I am back to undergraduate teaching after a hiatus of two years. It is a break that enabled me to read and write and think, which is what I would like to think I have been trained to do. Workspaces, even when constituted by fellow academics are not necessarily happy spaces and at present , functioning as we are under a far from perfect semesterization that has been thrust upon us, I can only see the ragged edges of communication spike unevenly out of control as we try to make sense of the new system that we have to fit ourselves in.
The semester system at DU has meant a splitting across the centre, and a bifurcation of course content . All hundred mark papers will now be worth two hundred marks and students will study the course content over two semesters instead of a full length academic year. India's premier central university, located In its capital city could have certainly done far better for itself and for its students. However, were you to ask any of the members in the team of the present vice-chancellor or the previous one, you would be given to understand that this illogically bifurcated syllabus is because of the resistance of the undergraduate teachers to change. That reasoned and sustained opposition to introduction of the semester was snuffed out through high handed and devious use of the academic council which in any case only provides token representation to undergraduate teachers, ( 24 elected representatives speak for the college teachers in a house which has a voting strength of over 150) has escaped them altogether.
Now as they introduce a meta-university which is to benefit 20 students and discommode a possible 20000 and will create new frankensteins of teaching, learning and administration, it might be a good idea to describe a micro -detail in this not yet meta university and this is going to be the first month or thereabouts t in an undergraduate college. Sri Venkateswara College is located in the upper rungs of the notional ladder of collegiate education at Delhi University. The first morning when our vice-chancellor was visiting Bhagini Nivedita and disapproving entirely of its modus operandi, at Sri Venkateswara College orientations for droves of students who had joined various courses were underway. We have a space crunch that has to be seen to be believed and promises to be an unsurmountable problem in the days to come.
Classroom spaces for the humanities and languages has dwindled in geometric proportions in the last three years. Teachers are supposed to have a teaching workload of around 18 periods. As a result of making the university OBC inclusive, numbers in the classroom have more than doubled. The University administration assures us that this calls for an increase in teaching posts by about 40 percent. No permanent appointments have been made in our department in the last four years. Our previous strength of 11 teachers has gone up by 1.74. Our academic planning committee reinvents the wheel, and talks of giving us posts for teachers on the basis of sanctioned strengths. Although, each year, we admit an enormous number of students into each department, our workload is never calculted on the basis of actual student strength. No upper limit is maintained for the number of students attending each lecture.
With semesterization, the duration of time to teach a text and the number of classes to teach it in has shrunk. We need to fix extra classes that do not form part of our official time table in order to do any justice to the course content. Meanwhile tutorials, that should form the backbone of teaching pedagogy in the humanities are mostly viewed as an after thought in our institution. A weekly tutorial class for Honours students in optimal groups of 6-8 is mandatory. I have an English (Honours) first year class of over sixty five students. If tutorials are meant to serve their purpose, I would need at least eight tutorials with my I yr class. What I have been allotted officially (as per sanctioned strength) is five which I am to fix myself with the students, preferably after 3.p.m. There is an absence of tutorial rooms in college.
Classes for students begin at 8.45 in the morning. Our corridors and staircases, built forty years ago to accommodate one third of the number of students who throng it achieve high decibels of noise and near stampede conditions every day. On different days of the week, students in first, second and third year have a random off-day. In practice no department can plan any collective academic activity for all its three years at one time. This ensures that students lead truncated lives and are hampered from growing or learning in any holistic manner. Classrooms burst at the seams and students swell in number and taking roll call becomes a long time consuming activity.
The issue of fixing modalities on the basis of sanctioned strength and ignoring actual numbers is one of the most insidious ways in which we cheat students and impoverish both teaching and learning spaces. Higher education , with the crunch in space and the crush of numbers and unethical practice is moving into critical mass. Unless such issues are addressed on a war footing,, the pleasure of learning and teaching will be substituted by the cacophony of impersonal assembly lines producing near imperfect units.