Parochial forces put DU in coma
Having been intimately associated with the functioning of Delhi University for over three decades now, first as a bright-eyed student and then as a reporter on the university beat, I can say with a certain force of conviction that the once hallowed campus is passing through a very dire phase. The annual farce, which has come to be enacted in the name of admission cut-off list, speaks volumes about the calibre of those responsible for administering the university and its several colleges. I am tempted to recall what late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to say on the matter of granting independence to our country. Churchill had famously presciently predicted, “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles.”
It is utterly criminal of the Delhi University college principals to have announced such stratospherically high cut-off lists. The result of this imprudent decision was that seats in the prestigious university found few takers, if any. An interesting newspaper report about College of Vocational Studies (CVS), which announced a cut-off of 100% in one of the courses mentioned, “A day after College of Vocational Studies (CVS) announced its cut-off for BSc Computer Science (H) as 95-100 <g data-gr-id="81">per cent</g>, the campus was next to empty with very few coming to take admission.” When the principal of the college was quizzed on why he kept such a sky high cut-off mark, he gave a very pedestrian reply, “We had to keep the cut-offs high because last year there were over admissions in many departments like History and B Com. Although we had 62 seats, we ended up admitting 150 students in History. We wanted to avoid such a situation this year,<g data-gr-id="84">” .</g>That the Delhi University and its colleges have not been able to find a scientific method to establish a reasonable cut-off percentage and goes by the trial and error method instead reflects very poorly on both its faculty and administration.
What is pushing the Delhi University to this state of comatose? Historian Ramchandra Guha in his seminal essay on Pluralism in the Indian Universities wrote, “In the history of the Indian university, the forces favouring pluralism have had to contend with the opposing forces of parochialism. These are ever present, often powerful, and sometimes overwhelming. One form of parochialism is identity politics. Particularly in staff appointments, the claims of caste or region or religion can play as significant a role as academic qualification or distinction. Often, the candidate with the best connections gets the job rather than the best candidate. And so the disputes that now dominate many if not most of our universities are not over the principles and methods of science and scholarship; they are over pay and promotion and the distribution of seats and posts among different castes, communities, and factions.” If Guha needed to validate his pet theory on parochialism, he could commission a fresh study of Delhi University to get sound empirical results which support his theory.
In the early 2000s, I had the privilege of working closely with the then vice-chancellor Deepak Nayyar. He was an eminent economist, who gave up his job in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) for a career in academics, and had initiated reforms in the selection process of college faculty despite vociferous opposition. “If we do not arrest the decay now, Delhi University would never recover,” he had mentioned to me during an interaction. He had then initiated the process, wherein the university representatives came to have a greater say than the college management body members. This system did help restore some credibility to the selection process of faculty and the decay was perhaps arrested for the time being.
However, now that people “with sweet tongues and silly hearts” are at the helm of affairs on campus, parochialism in its worst possible form has come back to haunt the selection process. I was told about a perplexing appointment made in a women’s college, whose governing body is headed by a university professor as the vice-chancellor’s nominee. The person who has been appointed is married to an influential RSS functionary and is from the same community, which dominates university leadership today. To facilitate her appointment subject experts were brought in from various universities in Uttar Pradesh, as if no subject matter experts existed in Delhi University to begin with.
It must be noted that the person who presided over this bogus appointment process had graced various newspaper pages some months back. This was when his ‘better’ half was being appointed on a permanent basis in another college which had no workload to begin with. Incidentally, this gentleman too comes from a university in UP. As a matter of <g data-gr-id="55">fact</g> people educated or teaching at obscure universities of Uttar Pradesh have suddenly found great favour in DU, especially if they happen to be from the life sciences <g data-gr-id="52">back ground</g>.
I was also informed about the incidence of another life sciences professor, who too has studied and taught in Uttar Pradesh, and is now functioning as chairman of another college as the vice-chancellor’s nominee. He got his daughter appointed as the lecturer overlooking the claims of several other candidates. It is deeply saddening that the quotidian disputes that now dominate many, if not most of our universities, are not over the first principles and methods of pedagogy and scholarship; they are over trivial issues like pay scales, promotion and the distribution of posts among different powerful castes, communities, and factions.
The Prime Minister must make an intervention and try and save India’s most prestigious academic campus. Generations of Indians would benefit greatly if Prime Minister decided to do his next Maan Ki Baat on the state of affairs in my Alma mater.
The author is president Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post