 131, the number of BC candidates went from 33 (BC + BC Muslim) to 44. As per the percentage (30%) allowed in the reservation policy, the number of selected BC candidates should not exceed 40. The number of SC candidates who were selected also went from 19 to 29 (including four Arunthathiyar candidates), though as per the reservation quota (18%) it should not exceed 24. 

Though the MBC category is supposed to get a reservation of 20%, only a total of 20 candidates got admission, and therefore received only 15% reservation.

UGC regulations violated

One of the PhD scholars from the institute told TNM that the ratification of guides was notified to them at the end of 2023, despite their academic year starting in 2021. They alleged that this delay occurred due to the backdoor entries that happened during this time. “The waiting period was to add all the wait-listed candidates to the program so that they could allocate guides accordingly,” said a professor from the university, under the condition of anonymity. He also pointed out that the wait-listed candidates were appointed after the deadline for PhD admissions expired. 

TNM learnt that a retired faculty member was also allotted guideship during this period. C Chockalingam, former Director of Legal Studies who retired from the institute in May 2022, has been appointed as a guide for PhD candidates. The PhD students at the varsity alleged that this move is in violation of the UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedures for Award PhD Degrees) Regulations. 

The minutes of the Board of Research Studies meeting held on July 24, 2023, where the guideship for PhD scholars were ratified, noted that it has strictly followed the UGC PhD Regulations while allotting guideships. But as per the UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedures for Award of PhD Degree) Regulations, 2022, faculty members with less than three years of service left for superannuation shall not be allowed to take new research scholars under their supervision. 

As per the regulations, such faculty members can only continue to supervise PhD scholars who are already registered until superannuation, and act as co-supervisors after superannuation.

In the Ambedkar Law University, eight PhD candidates have been allotted to Chokcalingam. He is a guide to these candidates, not a co-supervisor. 

In addition, the VC himself is also guiding two PhD candidates. K Rajasekaran, a Madras High Court advocate and education service expert, told TNM that VCs and registrars cannot give guidance to PhD candidates. “Guideship should be given to full-time professors, associate professors, and assistant professors. VCs are not only the academic head of the institute, but also the administrative head. They should act without bias. If he is taking a special interest in guiding two scholars, it raises questions about how unbiased he is. It is against the rules and regulations of the University,” Rajasekaran said.

Coursework exams delayed

A PhD scholar told TNM that the varsity was yet to conduct a coursework examination for them, despite being in the third year of research. “We were supposed to take a coursework examination in the first year, which has still not happened,” he said. 

A professor alleged that some of the students doing PhD at the varsity have only completed one-year LLM programs. Candidates who completed their masters in distance education should not be selected for PhD programs, as PhD scholars are eventually expected to give education to new students. But that rule is not followed in this institution.”

VC Santhosh Kumar, however, refuted all the allegations, asserting that they have violated no UGC norms during PhD admissions. He admitted that retired professors cannot be appointed as guide, but added that if any scholar was allotted to that professor before his retirement, he can continue to guide them until they submit the thesis and get the degree. He did not comment on why Chockalingam was selected to be a guide for eight new candidates in the 2021-2022 cohort. 

When asked if a VC can be a guide or not, he said his scholars were allotted to him before he became a VC. Notably, however, he was appointed as a VC on April 9, 2021, and the PhD admission process for the year began as late as in November of the same year. 

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