A teacher’s anguish after thirty years of teaching over unspeakable manner of academic interaction in Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi
6 April 2013
It is with dismay as a teacher that I wish to bring to public notice an unthinkable and unfortunate incident that took place today in my college, Shri Ram College of Commerce. I am doing so for I believe that the incident is symptomatic of the wider, systematic decline in academic culture of the University of Delhi that I have been witnessing over the past few years.
As part of an academic Conference on the subject “Transformational Leadership”, Prof. Dinesh Singh, the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University was to address students and teachers today in the college auditorium at 10.00 am. I stood up before the Vice-Chancellor started his address and had politely and barely uttered “May I take a minute”, when bouncers accompanying Prof. Singh rushed towards me and from the centre of the auditorium kept violently pushing me even though I offered no resistance; this carried on till they made sure that I was out of the auditorium.
The auditorium was full of students since as classes started at 8.40 am, student volunteers were sent by organisers to each class room to announce that all teachers and students “have” to be present in the auditorium. This directive itself was unprecedented and undesirable. Many seminars and conferences are held in the college and it is left to students and teachers to voluntarily participate in those events depending on their inclinations and how they value their participation. Even a hint of coercion where the role of students and teachers is reduced to being listeners and applauders is destructive of independent and critical thinking and of the development of socially concerned individuals who will have the sensitivity and courage to stand for what they believe is right. And when it happens in the name of an “academic” event, the event is anything but academic. Many seminars and conferences are held but never had we forced anyone to attend any particular ones. However much I do not wish to say it, it did not escape anyone that such an unwelcome exercise was because the speaker in question occupies an important post and has the powers to favour or disfavour.
On 3 April 2013, Dr. M.M. Pallam Raju was our chief guest for the Annual Day. He walked in and walked out, with the Principal, teachers and alumni, the same auditorium with no security guards. Recently, when Shri Narendra Modi visited the college, his security guards did not enter the lecture venue. In another worrying first, an academic head of our own university was accompanied by bouncers. I have also learnt that before the event began teachers were asked not to occupy the first row since it had been decided that persons accompanying the VC to this academic event and interaction would be seated in the first row.
Further, to the best my knowledge, in any academic event if someone wishes time for raising any issue or express an opinion, normally they are allowed brief intervention. Some times, depending on the person occupying the chair, interventions from the floor are allowed while at others, the chair disallows the intervention. Physical manhandling and contact is alien to any healthy academic institution. I was not raising slogans, my voice was soft and polite and I was only seeking permission.
Of the many issues and manner in which the university administration conducting itself, I wished to bring to his notice only one – that only recently on 25 March 2013 one official under him, he being the chief academic and executive officer of the University, had directed colleges to suspend classes on 26 March 2013 in view of possible Holi-eve hooliganism and at the same time directed teachers to mark their presence. Teachers who had non-teaching assignments that day such as organisation of co-curricualr and extra-curricular activities or some assigned administrative duty were anyway supposed to come. To direct teachers to be present without having anything to do and when most colleges have no individual rooms for academic pursuit can only stem from a view which does not visualise teachers as academic workers / intellectuals who should be devoting their time to academic pursuits but as time-bound employees who earn their salary by spending time waiting for orders. Such redefining of teachers’ role carries with itself many undesirable transformations of work culture in an academic institution. Such “small” things, if repeated without critically examining all ramifications, can adversely affect motivation without which no teaching-learning, let alone quality teaching-learning, can take place. Demotivating and humiliating teachers may in the long-term produce a culture that is unthinkable today. Beyond assigned class and contact hours, it may become “normal” not to attend to or interact with students on their queries, doubts and aspirations.
Today’s incident to me as a teacher, who has been the profession for over 30 years, is less an occasion for hurt or anger and more one of anguish and pessimism about the future unless such conduct is reviewed and not repeated.
In fact, one has been a hapless witness to the process of academic debate and interaction in the University where the administration speaks only to those who they pick, where meetings and Congresses are reduced to “chosen” audience addressed by “chosen” speakers. Views and counter-views are not allowed to be expressed, let alone debated, before academic decisions are taken. Counter-views, differing opinions and dissent gradually perforce can only be expressed only as protest actions, on streets.
I sincerely hope that we do not come to such a pass. Denial of democracy in academics, academic interaction and academic decision-making undermines excellence and independent thinking, and would lead to disastrous actions such as the hasty introduction of the four-year undergraduate degree course, without the due debate, scrutiny and preparation which should precede any such drastic change, seems to suggest.
Sanjaya Kumar Bohidar
Shri Ram College of Commerce