Monday, February 25, 2013

Delhi University: The Spectacle of the Carnival

It is second semester, fourth semester and sixth semester time at Delhi University. Currently, in the three year semesterized program three years are divided into six portions and these sections of time  are being used up by the first year, second year and third year students of the university. We have had six weeks of teaching, with the occasional holiday thrown in. Actually the national holidays have been rather disciplined announcing themselves around weekends and allowing us to teach.

Now the fun and games have begun. Teaching was thin  in the middle of last week, during the two day bandh, since many students were apprehensive about reaching Sri Venkateswara from distant destinations. Plus, the cultural festival season was on and students had begun the week by rehearsing for various co-curricular activities and staying away from class-rooms. Our vice-chancellor who is bringing about far-reaching changes in higher education which he thinks is some sort of Saturday Club engaged in productive welfare activities and entertainment,  decided to shut down teaching in the university  to propel the  three day North Campus Venture "Antardhvani" to take place.

Before the official shut down, co-ordinators and stall adorners  worked overtime to collect materials to take to the North Campus to display best practice in each college for which  cash awards were being dangled.
To begin with, I am all for cultural activities.  Our country boasts of an extraordinarily rich tradition of music, dance, art and theatre which has classical origins and has gone on to become very inventive. Singing, dancing, artwork, sports, theatre are very exciting activities and more eyeball grabbing than the comparatively less prosaic activity of teaching and learning in the classroom. Given the terrible rooms we teach in, and the absence of any facilities that could add to our teaching skills, the North Campus  certainly provides  happier hunting grounds.

 Yet, has the Vice chancellor brought culture to the heathen and Manna to the  thirsty as the promos suggest?  The students who excelled in all the co-curricular activities they brought to the antardhvani platform have done so because their natal families worked very hard to help them attain such skill and talent. The university had very little to do with their grooming.  Neither did the state. The state doesn't even want to take responsibility for education. Why would it foster  co-curricular activity? The ground reality is that most of these young people do not have rooms  or auditoriums in  colleges where they could practice their skills or share their interests. Despite this, year after year, in the then easily identifiable second term, every college in Delhi university hosted three day festivals  to showcase culture and there was a separate day earmarked for sports. Inter college and intra college exchanges flourished on these occasions.

 These  festivals continue in every college at Delhi University as do smaller two day festivals held by every single department in every college. Perhaps, our vice-chancellor has not found time to do the math, since simple addition would have  enabled him to compute without too much effort the number of teaching days lost per college. Had he been aware of this  low-tech solution, he might have hesitated to add more non-teaching days to the university's already bowdlerized academic calendar.

Delhi University's Annual Flower Show has also  been around for a very long time. In regular years, a half day holiday  enabled interested  teachers and students at the end of a working morning to  look at extraordinary flower displays and  horticultural excellence. Now our vice- chancellor aims to set our sights higher. He has introduced awards to colleges on the basis of excellent practice.  Exactly how will the college with  excellent practice be selected?  And exactly why should undergraduate colleges "compete" for this selection? Do we not have enough of this at the stage of secondary education where a few elite institutions battle it out ?

 Currently, qualified teachers  teach identical syllabi in every discipline  across all colleges in Delhi University. It is shameful then to set up a jostling for excellent practice awards in say, architecture, when St Stephens has had  close to a hundred years of sprawling acreage to build on, as opposed to Sri Venkateswara which struggles with a mere 16 acres, thirty odd years and stringent building bylaws? Not that the other categories are more actionable.  Instead of this divide and rule and carrot and stick policy adopted to wage fractious skirmishes between colleges, it would have been well worth everyone's time if the university had addressed the infrastructural needs of each college.  To get there, however, the very idea needs to be under consideration. My antar dhwani tells me that it is not the purpose of either education or culture  to exacerbate differences and that vice-chancellors as mentors should be  providing level playing fields for every undergraduate institution.

 Also, introducing  an institution which is nowhere in the vicinity through a stall is what academic fairs set up by foreign universities do, maybe because they feel that interpersonal contact is well worth it, even  in  days of satellite transmission. This reductive practice cannot work for Delhi University's undergraduate colleges, which can be visited by aspiring students from Delhi schools, on any working day. As a matter of fact we are reeling under student over subscription. We are not really in a position to solicit students, unlike the stall owners in international academic fairs.

 No wait! This is  a rather thankless response to all the largess the university is offering us, is it not? How remiss of me to be complaining about  inadequate classrooms and tutorial rooms and overcrowding and absence of infrastructure. How hard the vice chancellor is working at creating a classless society. First he introduced the idea of a meta university where students would spend their time commuting from one university to another.The next stroke of  brilliance was  to  transmit one knowledgeable lecture to every citadel of higher education via satellite.   We need to think out of the box and stop complaining about posts falling vacant in the university.The Knowledge Revolution is  in process. After all, the industrial revolution merely  ensured that one  machine could do the work of many men.  Our vice chancellor has ably demonstrated that one lecture by one mind  can substitute  or replace 500, maybe 5000 minds  at the same time. This will definitely take the work pressure off all of us and adequately bring down student teacher  ratios.

How thoughtless of me to forget that  from now on  daily work  will  only involve  hand-wrestling with a dozen colleagues over a solitary department  laptop,  equipped not with audiovisual aids to enhance teaching, but  with downloaded software  for punching in  soft-copy attendance for a class of eighty students or more. Should technology fail, backup exists  in the form of loose attendance sheets, so that project monthly upload may be upheld, since that is the singular duty  expected of college teachers.  After all, we are probably the only university in the world where five percent  of the marks in every paper in every discipline  are tabulated on  the basis of classroom attendance percentages.  So when we are done with double verification of attendance in one classroom, it will be time to go to the next.!

Those who  haven't received laptops must not despair. Exactly what are young and energetic Ad-Hocs around for?  There is no plan to regularize their jobs since satellite transmissions will be the order of the day.With no permanent jobs on the anvil, they might as well as earn their pay  by working as Attendance-Punching-Teaching-Assistants to Associate Professors. Why should such a facility only be available to university teachers in America, especially when we are the ones with  the numbers?  Of course, even this small task at hand will be taken away from the Ad-Hocs when five years from now the MA is whittled down to one year instead of two. Then all our mighty University Dons, who left their undergraduate institutions behind for even more higher learning, will probably be sent back  to their colleges, because MA teaching would have halved? Then  attendance punching  duties will be the sole responsibility of permanent faculty in colleges, while the prodigal dons ( who anyway don't take attendance) will provide inspirational teaching. By then maybe each one of us will have our very own attendance laptop? Meanwhile, here is to a brand new university whose only casualties will be teachers and learners.


  1. A Brilliant Satiric Tongue-in-Cheek Article that exposes the hurried spate of experiments that the University is undergoing these days. The V-C has metamorphosed into a reckless scientist, and turned our University into an experimental rat in a medical lab.

  2. A Satirical look at the pathetic state of affairs at our Institutions of higher learning!

  3. Unbelievable !!
    I suggest Delhi "Uni"versity be renamed as Delhi Diversity???