Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pamphlet: What is Wrong with European Study Center (in Dept of Sociology in Delhi University)?

Issued on 31st January, 2010

Inauguration of the European Study Center of the Department of Sociology, University of Delhi has generated much discussion in the University community. Indeed, implications of this center go much beyond our University as the process of its establishment and its nature are symptomatic of a number of harmful trends ailing Indian higher education.
Academic disciplines thrive on creating new research areas and paradigms, and it goes without saying that comparative and collaborative researches will only enrich a discipline like Indian Sociology.
From this perspective, it is not only legitimate, but also desirable that sociologists in India should get opportunities to study Europe. Furthermore, academic freedom requires that individual students and faculty should be able to work on research problems of their choice without undue constraints. Public institutions of higher learning like the Department of Sociology, however, also have commitments that go beyond those to their individual faculty members and students. They are expected to follow norms of democracy and public transparency. They should also contribute to the growth of a healthy intellectual environment in the society at large. We are protesting against this center because (1) the process of its establishment has violated all norms of democracy and public transparency, (2) it is a result of academic deceit and is premised upon admission of intellectual incompetence by the DoS, and (3) its underlying assumptions privilege Europe over other areas of worldwide human community.
Guidelines of European Union are clear that Centers funded by them should be ‘founded through University bye laws’, they should be ‘organizational units within Universities’, and they can be ‘Department/Faculty/Chair of Universities’. There are University of Delhi statutes dealing with all of the above. University has centers like the Developing Countries Resource Center, Center for Science Education, etc. established through University Executive and Academic Council resolutions. Even a programme within an existing Department should have the approval of its Staff Council. None of these provisions of University were followed in the case of European Study Center. The contract for this Center was signed without any discussion in any legitimate forum of University. It is a result of subterfuge by a group of faculty and University administration. The Vice Chancellor and the Head of Department of Sociology should be held responsible for violating University regulations. This kind of authoritarianism and secretive urgency is symptomatic of the way other decisions are also being taken in this university. For example, the VC and a clutch of HoDs are hell bent upon introducing Semester System without any discussion with college faculty and adequate groundwork. 
To get around University regulations progenitors of the Center have given it an extended title Center Programme, in the hope that no one will catch their trick. Centers, or departments, run programmes, a center itself can never be a programme. It is clear that the wish to be sly has gotten better of their logical abilities. It is also being claimed in informal conversations that it is just a ‘group faculty programme’. This is a blatant lie, because the contract with the European Union for this center is signed by the University of Delhi (Department of Sociology), not by any one or a group of faculty. It is the department which has committed itself to run this center for two years, not any faculty. Further, a group of faculty can work for, or in a center, they can never be a ‘center’ or a ‘center-programme’ for that matter. Very interestingly, European Union have kept quiet while being well aware of the tricks played by their Indian partners in this center, which says a lot about the moral fiber of the academia that supposedly does ‘cutting edge’ research. 
The right to design its own curricula is one of the prized autonomy of any self respecting institution of higher learning. The Department of Sociology, via the European Study Center, has contracted itself out to modify the MA and MPhil syllabi taught by its faculty in consultation with European scholars. It is difficult to imagine what crisis, or temptation, forced the department to such a demeaning gesture. Furthermore, it is promised in the project proposal that even after expiry of the current two year grant, the good work done in modifying syllabi will continue to bear fruit, as the ‘understanding of, and scholarship on, Europe’ will become ‘an integral part of our everyday academic life’. Has the department always sought outside help in designing its curricula? Did it invite academic scholars from China, while designing paper of Chinese society? 
It is an obvious fact that the contribution of Europe to the critical and scholarly thinking in the past few centuries has been much greater than other parts of the globe. All the three acknowledged ‘founding fathers’ of Sociology were from Europe. Researchers all over the world have learnt from European scholars. They regularly appropriate their learning and adapt it to their own contexts. Yet there is a fundamental difference between learning from European scholars and making Europe the center of an institutionalized learning. While the former may justifiably enjoy a place of privilege¸ the study of Europe is only as important as study of any other part of humanity. One of the first assumptions listed in the proposal for this center is that ‘a knowledge of Europe is far too important to be excluded from the social sciences’. One would like to know what efforts the Department of Sociology is making to get knowledge about West Africa, Latin America, or South East Asia. Is it planning to open centers for study of these societies too? Or, the rhetoric of the above assumption is just the European money talk? 
Centers of European Study are not meant to be sites of an honest and equal academic exchange. They are founded upon an asymmetrical relationship between a donor and a receiver. One wonders how much freedom European academia will give to Indian, or other third world country scholars, to influence European curricula, so that the study of third world countries becomes as much integral to the every day academic life in Europe as the Center at DoS promises to do in India. These centers are meant to channelise appropriation of European thinkers through networks of European academes. Autonomous and critical appropriation, according to individual researchers’ own contexts, always has the potential to be subversive. To make a particular knowledge part of ‘everyday academic life’, it is much safer to entangle it in academic networks, which have long perfected the art of gatekeeping and just reward. The European Study Center contracts out the freedom of Indian scholars and students to critically learn from European thinkers, and learn about Europe, to Europe itself. We oppose it for this reason too.


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