Newsletter, April 2011

Why the hurry to semesterise? VC unveils sinister game plan.

As the academic year 2010-11 draws to a close, the university community is confronted with a series of developments which have confirmed our worst fears about the dubious designs of the University administration in connivance with the MHRD. The series of press statements given by the VC Prof Dinesh Singh in the last few days has outlined beyond doubt the blueprint for the University system which he plans to unfold in his tenure. It is incredible that he has decided to govern the university though the media rather than engaging in a dialogue with the key constituents, the teachers and the students, or for that matter convening meetings of statutory bodies like the AC/EC to ratify all his new-fangled ideas. He has made clear that our long-standing apprehensions about the semester system leading to autonomous colleges and the dismembering of the University system have been proved to be well-founded.

Autonomy to DU Colleges

The VC’s series of media interviews pompously announcing that a semesterised calendar would lead to growing freedom for teachers in framing curriculum has exposed the increasing danger of “autonomous colleges” in consonance with the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission. Even when only 13 undergraduate science courses have been semesterised this year and that too in a disputed manner, the University administration led by a cynical Vice-Chancellor has already gone public in its sinister design of fragmenting the University into multiple smaller units which would soon go into private hands. This shameless abdication of responsibility towards the public-funded education system is a policy decision of the Government mindlessly complied with by the University.

Credit System and the Dilution of the Honours Courses

The VC’s media propaganda revolves around the fraudulent argument that the semester system is for ‘the welfare of the students’. His conception of the student’s welfare includes a flexible credit system according to which a student can choose from a wide array of courses instead of specialising in one particular major. What this apparently ‘novel’ idea does not reveal is the fact that such a plethora of options are not available in the proposed model of semester system owing to its rigid two-week exam schedule: a bitter lesson learnt from the 13 undergraduate science courses where this half-baked model has been implemented. Therefore what this ‘credit system’ achieves with a lot of fanfare is the dilution of the existing Honours courses whose quality have been built over years. This gross undermining of quality is followed then by an increasing vocationalisation and commercialisation of higher education. The rhetoric of student’s welfare becomes an excuse to introduce unregulated profiteering in the University system.

Mindless Admission Mechanism

The recent announcement of the new admission policy at undergraduate level for 2011-12 has shocked the University community no end. In a blatant act of colossal egotism and short-sightedness, the administration has unilaterally decided to do away with application forms for admission to undergraduate courses this year. Instead it has ordered the colleges to decide their admission cut-off based on ‘past experience’ (which is more of a speculation or conjecture) rather than on analysis of data collected through application forms.

What has compounded matters is the University diktat that no rider like the subject marks will be allowed for admission to any specific course, for example Maths marks for Economics(H) or individual English marks for English(H). Thus in the name of introducing a student-centric system, a well-thought out, long-standing practice has been dismantled and that too without consulting teachers. The chaos which is bound to happen will adversely affect the supposed ‘beneficiaries’, i.e., the students, since now the colleges will hike their cut-off as a safety measure against over-admission. Moreover, transparency in the admission process will become a huge casualty owing to the absence of any proper list of applicants. This decision is symptomatic of the increasingly autocratic behaviour of the University authorities by which teachers are completely excluded from the policy decisions taken at the top and have been reduced to that of mere service providers meant to implement decisions.

No Appointments for 3 Years

The megalomaniac VC has gone ahead and announced in his interview to Jansatta (April 13) that no permanent appointment in DU colleges would take place for the next three years. He has said that since the semester system would take at least three years to be introduced completely across all the undergraduate courses in the university, a stable teaching workload could be determined only after the process is over. After three years a fresh calculation of workload would be made to ascertain the number of teaching posts at that time and only then fresh appointments could be considered depending on availability of vacancies.

This interview has not only confirmed the long-standing suspicion of teachers about reduced workload in the semester system but has also exposed the pack of lies propagated by the VC in an earlier interview to The Hindustan Times about 2680 new posts in DU colleges after the introduction of the semester system. The experience of semesterisation in the 13 undergraduate courses shows how workload has reduced significantly in various subjects.

The decision to stall permanent appointments in the colleges will not only jeopardise the prospects of thousands of temporary/ad-hoc teachers, it will also create serious impediments in the teaching-learning process. We would also like to add from the experience of the 13 science courses that the semester system is bound to make more teaching jobs contractual as the workload has to be calculated semester-wise and in most of the Departments, there may be no way to maintain an annual load. The right to vacation salary would be completely done away with. This would also drive away talent from the University.

OBC Expansion and the Policy of In(Ex)clusion

The policy of social inclusion in higher education in the form of OBC expansion announced by the earlier UPA government led to an unprecedented inflow of funds to the University of Delhi and its various constituent colleges. This budgetary support was given to the University to create infrastructural facilities like classrooms and laboratories, and also new teaching posts to accommodate the increased intake of students. It is ironic that the DU administration, instead of augmenting the infrastructural facilities in colleges, has decided to invest all its energies to implement a half-baked semester system. It is important to note that the proposed model of semesterisation with its packed teaching and exam schedule is a debilitating and disabling system for students coming from the economically and socially backward sections. This becomes more than evident from the unprecedented number of failures in the MA courses this year, the majority being students from underprivileged backgrounds. Moreover the so-called ‘student-friendly’ semester system neither allows students from the downtrodden sections any time to cope with the demands of the subject nor does it provide any opportunity for their remedial teaching.

