New Scaffoldings of Struggle at DU

Published: Tue, 05/31/2016 - 12:45

The machinations in higher education are no longer those of one or two whimsical individuals: this is an amorphous, menacing force, reducing institutions to rubble. A new gazette has unfurled itself on college staffroom notice boards, a sign of ominous times
Ratna Raman Delhi

Two years ago, on the threshold of a new national election, Delhi University was in spate. The then vice -chancellor, Dinesh Singh (appointed by the unyielding Congress regime in Delhi), wielding the gauntlet of absolute power, had been running amok. His associate, the pro-vice-chancellor, stepped down and retreated inexplicably, into a Faculty of Management Cell. The rest of the vice-chancellor’s team, personally recruited, surrounded him and sang ceaseless hosannas. In fact, such is the aura of a vice-chancellor in office that teachers from undergraduate colleges shunned food and drink till the very end, identifying with his blundering ambitions. Over high drama, with massive student participation, and a hard, long and protracted struggle, the FYUP was rolled back. 

University teachers went back to work with good intentions, hoping to restore university life to normalcy. The trouble with these good intentions is that they paved the way to a rather murky hell – the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS). The university was left to its own devices, with a vengeful vice-chancellor hard-driving the last big nails into the coffin of the university. 

He continued to stage-manage appointments at the level of colleges and denied retiring teachers their rightful dues by throwing in a spanner into a well-oiled and efficiently functioning pension and provident fund system. 

Teachers went back to work with good intentions, hoping to restore university life to normalcy. The trouble with these good intentions is that they paved the way to a rather murky hell – the Choice Based Credit System. The university was left to its own devices, with a vengeful vice-chancellor hard-driving the last big nails into the coffin of the university 

The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has for some years now conducted itself as one of the last colonial outposts of independent India. It sees its role as braving it out and attempting to instil honour and discipline among ‘unruly natives’. HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s homespun headship did not disturb us initially, because Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor, the HRD ministers in the last Congress government, despite their Indian roots, were unabashedly dazzled by foreign degrees and the proverbial pieces of silver lining the coffers of private universities.

The summer of 2015 saw Delhi University with one hostile vice-chancellor and a new CBCS that magically spread its tentacles over the entire university. Why did we not resist this?  

Arguably, dismantling FYUP had taken up a lot of our energies and dissipated the rest. It was a difficult, though resilient struggle. Great discontent and embitterment replaced the fight that had gone out of our lives, along with the light.

We crawled awhile in a dark tunnel, supervised by ministries and commissions suffering from tunnel vision themselves, awaiting the coming of the new vice-chancellor. Indeed, he has come, blowing upon his conch, but we cannot see him and he cannot hear us at all. Universities now have vice-chancellors and such dim spotlights that vision and perceptions have begun to blur. 

The machinations in higher education are no longer those of one or two whimsical individuals: this is an amorphous, menacing force, reducing  institutions to rubble. A new Gazette has unfurled itself on our staffroom notice boards, offering solutions to all our problems. Check it out:

Q:  How do we deal with increased student strength, diminishing infrastructure, non-recruitment of teachers and vacancies that have not been filled in years? 

A: Combine two practical periods into one, and make all tutorials advisory.  Our prime minister is able to speak to the entire nation whenever he needs to through one solitary Mann ki  Baat. Teachers should not find it difficult to put forward their Mann ki Baat to miniscule groups of hundreds. Besides, increase individual teacher workload from 14 to 22 and 16 to 24 hours. This will automatically reduce the number of teachers and do away with all problems of recruitment.

Q: Aren’t university teachers in India in any case teaching far more than their contemporaries in other parts of the world?

A: Our rules are Our Rules. We must make Our Rules in India! Teachers will earn more under the seventh pay commission implementation. They must be seen earning their money; 40 hour work weeks indicated at the time of the sixth pay commission will now be implemented

Q: Teaching overloads will not help teachers or students. Traffic rules do not allow overloaded vehicles on the streets. Why must students and teachers be put under pressure?

