An Ad-Hoc University

Akhil Katyal

I finished my PhD in September, 2011 and have been working as a teacher for almost a year now at Delhi University.

When I say working, I mean getting terminated and resumed by the same college every time there is an extended holiday. This is because I belong to a lesser species of teachers. We are all called by a strange name.

It means something unplanned, temporary, clumsy and barely serviceable – ad hoc. I was telling a friend that tarpaulins during heavy rains are ad-hoc arrangements, plastic sheets when the child is still a bed-wetter are ad-hoc arrangements. People, invested in their professions, are most certainly not. He said that the second one was an apposite simile. The university is bed-wetting ideas, ‘no matter you are pissed off.’

Ever since I came back to Delhi I have found myself in a position that thousands of others here in this university are facing. We are stumbling from one college to another every few months in a university that refuses to let us take root. We meet each other during the interview season when we are haphazardly cut and pasted from one to the other of the almost eighty colleges in this university, one of the biggest in the world.

I have friends who have taught in five colleges in less than twenty months. The silver-lining is that the organization of batch re-unions has become quite redundant. We run into each other every now and then. The last time, I heard two friends discussing that they have been to at least eight interviews that fortnight. Since the results come out only later, one plays it safe and spreads one’s net wide. ‘We  are one of the most interviewed teachers in the world,’ one of them said, ‘and still our employers never seem to listen to what we have to say.’

The current Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh who has pushed this university into a spiral of ill-thought out (should I say ad-hoc?) reforms, is invested in a vision of the university where our ad-hocness becomes a permanent state of affairs. His vision enshrined in the higher education bills that the new HRD Minister Pallam Raju has been entrusted with passing, see people like me with little regard and almost no measure of dignity.

The young academics face an imminent and long-term contractualization of their labour that will see us transforming into an ersatz version of American universities where tenure track is kept structurally out of the reach of most young academics.

In their countries where the public sector education is under systematic attack, I have seen the patience and endurance of my American and English friends, no less passionate about their teaching and research, being tested year after year as they float between universities that seek out more labour from them than from any tenured professor but always at a lesser rate and with almost incomparable service benefits. But at least they still have some euphemistic names for it. None of them go through the shame of being christened ad-hoc.

Now Delhi University is being pushed to the wall to adopt another badly planned idea. People like me might as well pack our bags and leave. We are being told one thing without being told many others. Here is what we know: not least through the pleasure of our Vice-Chancellor telling us, he only sends crude memos these days, but through newspaper reports in which he prodigiously comments.

Next year the university courses – all of them – will turn into 4 year graduate programmes. A student can exit after 2 years with a diploma, 3 years with a pass degree and 4 years with an Honours. And here is what we do not know. First among them is the very syllabus for the next academic year. I am in a university where the teachers are unaware of what they are going to teach within half a year. Almost none of us are being consulted for drafting whatever it is that we might teach.

We do not know the method of assessment, the frequency of examinations or that on which the jobs of ad-hoc teachers hang the most i.e. how to calculate workload for each department.

No specialized paper will be taught till the 3rd year of the programme which implies a slashing of the number of honours lectures. This means disaster for us. Our numbers will be cut, our tenure in each college will become more insecure.

Hundreds of ad-hocs will fall through the net and add to the number of the unemployed. For those who remain, terms of service and benefits attached will be worse than they already are.

They would be structurally pushed into a system whereby teaching will be rushed and research opportunities would be difficult to tap into, let alone convert them into publications, and yet at the same time they would be tested on their ability to do precisely this. Additionally, the college administrations will be able to implement a culture whereby the ad hoc teacher will play it safe and try to remain in the good books of his or her employers.

This will spell out a diffused and apolitical sort of teaching that will undermine the sense of freedom and honesty of the young teacher. For those of us invested in our professions, where we derive a huge proportion of our sustenance from our work with our students and colleagues, this implies an almost criminal treatment. A university which will not let the ground remain beneath the feet of its teachers will be a university without foundation, flying from one weak idea to another till it crash lands.

I recommend that two hours before he speaks to the media each time, our VC should take his regular dosage for schizophrenia. For months on end, his condition has kept us ad-hoc teachers swinging unrelentingly between less and more hopelessness. He has been promising interviews for permanent positions only to contradict himself in other news bytes by saying that permanent employment is the last thing on his mind, also lying about the number of vacant positions which are near 4000. He has capitulated to a narrow vision of higher education that his puppeteers in the UPA government have schooled him in.

This vision will undermine the public nature of higher education, will allow entry for private players which would raise the fees and make education unaffordable for many, phase out pure sciences and the idea of an honours degree, vocationalize the university which will make many disciplines, particularly within humanities and social sciences untenable, and all this would make the teachers into a desperate species that will try to save its jobs when and if at all they get them. In these last few months, when we all pushed for it, instead of expediting the process of permanent recruitments, and despite the green light of the UGC, the VC simply sat over it but in a very peculiar manner.

Hens sit on eggs to warm them and hatch them to bring them to life. Our VC with the weight of his stubbornness has sat too hard and almost crushed the idea. By this logic then, we ad-hocs if at all we escape his bum will be still-born. (Courtesy: Pratirodh)


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