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Home > General > India: Delhi University’s Incalculable Losses

India: Delhi University’s Incalculable Losses

by Mukul Mangalik, 19 September 2014

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[a shorter version of this has appeared in Daily News and Analysis, 19 September 2014]

‘In the name of reason you search for some higher motive…I would think…he cannot be as petty…as he seems…But why? You don’t need a developed view of life to rise to power and be fond of it’ (Philip Roth, ‘I Married A Communist’).

Delhi University (DU) re-opened to chaos and arbitrariness for the fourth year running. Thoughtlessness, dangerous neglect, the irregular and ad-hoc, the anti-academic, anti-democratic and anti-intellectual are, it seems, being normalized by the DU Administration. University functioning, driven by diktats and fear of authority following the massive usurpation of powers by the Vice-Chancellor (VC), is being kept in a state of perpetual instability ensuring a banalisation of serious concerns regarding education, freedom, equality, collective decision- making, workplace safety and other difficulties facing students, employees and pensioners.

One example may illustrate the rot that has taken hold.

In letters issued June 16, 2014 onwards, the University Grants Commission (UGC) declared, albeit belatedly, opportunistically, at times even invasively, that the Four-Year-Undergraduate-Programme (FYUP), thrust upon DU in July 2013, was illegitimate:

‘It is reiterated that the FYUP was introduced by the DU without following the statutory provisions of the DU Act, 1922 and the ordinances/statutes there-under…Besides the issue of non-compliance with the binding 10+2+3 structure under the national education policy, it has emerged…that the…mandatory procedure for amendments by the DU had not stood carried out for these 44 undergraduate courses….Thus the acts of omission and commission adopted by the University of Delhi for amendment…render the claimed amendments as…having no existence in the eyes of law.’ Further, the DU Administration is accused of nonchalance regarding ‘the adverse impact (of its actions) on the large students’ community of this country.’

It bears emphasizing that the UGC is unambiguously critical of the DU Administration and declares all changes and ‘amendments’ associated with the FYUP—structure, courses, modes of study and evaluation—illegal. The rejection of the FYUP being absolute, the order to revert to the older Three-Year-Undergraduate-Programme (TYUP) from the academic year 2014-15 onwards—including for the students admitted to the FYUP—is unconditional, the UGC’s missives leaving no space for any course designed for, and part of the FYUP package, to be imported into the TYUP now mandated for the FYUP batch.

Let there be no mistake. The DU Administration has been charged with introducing illegal changes in the structure and substance of education in the premier public institution of Higher Learning in the country and gambling with the futures of the young. These charges are as serious as can ever be made against any university administration. Yet, judging by the reactions of the Administration, the VC and his team remain, it appears, unperturbed by the gravity of the situation.

The first substantive response from the VC came as late as June 27, announcing the rollback of the FYUP. The cycle of admissions was delayed as a result, causing enormous difficulties, especially to outstation applicants and their families. A further, extended period of silence was broken by a letter from the Assistant Registrar, dated July 10, asking Department Heads to send in course outlines by July 12 so that the transition to the TYUP for the FYUP batch could be finalized!

This 48 hour time-cruncher was a record breaker even for the DU Administration which had already done the unthinkable in 2013 when a letter from the Dean of Colleges, dated March 5, directed Department Heads to send in fresh courses, within 15 days, for the FYUP to be rolled out in July 2013. The ultimate shocker this time round, however, was the directive in the July 10 letter that the courses recommended had to be selected from those passed in 2013, i.e. from the courses designed for the FYUP!

In a fit, it would seem, of redoubled arbitrariness and irresponsibility, overruling the recommendations of some Departmental Committees-of-Courses (COCs), that were in keeping with their own autonomy and with the letter and spirit of the UGC’s communications, the Academic and Executive Councils of DU, in their meetings held in quick succession on July 19—barely 36 hours before DU re-opened on July 21—passed the hurriedly cobbled and academically diluted FYUP courses for the students admitted last year and now transiting to the TYUP, a move expressly ruled out by the UGC in its June orders to the University of Delhi.