The hypocrisy of the University administration in the matter is evident: on one hand DU has extracted all the money from the government in the name of social inclusion and affirmative action; on the other hand it has started implementing policies which would subvert that very process of social inclusion by ensuring massive failures and drop-outs of students belonging to backward sections. Since the funds have already been procured between 2007-2010, now the DU authorities are out to create conditions which would automatically exclude those very sections who were the supposed beneficiaries of OBC expansion as well as of SC/ST reservation.

Short-sighted Exam Reform

The examination reforms announced by the VC, again through the press, smack of his utter disregard for procedures and long-standing academic practices. He has unilaterally decided to do away with the established conventions of confidentiality and revaluation in order to usher in ‘reforms’ suiting the exam pattern of the semester calendar. He believes that the assembly-line pattern of four examiners evaluating different sections of the same script would lead to an infallible, objective method of evaluation and would not require any revaluation. Thus a progressive mechanism of revaluation which is meant to redress genuine grievances and victimisation of students is being done away with since the VC believes that it is ‘a waste of time’. These so-called reforms propagated in the name of ‘student’s welfare’ will end up penalising the student as they have neither any transparency nor any mechanism to redress genuine grievances.

Coercive Measures to Implement Semester System

In the last one month, the University authorities have gone overboard in issuing threats to various teachers of the colleges and the university who have expressed their well-considered opposition to the undue haste in which the semester system is being implemented. The threatening letters issued to Heads of various Departments clearly suggest the intolerance of the administration toward any alternative opinion on the matter. These threatening letters are moreover not direct communications from the VC or PVC but being routed through the Registrar, thereby emphasising administrative authority alone and excluding entirely all academic questions that have been raised by teachers.

This mode of intimidating teachers into submission is being pushed at all levels of decision-making. Teachers who oppose the imposition of semester have been threatened that their names would be sent to the VC for punitive action or even with dire consequences such as denial of increment, promotion and also suspension. Rules for constituting the Committees of Courses are being bypassed with impunity in order to exclude dissenting opinion.

The Faculty of Arts meetings on March 14 and 28 deliberately excluded the representatives of 25 DU colleges in violation of the statutory constitution of the Faculty. Not only were so many members excluded from participating, the objective of collective academic deliberation on syllabi was also set aside and syllabi were declared passed without prior circulation or considered debate.

In the English Department meetings were clandestinely called to push syllabus making in the semester mode. In response to criticism about such functioning security guards were called to physically intimidate teachers.

The most recent of these shocking incidents is that of show cause notices issued by the Registrar to 11 University appointed teachers of the English Department who had resigned from the non-statutory Department committees in protest against the Head’s refusal to convene a Department Council meeting despite repeated requests. All the above-mentioned incidents bear testimony to the fact that the University authorities have stooped to a new low to coerce teachers to fall in line.

The rising graph of actions by the administration aims not only to muzzle free expression of views in order to silence dissent but also to create a general atmosphere of fear and discord among colleagues so that any collective resistance to the larger game plan can be destroyed. Such an atmosphere, if allowed to grow, will have long-term, pernicious consequences far beyond the present crisis on the entire academic environment and on all academic functioning.

We Must Resist

At a GBM of English teachers held on March 16, an overwhelming majority of teachers reiterated their unequivocal opposition to the semester system. Taking cue from the GBM resolution, the majority of members in the PG Committee of Courses opposed any decision to frame semester-based syllabi for English courses on academic, pedagogic and logistical grounds. When letters were sent to English Departments of various colleges asking volunteers to prepare semester-based courses, college after college sent their refusal to participate in the process, citing their solidarity to the GBM resolution.

Teachers in various social science departments, especially History, Economics, Geography and Sociology have consistently opposed the imposition of the semester system in their respective disciplines despite tremendous pressure from the DU authorities. The Economics teachers from various colleges have mobilised opinion against a semester-based framework for BA(H) Economics surreptitiously circulated by the Department. This has forced the Head to write to the University authorities expressing inability to go ahead with preparing semester-based courses for Economics without the cooperation of college teachers. The Geography Department, despite threatening letters from the Registrar, has refused to go against the resolution of its GBM which had rejected semesterisation in totality. The History Department has shown exemplary courage in not only thwarting any attempt to semesterise at all possible platforms but has also rallied behind their Head in confronting the threatening letter of the Registrar. In the meeting of the Faculty of Social Sciences held on March 23, there was widespread condemnation of the tone and tenor of the Registrar’s letter by the members. The Faculty rejected the proposal of semester system on grounds of academic feasibility, lack of any framework for restructuring curriculum and very short available time-line. The Dean’s letter to the VC criticised not only the autocratic functioning of the University authorities but also their inability to initiate an academic debate on the semester system as befitting a University system.

The need of the hour is for us to stand united against these moves to dismantle and destroy the University and to defeat with our solidarity all measures to browbeat and divide us. The stakes are high. The future of lakhs of students who come to DU with hopes of a good education is threatened. The DTF appeals to the DUTA leadership as well as other teachers’ groups to come together and to forge a collective movement against the sinister designs of the administration.

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