Thursday, June 12, 2014

Delhi University's Autonomy

When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it, always. -Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) 

We need a quick recap of the events over the past several years at Delhi University.   One hot summer , Vice Chancellor Pental received responses  from Delhi University's eighty odd undergraduate colleges who had been asked about  the introduction of semesterization. Most colleges replied in detail after deliberations in staff councils that they were not in favor of semesterization. 
In any university with a fair measure of academic autonomy, the perspective of the teacher's collective should have prevailed. Pental persisted in making CDS listing the  pros and cons of semesterization and then quickly pushed this change through in the Academic Council. Arguably, Pental was getting his orders from elsewhere. Nevertheless, he succeeded  in destroying a very integral  component of Delhi University. 

In the 1980s, the optimal decade of the teachers movements,  the number of elected teacher representatives  in the AC was identical to the number in the AC that Pental presided over in 2007. Pental's coup reduced the elected  teacher representatives in the Academic Council  to a minority of numbers. For the first time in the university 's history, it became unnecessary to hear out elected teacher representatives.  The Vice chancellor's men and women would always outnumber elected teacher representatives  in the AC. This brinkmanship  was very ably exploited by Pental's successor Singh who learnt quickly under Pental's stewardship. Singh used his mathematical ability to create a whole set of numbers outside of the Academic Council. Pental's  opening gambit of riding rough shod over the interests of undergraduate teachers was used far more insidiously  by Singh, who set aside not merely  elected representatives but also Heads of Departments in his systemic disempowerment of the Academic Council. He set up special meetings and then instituted special empowered task forces and  committees at will, eroding the rights and  authority  invested in staff councils  and  duly constituted committees all over the university. 

 Pursuing a cloak and dagger policy, Singh managed to bring all modes of   academic and democratic dissent within the university to a shuddering halt.  Pretending that the DUTA was  a defunct group of busybodies with no academic credentials , and serving show-cause notices to dissenting teachers, Singh set about reinventing university academic life with his own band of handpicked acolytes.  

The acolytes received  their brief and   accomplished Mission Demolition. Their work and the subsequent rewards  received are  all now in the public domain.   Discipline I courses were substantially diluted and Discipline II courses are to be rendered irrelevant. The compulsory Foundation and Application Courses were some sort of cruel joke  played upon academic life at the University
 We need to remember that  when  DU's Vice Chancellors' took University  autonomy in their own hands, wrung its neck and proceeded to do pretty much as they pleased, they received able assistance from Callous Kapil, Showstopper Shashi and Roving Rajus.
 A semesterization where annual courses were trimmed and bifurcated swung into action first for  science students and in the subsequent year for students of  humanities and commerce. Semesterization was the first body blow dealt to SOL in place of   sorting out the mess and making it a learner friendly institution, which would benefit those who had been contributing to the University coffers with minimal returns. The dual degree system was set in play, contravening statutes that deemed it obligatory for the university to  offer  a single degree.

Anomalies already  existed in the  laborious evaluation process  of a humongous number of student scripts. Individual  internal assessment marks from colleges needed to be factored in. In recent years, a mysterious moderation committee at the university inflated or deflated  internal assessment marks to everybody's chagrin, bolstered entirely by student inability to protest.
To this was added the punitive measure of centralizing exam corrections for  all undergraduate honours examinations. Teachers correcting MA scripts,  did so at home. Teachers evaluating undergraduate scripts did an  exaggerated prescribed minimum of twenty-five per day   at ghastly  correction centres  with little air and water and even less food and sanitation. 

Under the Dinesh regime exam reforms involved  the disbanding of the secrecy clause whereby college identities became public knowledge. An eleven digit roll number, a declaration of the student's date of birth and  the invigilating officer's  name and countersignature  became important examination totems  upgrading evaluation quotient This was followed up by a surreal three part correction  of every examination script whereby  holistic student welfare ceased to be anybody's responsibility.

 None of these issues: violation of due process, marginalization of  democratically constituted decision making bodies , death of pedagogy, systemic decay, review, debate and discussion and a total incineration of student well-being cut any ice with all the movers and shakers who were involved in  L'affaire University . While bureaucrats sighed over Singh's good looks, believing in the outdated adage that "handsome is as handsome does," the more dexterous politicians turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the unending erosion of university autonomy. Today, one year after FYUP has generated acute distress in every quarter of the university community, the writing is now  clearly visible on all possible walls. Those who now talk of the university's autonomy, after trampling it   underfoot for many years in succession only highlight the sycophancy and fear that remain sharp undercurrents in university life. Autonomy for Delhi University can never be equated with one political party's dictat replacing the excesses of another. Autonomy for Delhi University involves enabling it to set its house in order. Autonomy involves restoring to the Delhi University Teacher,Student and Karamchari community the rights and dreams enshrined in its statutes and ordinances. Autonomy for Delhi University means going back to an era when all authority was not concentrated in the hands of Vice chancellors while the rights of everyone else were simultaneously rescinded. Autonomy for Delhi University is allowing the University to function within the framework of guidelines outlined by a more liberal constitution and the guidelines of the Education Commission. Autonomy for Delhi University involves creating spaces for dialogue and welcoming dissent and debate. Autonomy for Delhi University involves a serious engagement with its teachers in all its duly constituted academic forums. Autonomy for Delhi University means a robust academic life for all its students and its teachers. In that  haven of hope and possibility, may Delhi University find itself.


  1. Bleak hope, but there it is.
    I think that unless the first batch of FYUP 'graduates' go out into the world, protests will remain on a simmer...

  2. As usual well written Ratna. Kudos to you for having kept the alternative discourse alive in the midst of insanity. Hope the despondent note changes soon and we can reclaim our lost spaces with deserved dignity ! Cheers!

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