Gay professor sacked by reputed Bengaluru college for 'disturbing students with his opinions'

Devyani Sultania

Bengaluru's St. Joseph's College recently sacked Associate Professor Ashley Tellis, who is also an LGBT rights activist, saying that he was involved in "anti-college activities and hurt the sensitivities of undergraduate students from heterogeneous backgrounds" in his classes. The college also alleged that Tellis' teaching methods encouraged students to question the "autocratic" practices of the management.

"On March 9 2017, while I am in the middle of a BCom Second Year class, I am asked to come down and meet the Principal of St. Joseph's College of Arts and Sciences, Fr. Victor Lobo, immediately," Tellis, who was a professor in the English department of the college, wrote in a Facebook post.

"Once there, he makes me wait for 10 minutes outside the office, while my students are waiting in class. Then he calls me in and tells me: 'Students are disturbed by your personal opinions. The management has got to know of these opinions... You were hired to teach English Literature. Not to give your personal opinions. Please sign these letters. Leave the college with immediate effect. No need to take any more classes. We will manage'," he added.

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Tellis also wrote that he hopes "this case will make students stand up for their rights: The right to a democratic education, the right to a context of democratic practice in education which the Karnataka government and the Constitution of India (which institutions, minority ones or otherwise, have to follow) guarantees not institutions that make up more and more bizarre rules and force them on students."

He concludes his post saying: "As for me, this is not a new story. This is not the first time this has happened to me and it will not be the last. But, unlike the students, I have not, am not and will not take it lying down." He also lashed out at the college principal, who has a PhD in English, for imposing "draconian" rules on students of both genders.

"This is the Principal who says boys and girls should not go for films together. This is the Principal who allows teachers to not allow boys and girls to sit together. This is the Principal who does not like to see boys and girls walk together," Tellis alleged in his Facebook post.

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Following Tellis' allegations, St. Joseph's College also released a statement saying that the openly gay professor was appointed in November 2016 on a temporary six-month contract and that he had clearly mentioned his orientation in his application. His orientation was deemed to be his personal choice by the college when he was interviewed.

"Later, while we appreciated his intellectual abilities and his scholarship, we were pained to note that he seemed to pay no heed to the sensitivities of undergraduate students from heterogeneous backgrounds... After receiving several complaints from students and their parents about Prof Ashley having crossed the line repeatedly in his interaction and comments, the management decided that it would be for the best to terminate his services," the statement added citing violation of the norms of the institution as the reason behind his termination.

However, Tellis believes that his sexual orientation could "partly be among the reasons that led the college to take this step," the Hindu reported. But the college authorities have denied the allegations. "This certainly does not have anything to do with his sexual orientation and our college, in fact, supports the cause of the LGBT community," the college principal said.

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Both the college management and Tellis have said that they would take the legal course.

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