The enormity of the arbitrariness practiced by the DU Administration and it’s lack of seriousness regarding academic matters, really hit us, however, when such ‘illegalities’ come to be recognized as instances in a chain of continuing top-down actions that have wrought havoc on DU over the last few years.
The terms and conditions of work for employees, for instance, especially ‘ad-hocs’ have been systematically undermined, our places of work subjected to counter-productive and humiliating monitoring, academic work to senseless quantitative assessment. DU’s academic and intellectual core was hollowed out by—among other measures—exiling AK Ramanujan from the undergraduate syllabus and ramming through the semester-FYUP package. Employees were robbed of control over work processes, and disciplines and syllabi sorely mauled. Teachers were reduced to rubber stamps and teaching to narrowly defined communication-and-skill-development ‘instruction’, causing widespread alienation. The semester-FYUP combine moved, in fact, at such an intemperate pace, its character was so avowedly anti-academic and anti-intellectual, it’s body language so macho and full of bombast topped with elephant rides and ‘ji huzoori’, that words like ‘change’ cannot convey the scale of the catastrophe willed upon DU by the powerful.

It is difficult to single out any university administration that takes academic pursuits and its own public character seriously, which would push through, in less than two years, the kind of massive changes that have been thrust upon DU. It is unthinkable too, that this could happen in the absence of a meaningful critique of the existing system and an open-minded, thorough debate on concrete proposals mapping out possible ‘reform’ directions. Yet, in the case of DU, with its many colleges, and thousands of teachers and students, the unthinkable continued to prevail.

Teachers, students and non-teaching employees were terrorized in the process. Rights, liberties, due process and the fearless exchange of ideas, the weft and weave of any university, have been under siege, teachers forced to destroy in a moment what other scholars took lifetimes to build, and DU, systematically deformed and still prison-like, has lost much more than a TYUP in the annual mode.

E.P Thompson’s words regarding Warwick University in 1970, ring true for DU today: ‘It is sad to see scholars hesitate in their work and wonder about the use of what they are doing… to feel, defensively, that a salesman or an advertising executive is perhaps a more important and productive human being than an actor, designer or a teacher of English…Able and perhaps eminent men and women in their own disciplines… have resigned their wider allegiances to a national or international discourse of ideas, their responsibility not only to listen selectively for social demands, but to insert into society the demand for priorities which it is their own first duty to make: that human beings exist and progress not only by productive technology, but also by the strength of their ideas and by the artifacts of their culture…In their submission to a subordinate role, it has been disconcerting to see scholars being forced to re-enact the meaning, today, of the trahison des clercs,’ or the betrayal by intellectuals of their commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

The consequences haunt the current second year students the most, but shall remain with us all, for years to come. The tragedy is compounded in that this counter-revolution in Higher Education has unfolded at a time when the need for educated citizens could not have been greater. Human beings with open, empathetic imaginations, wedded to rights, freedoms and critical enquiry, are the need of the hour, not courtiers, conformists and fanatics, if popular sovereignty is to remain secular and democratic.

Understood thus, the serious charge of committing FYUP-related illegalities becomes even graver. These illegalities are part of, and lend weight to a larger authoritarian project undertaken by the DU Administration, custodian of the public good, for purposes of destroying affordable and worthwhile public Higher Education in India at the behest of Capital and State. Had similar processes, or a semesterisation-FYUP look-alike been discovered snooping around publicly controlled natural resources such as forests and minerals, they would have been correctly seen as threats posed by private interests to wealth held in common.

DU, it needs to be acknowledged perhaps, has witnessed no run-of-the-mill illegalities but exceptionally serious crimes against education. Justice demands more than rollbacks, resignations or marching orders to the VC. A multi-pronged inquiry needs to establish the truth, fix accountability and recommend suitable action against those responsible, including some at the UGC and the MHRD. The hugeness and speed of the transformations, a virtual ‘naqba’, at DU, could hardly have happened without ‘nods and winks’ from the State, especially since ministers and bureaucrats were fully apprised of the questionable goings-on.

There is a need simultaneously, for the DU Teachers’ Movement to encourage discussions regarding the multiple crises and threats facing Higher Education, re-imagine the University and its relations to society and state, and refresh the meaning of autonomy. Above all, students and employees need to urgently recover the courage to speak freely, act collectively and create a deeper participatory democracy than any existing university enjoys. ‘Asking questions,’ we need to ‘walk to the left where the heart resides’, as the Zapatistas used to say, otherwise nothing would have been won, and worse times under the present corporations-driven, democracy and institutions-devouring right-wing communalised polity, shall be unavoidable.

Mukul Mangalik
Ramjas College,
University of Delhi
September 19, 2014