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Millennium Post

Of education and democracy

Several intellectuals, academicians and public figures in and outside Delhi University (DU) campus firmly believe that educational reforms in DU are implemented in an insensitive, hurried and casual manner. But the DU administrators claim that ‘due process’ was adopted and everything was done in a very transparent manner. They also claim that wider and necessary consultation was taken through academic congress and other forums. It should be remembered here that the Vice Chancellor (VC) directly announced the introduction of the Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) to the media at the India International Centre, New Delhi in 2012.

This was a clear violation of the statutory provision of the university. Even parliamentarians and ministers are not expected to say anything on policy matters while the parliament is in session. It is another matter that nowadays even parliamentary wisdom is questioned quite often intentionally or
sometimes unintentionally. As a former elected AC member of DU for four years, I wish to share some of my experiences on theories of transparency and ‘due processes’ which have been much talked nowadays. It is not for the first time that educational reforms are being implemented in a tearing hurry and dictatorial fashion. Everybody knows quite well how the previous Vice Chancellor implemented the semester system in DU. People also know that how much the principles of transparency and due process was followed. It is glaring and open fact that syllabi of many subjects were passed through emergency power of the VC and they didn’t even see the light of any academic council debate or deliberations. Who would like to forget and forgive the way, using the excuses of ‘due process’, an academically excellent essay on the Ramayana by internationally reputed scholar Ramanujan was unceremoniously removed from  DU’s  undergraduate honours courses.

Intellectuals, academicians and media all over the world including Dilip Padagaonkar’s thought provoking and scholarly article on the Ramanujan’s essay on the Ramayana vehemently protested and condemned the DU’s move.  It should be remembered that on supreme court’s direction DU had constituted a panel of renowned historians for their opinion on the so called controversial essay.
Out of four members of this august panel three of them hugely praised and admired the academic quality of the essay. They also strongly recommended the inclusion of this essay in DU’s syllabus. Although, the fourth member had no doubts about the academic merit of the essay he still found it unsuitable for the undergraduate students.

The AC and EC members who were overwhelmingly non-experts on the subject followed the same exalted principles of transparency and ‘due process’ and threw the essay abhorrently out of DU. In DU’s academic democracy, numbers matter and only the ‘letter of law’ is considered due process not the ‘spirit of the law’. It should be specifically noted here that the overwhelming AC and EC members are directly nominated by the DU’s VC. Most of them are his subordinates and work directly under his jurisdiction. They enjoy the tenure at the pleasure of the V.C. Earlier, students were also nominated as AC members but now they are thrown out of this statutory body. Are they not the real stake holders in academic matters?

In an atmosphere of insinuations, fear and arrogance of power, nobody dares to question the decisions of the boss. Only the so-called highly politicised elected college teachers muster some courage to give their dissents. The ‘Davids of CPM’ have developed an attitude to always give dissents. CPM and other left parties must have been smiling and feeling proud of their ‘Davids’.
The reason is obvious. They are getting huge support from the people and organisations never known to be supporters or even sympathisers of the left ideology. But it is also a fact that such is the fear of being considered as leftists in the eyes of the boss and other authorities that the historians, sociologists and even political scientists of the university are now emphatically disclaiming themselves as leftist. They wish to remain as pure professionals and apolitical.

The decisions of the grass-root statutory body of DU i.e. , staff council of the colleges are not required now. The committee of courses are not properly constituted. The Hindi department’s COC has recently passed the courses of FYUP  without having a single member from the colleges on their board. The membership from the colleges in this committee is mandatory. The departmental councils and the general body of different subjects though not statutory bodies, have been playing a very vital and significant role in debating and deliberating the subject matters related to the syllabuses of their respective subjects. They have been made irrelevant and redundant. The pyramid  of democratic discussion in DU has been turned upside down. The reforms are being bulldozed in an undemocratic and top-down manner.

The insignificant ‘cattle class’ college teachers have been accused of being overpaid and less worked. This is even despite of DU’s undergraduate teachers do 16-18 periods over five days a week, not to speak of cooperative postgraduate teaching. One can imagine the plight of insecure, less paid and overworked DU’s huge army of more than 4,000 adhoc teachers. Their permanent posts are still lying vacant. It is not surprising the DU’s administrators are still following the carrot and stick policy of colonial era.

Some of them are trying to lure the college teachers and promise them of ‘exciting times’ ahead after the implementation of FYUP. Many of those teachers are now being belatedly recognised as ‘better qualified and better published than professors and deans of other universities’.
They are also being promised to be given ‘professional justice’ which has been vehemently denied by their seniors in the departments. Alas! these could be true promises. So much has been debated, deliberated and written about the merits and demerits of the course structures and particularly about the foundation courses of FYUP. I don’t want to go into those details again. I also don’t want to refer to the letter of the Chancellor’s nominee which had comprehensively poked the holes in DU’s transparency claim and expressed his immensely painful experiences in the EC of DU. We are deeply grateful to the fourth pillar of our celebrated democracy i.e. media which has objectively portrayed the story of reforms in DU.

I am happy that those who didn’t realise earlier have now started speaking their minds against this hurriedly implemented course structure of FYUP. It is better late than never. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD)and other responsible and accountable institutions must also realise that the colonial system of filtering higher education is not acceptable to today’s vibrant and vigilant democratic society.

DU’s lakhs of School of Open Learning and Non-Collegiate Women’s Education Board students must not be allowed to die their natural deaths. Our present day democratic and secular republic will never tolerate the discrimination and exploitation of millions of our Eklavyas at the alter of the vested interests of the Arjunas. Our society strongly demands inclusiveness and equity in the higher education. It cant be meant only for those who travel in the business class seats of the flights. I hope that the recently constituted advisory committee of the UGC will seriously ponder over the wide protest of the Indian people at large. Otherwise, people will take it as an eye-wash. Merely increasing a year to get rid of the frustration in getting admissions in America’s universities will only invite ‘alarmed and alarming statements from some of the finest minds of our public life’.
America’s Abraham Lincoln once told his friend ‘in the end, its not the years in your life that count it’s the life in your years’. Let the ‘wise’ elephant that is the emblem of DU take its decision wisely.

The author is former member of Academic Council, Delhi University

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