Is Symbiosis Law School withholding Letters of Recommendation from its alumni after they wrote to the college administration expressing concern over the administration’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against one of their faculty, Professor Srinivas Methuku?
Several alumni of Symbiosis Law School have told The Quint that they have not yet received Letters of Recommendation (LoR) from the college, despite having applied for the same as per the college’s prescribed procedure.
Most, if not all foreign universities of repute require a Letter of Recommendation from a professor who has taught a student during their time in college. Some foreign universities even require two LoRs from the university the student graduated from.
If the students can’t furnish these letters, it’s highly unlikely they will be accepted to the university they’ve applied to. This affects their future, their prospects of higher education, and in many instances, even their careers.
They also claimed that many others had also been refused Letters of Recommendation. None of these refusals were made over official communication channels. They were either communicated over the phone, in person, or in some instances, Whatsapp (screengrabs of the same are in The Quint’s possession).
Now, the standard procedure for seeking a Letter of Recommendation from Symbiosis Law School can be found on the official website of Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
Here’s a screenshot for quick reference.
Other students of Symbiosis Law School told The Quint that getting a physical Letter of Recommendation from the college usually takes around two weeks. However, an online LoR doesn’t require the same time. It’s a form sent to the professor in question, and the professor fills out the same and reverts.
But why have these students in specific been met with roadblocks and delays? One thing that is common between all the students who have faced this delay, is that they were among the hundreds of alumni who signed two letters sent to college authorities. The students claim this is why they are being refused LoRs.
The first letter was sent to the College’s Chancellor and Vice Chancellor on 30 October, and the second to the Registrar of Symbiosis International Deemed University on 8 November.
The subject of both letters was the alumni's concern over the incident of college/hostel authorities evicting students of Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad, Apoorva Yarabahalli and Snigdha Jayakrishnan from their college hostel rooms on 26 October, and the Director of Symbiosis Law School, Pune, Shashikala Gurpur reportedly verbally threatening them with rustication.
- In April 2018, Apoorva and Snigdha had written to Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi about concerns about the college’s dismissal of allegations of sexual harassment against Professor Srinivas Methuku.
- Later that month Symbiosis International University issued a press note claiming misconduct and “manhandling” of staff and security personnel by the two girls.
- In May, a Campus Disciplinary Committee was called to hear the same issue while the college was closed for vacation.
- The committee met thrice for hearing misconduct allegations against the girls, but after the girls failed to appear for hearings, it suggested “stern action” against the girls.
- On 9 October, amid the #MeToo wave, allegations of harassment by Professor Srinivas Methuku cropped up on an Instagram handle called ‘Kalmuhi’. Apoorva and Snigdha shared the same on social media.
- On 26 October morning Apoorva wrote in a Facebook post about the director, Shashikala Gurpur “hounding” her for “posting against the institution.” It was after this that the two girls were evicted from the hostel, later that day.
Additionally, the alumni’s letters also asked the administration how CCTV footage of the two girls arguing with the college hostel’s authorities taken from the hostel’s CCTV cameras, also mysteriously found its way onto the internet.
I hope you can watch the misconducts through this video. pic.twitter.com/D9iLxJf2yF— Sweta Mishra (@SwetaMi30947558) October 28, 2018
The video, which is edited together with text and was shared online after the girls were evicted, plays like a propaganda video designed to turn opinion against the two girls by painting them as troublemakers. It was primarily shared on Whatsapp, but also found its way to Facebook and Twitter.
Symbiosis International University’s registrar, Dr MS Shejul replied to the first letter on 31 October, stating that disciplinary action was taken against the two girls as part of procedure.
The reply added that the college couldn’t comment on the video because the video, which contained footage from the Symbiosis Law School Hyderabad hostel CCTV, wasn’t “sent officially” by the University.
At the time of writing this piece, the college has not officially replied to the second letter sent by the alumni on 8 November.
Now to be clear, the college has not officially denied or refused students a letter of recommendation.
However, the students allege that through unofficial channels, the director of Symbiosis Law School, Pune, Shashikala Gurpur refused Letters of Recommendation.
In one exchange on Whatsapp, when the student asked Dr Gurpur (the phone number in question has been verified by The Quint) about her letter of recommendation, after completing the required procedure, Dr Shashikala Gurpur told the former student that they can’t issue LoRs to “those who don’t trust” the college.
The students say, in the Whatsapp exchange, Dr Gurpur refers to the letter sent by the students expressing concern about the college’s action against Apoorva and Snigdha, saying, “Do you expect us to be naïve when you all sign a petition and then use us to project your credentials?”
Gurpur then adds, “You can ask those who advised you to provide you one. Did you check with us[sic]. Why do you ask us now[sic]. I or my team will not lend our credentials to any of you. Go with your belief.i am afraid..i do not share[sic]”.
Now, remember, this wasn’t over an official channel, but Whatsapp. So, the college hasn’t outright refused or denied an LoR officially. They just haven’t provided one yet.
And since many foreign universities have a specific deadline before which a Letter of Recommendation should be furnished, in essence, Symbiosis Law School is holding its former students’ prospects of getting into said foreign universities, hostage.
Other students who signed the letters told The Quint that they had written to professors at the college for an LoR, who initially agreed to provide the letters, but were informed later that they needed to get permission from the director, Shashikala Gurpur “according to a new circular.”
On 24 November, the college told several alumni to reply from their individual email IDs to the college, CCing the person who sent the original letter, explaining that they were rescinding support to the letter.
The Quint has mailed a questionnaire to Symbiosis Law School’s director and others concerned. When this reporter reached out to Shashikala Gurpur for a statement after the mail, she replied, “I don’t know you” and hung up.
With few options left, and with deadlines for their foreign university and Masters’ degree applications fast approaching, many former students are now faced with a tough choice.
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