A: Vehicles are not allowed to carry too much weight. In the case of the university, we have truncated or thrown out each and every lode-bearing curriculum. Our schooling systems have failed and so have our vocational training systems. Therefore, the universities must perforce be turned into Skill Development Centres.

Q: For years young teachers have held ad-hoc jobs and have also gone on to raise families without maternity leave or the security of summer salaries. Surely, this is demoralising and distressful?

A: They were employed under the previous regime. We are having enough trouble changing the names of roads and projects. In any case, we have sufficient candidates of our own, so order will be restored soon enough.

Q: Wouldn’t you agree that poor infrastructure and lack of facilities impedes the daily functioning of the university?

A: Undue emphasis is laid on infrastructure. “Lectures can be held behind a banyan tree,” (in the words of a visiting NAAC team).

Q: Classrooms are filled with students way beyond recommended numbers.  Surely, students need mentoring and guidance, and ideal studying conditions. Teachers also need to add to their learning.

A: Each teacher shall take on holistic responsibility (the emotional and mental wellbeing) of around 25 students each, over and above the prescribed minimum teaching schedule. This will make for a productive 40 hour week. The emphasis will be on teacher-student interaction, and will maintain teacher-student ratio.

We have also highlighted the journals that will accept research papers that teachers may wish to write in their free time. A master plan of research topics is on its way to standardise research.  We are efficient and we shall deliver.

The Choice Based Credit System has not provided the Make-in-India impetus   inundating each pore of current government policy. The FYUP has been born again as a three year programme and renamed CBCS, with little academic worth. CBCS is another hurriedly cobbled venture with little legitimacy 

Some questions, however, still remain unanswered:

The CBSC has not provided the transformative Make-in-India impetus   inundating each pore of current government policy in the last year. The FYUP has been born again as a three year programme and renamed CBCS, with little academic worth. CBCS is another hurriedly cobbled venture with little legitimacy.

The English (Hons) Syllabus is a packed pot-pourri over two years. At the end of two years we hurriedly push students with half-baked inputs into the high temperatures of research production, possibly scorching and burning them for life. This cannot be the raison-d-etre of literature or liberal arts programmes.  FYUPs delinquent compulsory foundation programmes have been replaced by banal Ability Enhancement Compulsory Course under the CBCS.

English writing skills leave much to be desired, going by what has been on display. Over several years, the emphasis on the ability to think has been replaced by the skill required to fill in blanks. Important readings, literature, essays and poetry have been shelved, making language and disciplines functional, thereby reducing learning to limited skills. This USP, entrenched in our schooling system, is now taking over the university syllabi. This is not what we want for resurgent India. We do not want to Make-in-India a soulless and unthinking future, for generations of our young citizens.

The cruel trick that the CBCS plays by calling itself a Choice Based Credit System is now being stamped on all learning schedules in the second year. University departments mandate and select one option in each credit course (that has six to eight options). This is reinforced by Academic Planning Committees and implemented by college departments. The student is taught a truncated main course and has very little choice when it comes to the credit courses as well.

In the science stream, students tend to opt for credit courses requiring fewer hours. This undesirable and unintelligent precedent of privileging some main courses over others highlights the short-sighted schemes that have been set in motion.

Indeed, responding to the continued onslaught on higher education, teachers, united, determined and strong, and across the spectrum, have put aside differences, taken to the streets, flocked to the General Body Meeting (GBM), boycotted evaluations, and listened in one voice to the Delhi University Teachers’ Union (DUTA) leadership. This collective show of strength and resilience is important and welcome – this will crucially begin to define us in the days to come. Long marches and protests await and this will be a grim, protracted struggle. The scaffoldings are being built yet again.

There is one slogan which must reverberate: Teachers of Delhi University -- Stay United! Else we stand to lose pretty much everything!

Ratna Raman is Associate Professor, Department of English, Venkateswara College, Delhi University.

The machinations in higher education are no longer those of one or two whimsical individuals: this is an amorphous, menacing force, reducing institutions to rubble. A new gazette has unfurled itself on college staffroom notice boards, a sign of ominous times
Ratna Raman Delhi

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