- Mukul Mangalik
‘People are people through other people’ (Xhosa proverb).
‘We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery’ (Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator).
Delhi University (DU) colleges are in the grip of frenzy. With the DU administration breaking promises for appointing permanent teachers against existing and newly sanctioned posts since 2009-10, large numbers of ‘ad-hoc’ appointees are being shown the door as new ‘ad-hocs’ are poised to replace them. This has been happening systematically and with determination since 2012, but the scale on which it is being pursued this summer appears to be unprecedented.
This is being done through the unfair practice of holding repeat interviews for the same jobs. Serving ‘ad-hoc’ teachers, it must be emphasized, have been selected at different times through due process for these jobs. This renders the repeat interviews nothing other than forms for the exercise of power over ‘ad-hocs’ and instruments for deepening the presence and footprint of footloose, malleable labour at DU. The large-scale sacking, or threat of removal of teachers currently underway needs to be brought to an immediate halt and dignity and secure employment guaranteed to all colleagues.
‘Ad-hoc’ appointees become teachers in colleges after going through merit-based interviews. They are appointed for durations of up to four months. Within this period--in the event that the vacancy in question may be longer than four months--selection committees are supposed to be constituted, fresh interviews advertised, and appointments made against temporary or permanent posts. University Ordinances are clear on this issue.
If, for whatever reasons, this does not happen, the fairest possible practice has been that the previously appointed ‘ad-hocs’, who are in no way responsible for delays in interviews for longer-term posts, continue until such time, in the near future, that this process is completed.
All of this has been informed by the understanding that ‘ad-hoc’ or ‘adjunct’ conditions, must remain, at most, a transient moment in teachers’ lives, and that too only if absolutely necessary. The regular work of teaching demands regular forms of employment. Anything else would negatively impact teachers’ work apart from constituting unfair labour practice.
There is adequate evidence regarding the long-term mental and physical destruction caused when people are faced with job insecurity and/or under-employment. Yet, all across the colleges of DU, undergraduates are being taught by thousands of teachers struggling to offer the best they can in the face of indignities, terrible economic insecurity, and the increasing threat of stress-related illnesses.
|Poster Design: Harsh Kapoor|
Despite the provision in Ordinance XVIII (7) of the University of Delhi, that ‘Not more than one-third of the total number of the teaching staff shall be on a temporary or contractual basis at the same time,’ 4,500 of 9000+ teachers at DU are teaching as ‘ad-hocs’, with many continuing in this capacity for years on end! This number, together with the few hundred guest lecturers, paid per lecture delivered, makes it clear that DU is being run largely on the exploited backs of casual labour, and has been witnessing a process of the rapid normalization of ‘ad-hoc’ employment practices.
This is ‘unfair’ enough. The widespread compulsion now, that ‘ad-hoc’ appointees sit for repeat interviews for another set of ‘ad-hoc’ appointments at the same department of the very college where they are already employees, instead of appearing in a fresh round of interviews for a new category of posts, is massively compounding injustice. It is rendering the already precarious and unequal employment conditions for ‘ad-hoc’ employees, those in harness as well as those who begin afresh, much more insecure. It is transforming a rapidly growing number of teachers into a floating pool of migrant labour, people who will remain scared and easy to control, cut-paste and program for the deadening ‘instructing’ and indoctrination of students that is set to take hold of DU through the imposition of the Four Year Under-Graduate Program (FYUP), at the behest of Capital and the State.
Rampant democracy-devouring practices unleashed fairly successfully by the DU administration over the last 3 years to bring in semesterisation and the FYUP have set the stage for creating a situation that bodes ill for ‘ad-hoc’ teachers. It jeopardizes their work of reading, writing and contemplation and the integrity of departments of which they are members. It jeopardizes their freedom to think critically, speak and teach without fear and to live and breathe equality and independence instead of sycophancy and obsequiousness. It threatens the already besieged culture of rights and liberties, without which the pursuit of Higher Education is a joke.
It is worth bearing in mind that 75% of all professors in American Universities today are adjunct faculty. This has contributed, in no small measure, to the decline witnessed by American academia in recent years. It is alarming that DU is rapidly and uncritically traveling the road taken by US universities not the least with regard to employment practices!
If ‘ad-hocism’ goes unchallenged and comes to definitively determine employment relations at DU, if the ground cannot remain beneath the feet of university employees, we are well on the way-- as is increasingly the case in workplaces around the world--to allowing informality, arbitrariness, personal whims, prejudices, vendettas and a myriad deeply entrenched hierarchies to inform all practices of college and university functioning. We are then close to allowing power unbridled sway. Such a condition can only spell devastation for Higher Education and demands immediate redress.
‘In all people I see myself… I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person,’ wrote Walt Whitman in his poem, ‘Song of Myself’, the words resonating with Xhosa sensibility and Chaplin’s speech towards the end of the film, The Great Dictator. The humiliation being visited on ‘ad-hoc’ colleagues at DU colleges and the havoc, fear and insecurities being wrought in their lives as they are robbed of their livelihoods and sense of self-worth, robbed of the possibilities for creating meaning through sustained work, and of experiencing the sweat-drenched, all-consuming passion, anxieties and joys of teaching freely inside the classroom and outside, all of this is not happening to ‘others’. It is happening to each one of us. Let us not forget that freedom, a sense of well being and the possibilities for living out the potential of becoming fully human are indivisible and universal.
"You don't know who we are, we don't know who you are, but if you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then we are comrades". That was Che Guevara at another time, another place, but we too, at different colleges of DU and elsewhere, largely unknown to each other, need to come together today, in solidarity, and to uphold nothing less than our rights, our common humanity and our abiding commitment to Higher Education. ‘Let us fight’, in Chaplin’s words, ‘for a…decent world that will give men (sic) a chance to work, youth a future and old age a security’.
Mukul Mangalik is an Associate Professor of History at Ramjas College, University of Delhi.