Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hard Times At Delhi University

As an Associate Professor at an undergraduate college at New Delhi, who has been around  for a fairly long time, I am constantly asked for advice about  what course to join at college.  Last year  when I was asked to offer an opinion, I told students that this was a bad year, since the university was in a spin of some sort, having introduced a semester system in the most haphazard manner.  The semester has split annual courses wide open and hurries students through syllabi in insufficient time and pushes teachers  neck deep into paperwork that is quantitatively exhausting and serves little other purpose.

The newest measure we have is the monthly online entering of student attendance as it no longer matters what we teach or how we teach because all we are required to do is to clock it down as data. Why should you complain, I hear the die-hard optimist ask, if you don’t cook up attendance registers at the end of the year? The monthly system of uploading  is  actually the least of our problems.  It epitomises the hallmark of the semester system. Arguably, anyone who cooks up a register at the end of the year can now  be well trained in doing this ten times a year, but surely there must be other obvious  benefits that semesterization  needs to provide?

In fact, in this  second year of semesterization, for every aspirant to the university who wants my advice I can only tell them that this is the worst possible time to join the university. The university administration has come around to our way of thinking and has accepted that the semester implementation was disastrous. Of course, this has not been said in so many words. People   wielding   power find it very difficult to own up to errors of judgement. The university is now going in for a four year course for undergraduates, offering many avenues for exit, turning the highway to serious academic learning and specialization into a fun -filled fair, with plenty of exit points. You can now drop out of the university system as and when you please , with a diploma to boot.   So what if there are those who  are marginal, dispossessed, poor,  otherwise able, female or on the fringes?  In any case, our system never had much need for such as them. We are now focusing on a masterclass, one that will globe trot for an education across universities .

Where exactly does it leave the poor unsuspecting undergraduates who joined the university last year and this year? We are not likely to find out and frankly we are not expected to care. When a behemoth of a university stirs itself up and rumbles and moves, there will be collateral damage.  And yes, our  Americans advisors on the semester system briefed  us on  issues of  collateral damage  a long while ago.  In enough time, in any case, collateral damage would have been  forgotten about. As for the rest who might have noticed, they would have fallen by the wayside, anyway.

Now that these little issues have been sorted, let me announce that  the vice chancellor is introducing  a four year undergraduate programme, that will get rid of the dismembered and rapidly disintegrating   three year semester programme. The  entire course is a secret guarded by the team of 61 that the vice-chancellor has summoned. Maybe someone should tell him that for something as banal as a cooking show, applications are invited and then a shortlist is prepared and applications are carefully screened   to ensure the quality of the performer on the show. This arbitrary selection of a motley group to make academic blueprints  that will affect fundamentally the futures of lakhs of students and change forever the academic  stature  and nature of our central university which, I would like to believe impacts lives nationally, seems to be an act of short-sightedness and  unprovoked delusionary  Neroism ( maybe, considering the vice-chancellor’s truck with numbers,  zeroism is  more appropriate ?).  All this is happening in a university that has procedurally constituted constitutional bodies to plan and implement academic changes in a holistic manner, democratically.
The far sighted vice-chancellor  has  short term measures in place to aid  and  decondition traumatised teachers . This is through a scheme called the META (Medically  Exempted Terminal Activity) University that is being planned. The actual location of this university is in virtual space. Students will shuttle between universities and choose study options and credit courses. This is the Vice chancellor’s version of Education without Boundaries. The vice chancellor is also planning to run a local express service for students as they shuffle on a daily basis from Jamia to Delhi University and when possible to JNU as well. The other advantage of the express service is that it will familiarize students with all corners of New Delhi on a daily basis. This was yet another opportunity that the vice-chancellor could not avail of in his student days.

 So students will travel ceaselessly for the   promise of an education sans boundaries and teachers.  We shall now have a shifting faculty and shifting demand as student affiliations in a state of flux will ensure that more teachers are not inducted. Departments will shrivel up and die. In effect there will be a reduction in the number of traumatised teachers all around. The free press from which we get our information has told us that the admissions to this course have been postponed to December. If only this state of continued deferral could be permanent!

 We  now have a new registrar on the campus, innovating with newer tricks that she obviously pulls out of her bureaucratic sleeves.  Not satisfied with the quadrupling of paperwork through demands of  attendance uploads, and the  increase in geometric proportions of  computational errors  each day,    she thinks up  innovative means of turning  teachers on adhoc jobs  into clerical staff and discommoding the clerical staff altogether . Attendance is  collected and collated  on loose sheets of paper, and these are  submitted  to the office for uploading.  Before depositing this data at the office  all attendance sheets and students assignments and tests are photocopied in anticipation of  future RTIs. Should institutions be inundated with RTIs then all the tomes of photocopying we are collecting term by term will reamfully come to our rescue! Somebody needs to tell the registrar that we are dealing with students who are eighteen years old or more. Monthly bulletins are required only for calibrating the first year in the life of a baby.

Meanwhile trees are being shred and invaluable time is being quantified. College grounds these days simmer and froth with discontent and badwill. This unfortunately only detracts from academic activity and is an unhealthy space.   When biometric attendance comes in for teachers, and we will be required to clock in our thumb impressions, we will finally be free to leave our minds, ideas and our thinking at home. For clearly then the  makers of this new system will have nothing more to lose, having been divested of working brains  at the time of their induction to university posts. The death knell of Delhi University  now sounds clearly through the attendant cacophony.