- Nagesh DB Rao
[This is the first part of the author's account of firsthand experience of the Indian variety of neoliberal education. Part memoir, part commentary, part unapologetic rant, A Gullgotia’s Diary hopes to reach you before Galgotias does.]
Go ahead, call me gullible. Tell me I should have seen it coming.
“How could you not have known it would be like this? The name itself is a dead giveaway.”
“Who ever heard of a university with a name like that?!”
I can’t recall how many conversations with friends and family these last few months have ended with exactly these words. That name, Galgotias University, emblazoned on virtually every square foot of advertising space in India on land and in the air (with in-flight magazine ads that are as garish as they are deceptive), and how it seemed somehow ill-suited for a university, has served as the Lowest Common Denominator of our collective derision. After all is said and done, the very absurdity of its name offers a way to laugh off the experience of working there and heave a final sigh of resignation. So call me naive for not seeing it all from the very beginning, for not being sensitive enough to what my ears were supposed to tell me when I heard those sounds coming out of my mouth: /gal-go-tee-yaz/ /yu-ni-ver-si-ti/.
Okay, let’s not mock the name. “Harvard” (/haar-verd/) is weird-sounding too if you think about it. Let’s mock the ads instead. Whle driving from Delhi to Greater Noida, at some point on the DND Flyway you’ll find yourself staring at this giant billboard with the Galgotias name and logo, informing you that “THINKING QUOTIENT IS THE FUTURE.” Ponder that for a minute. Is it a puzzle? A riddle? Part of a sentence uttered by a man whose son is named Quotient? Now you know why there are so many accidents on the DND Flyway.
|Galgotias University advert|
But even as a business venture, the place is a disaster. Unable to secure financing for whatever shady or unshady reasons, the owner of this neoliberal corporate university–sorry, the “Honorable Chancellor Sir”–is often unable to pay his bills. Particularly his wage bill. One would think that this would interfere with sound management principles. The owner’s 20-something son, the CEO of the university (I’m not kidding), has a BBA after all, and should have told his old man that unpaid workers are unproductive workers. During my (thankfully brief) tenure at this place, there were several months when we didn’t get paid on time. The only staff who were spared this humiliation were the security guards, because they aren’t on Galgotias’ payroll. Lucky for them.
Last year, Diwali came and went with no sign of our pay for the previous month. (It reminded me of layoff announcements in America that seem to appear almost exactly around Christmas time each year.) I remember how bitter and dejected people felt coming back to work the week after Diwali; at least the week prior had been abuzz with eager rumors that we would get paid before the festival. Now it felt wrong to listen to the rumors, or to joke about it anymore, and as the weeks wore on, lunchtime discussions were frequently punctuated with somber tales about bills piling up at home, with still no sign of pay. What made it worse was that we had heard not a word from Management–no apology, no explanation, no “Sorry, your pay has been delayed. Please stay tuned.” In time, people felt demeaned, like they were begging for their pay, but the Chancellor never showed his face, and the administrators were as much in the dark as we were. One morning in December, by which time the rumor mills had lost all their credibility and we were beginning to despair of ever seeing our October paychecks, a young worker approached me at the empty canteen outside. He told me that faculty and administrators had finally been paid, but, as he put it, “Sir, teen lakh walon ka de diya, panch hazar walon ka nahin diya” (“those earning six figures have been paid, but those earning five thousand haven’t”).
So I was dismayed, but not surprised, when I heard from my former colleagues that their pay for May this year was nearly a month late, while June’s salary was nearly six weeks late. The non-teaching staff at Galgotias had reportedly not been paid for three months, as of late August. Small wonder then, that underneath the excessive bowing and scraping encouraged by administrators and management, behind the many “Yes Sir, Honorable Sir”s one heard at faculty meetings, there was a constant undercurrent of discontent that refused to dissipate. Little came of it, unfortunately. The fear of being fired is a potent weapon that management everywhere relies on to silence dissent, and Galgotias wields it with a finesse that would make Jack Welch (aka “Neutron Jack”) cower. Your contract might say that you were hired for a period of a year, two years, or even three, but you could be summarily dismissed in the blink of an eye, with no recourse, no due process, no final goodbyes, and everyone knew it.
Marx writes in Capital that labor power is one commodity that capital doesn’t actually pay for up front. You don’t receive your wages when you sign your contract. Your pay is given to you only after your labor has been used up, when you’ve finished the work for a given period. In a sense, the laborer gives her boss a declining-balance 30-day credit card, allowing him to extract as much value out of her as he can before his credit runs out, at which point he has to clear his (wage) bill
But here’s the rub. Should he choose to not pay up, to not honor your contract, to not clear his bill, you have no choice but to extend him another 30-day credit on your labor. Why? Because he’s the owner of your workplace, and this is India Inc., and you have no union.
Nagesh DB Rao was formerly an Associate Professor at Galgotias University (2012-2013) and an Assistant Professor at The College of New Jersey (2005-2012). He describes himself as a "Bangalorean at heart, professor of English and post-colonial studies at work, always-aspiring socialist intellectual in the belly of the beast." He blogs at leftprof.wordpress.com