The sudden announcement of a special Meeting of the DU Academic Council for 24th December 2012, to consider passing the proposed structure of the 4-year undergraduate programme is a deliberate attempt, on the part of the VC, to disable honest consultations with faculties, teachers and students on the feasibility of such a massive structural change and its overall implications. The Democratic Teachers’ Front (DTF) is appalled that the VC is brazenly making a false claim to have consulted a large section of teachers, students and parents about the 4-years model, even as teachers of at least five departments including Physics, English, Mathematics, Economics and History, are formally demanding General Body Meetings of their respective departments through which they hope to raise their concerns and fears about the attempted overhaul.
Not only has the VC not sought any feedback from the various departments and staff councils of the University, but he has also circulated some copies of power-point presentations by individual teachers who had participated in the Academic Congress held in September, as trumped-up evidence in support of the 4-year undergraduate structure, among the agenda papers. These papers also include some inconclusive deliberations recorded in the minutes of three meetings of his ‘Task Force’ held last month. In the absence of methodically sought feedback from the primary stakeholders, the presentations by individuals cannot be described as representative of any collective or widespread opinion on the planned ‘reforms.’ Moreover, they are not based on any empirical and thorough research into the shortcomings of the existing 3-year system or the objective need to replace it with a 4-year one. Their empty emphasis on skill-development and personality-growth is derivative of the numerous vision documents that guide the government’s agenda in secondary education. They are inadequate and unspecific as they do not offer any concrete plan as to how these objectives are to be accomplished without diluting the content, rigour and prestige of the honours-level courses.
The ‘Task Force’ has not even cared to identify the strengths of the existing system and build on them; instead, it has tried to make a very general case for innovation by irresponsibly characterizing the existing system as “colonial”, “obsolete”, “decontextualised” and as reliant on passive “content memorization and reproduction.” The DTF takes a strong exception to these figurative descriptions as they contradict and fail to account for the worldwide respect that Delhi University undergraduate courses have earned over time. While the ‘Task Force’ has also criticised existing courses and syllabi for being “oblivious to the growing needs of the pluralistic and democratic society of India”, the DTF would like to remind the public that the VC had earlier forced the Academic Council to remove A. K. Ramanujan’s essay on “Three Hundred Ramayanas” under pressure from communal forces, ironically belittling and undermining the very concern for plurality and democracy, and inviting widespread protest and criticism by the international community of secular scholars after its removal.
Hence, to present such under par material before the University’s Academic Council in the form of a ‘Vision Document’ for the 4-year structure is, in itself, indicative of the perfunctory and casual approach that the VC has consistently adopted on the issue of reforms. The DTF unambiguously condemns this anti-academic and unprofessional attitude of the VC which has come into open display, time and again.
Furthermore, the DTF views the timing of the special AC meeting as grossly inappropriate. As it has been scheduled for the day before Christmas, falling squarely within the period of the winter vacation, it is deliberately aimed at keeping teachers away. Many Academic Council members will be on leave during this period; it is feared that an important policy decision taken without adequate discussion or collective application of mind, by the minimum quorum of the Academic Council, may possibly be the unfortunate outcome of such a rash decision. The multiple-exit points provided to students at the end of the second and third years is bound to institutionalize discrimination and drop-out – as a logical fallout of the exponential increase in student fees and rise in costs of education due to greater financial and administrative autonomy given to universities and colleges, as well as the steady promotion of private and corporate models of governance that we are already witnessing.
At stake too are thousands of permanent jobs in the University, as despite the tall and empty claims of pushing up the number of courses and choice-based options in the proposals included in the ‘Vision Document,’ the uneven semester-workload and inadequate classroom infrastructure in most colleges will ensure that the 4-year structure, if passed, will be largely realized through contractual appointment. The DTF appeals to all teachers of Delhi University to be vigilant and stand united against this concerted assault on the quality of education, working conditions and professional rights, and gear up for intense struggles against the cavalier University Administration which seems firmly intent on ignoring our concerns and pleas and going ahead with the damaging structural overhaul of undergraduate education.