An official communication from the office of the Vice- Chancellor, University of Delhi dated 28th August, 2019 has put the teaching career of more than 4500 ad-hoc teachers in jeopardy. The letter directs all DU colleges to appoint only guest faculty, instead of ad-hoc faculty as has been the norm in DU since 1990s, from academic session 2019-20 in case permanent appointments on vacant posts are not feasible.The letter has created an atmosphere of fear and deepening uncertainty among the long-serving ad-hoc teachers who stand on the verge of losing their jobs if the letter is acted upon promptly by the college administration thereby getting demoted to a lesser paying Guest Faculty status while some newly appointed ad-hoc teachers have already been converted into Guest.
While the letter issued by the VC strictly adheres to the UGC Guidelines, 2018 which makes no mention of the term ‘ad-hoc’ but for Contractual or Guest faculty in the appointment of teachers in institutions of higher education, the statutes and resolutions passed by the Executive Council of Delhi University keeping in mind the teachers’ interests have been glossed over completely.At a time when the public-funded higher education is going through its worst ever phase in pan-Indian context gasping for a bail-out in the face of financial autonomy, fund-cut, privatization etc., the timing of the letter is not only discouraging for the ad-hoc teachers but also a wake-up call for the teaching community at DU in particular, and in the country, in general, to resist all attempts to destroy public-funded higher education collectively and ensure a teacher-student friendly atmosphere in the higher education sector.
In order to understand why DU adopted ‘ad-hocism’ over contractual—a practice of hiring teachers exclusive to DU only where teachers are entitled to both the Basic pay as well as the allowances as and when notified or revised by the Central government in comparison to the contractual teachers employed elsewhere in other universities or colleges who get only the Basic pay, it is important to take a brief look at the history of ad-hocism in DU from its inception to its endangered fall.
Temporary and Ad-hoc
Ad-hocism in DU was introduced in order to give constitutionally mandated representation to SC/ST/OBCs in higher education. Till 1990s, teachers appointed on vacant posts were mostly ‘temporary’ in case the vacant posts were not filled up on permanent basis. A temporary teacher was hired in case the permanent faculty member retired or passed away or in some cases, took study leave. The temporary status of the teacher lasted until the ‘temporarily’ occupied post was filled up on permanent basis.On the other hand, the number of ad-hoc teachers in the university was small, a position created in the case of increase in the workload as per the substantive posts sanctioned by the UGC.
In 1997, University Grants Commission (UGC) issued guidelines to all Central Universities and Colleges to implement constitutionally mandated reservation share for SC/STs i.e. 15% for SCs and 7.5% for STs, respectively, in teacher recruitment process with special emphasis on 200-point teaching roster considering the university or the college as a unit in allocation of seats. Until then, the appointment of teachers was made following the 13-point or the department-wise teaching roster which gave little representation to candidates belonging to marginalized sections. Thus, the need to rework the roster arose as fresh SC/ST posts were created which could immediately be filled up on ad-hoc basis only, in the absence of permanent recruitment drive in the university.
In 2007, DU adopted the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for 27% reservation for socially and educationally backward classes (OBCs) after they were approved by the Supreme Court in 1992. As a result, 27% seats in the existing teaching cadre were reserved for both students and teachers belonging to OBC category. Since more fresh posts were to be created as per the constitutional mandate and the previous policy of appointing teachers on temporary basis could not meet the pressing needs of the time, the Executive Council of DU passed its resolution to address this urgent issue of rising fresh posts by invoking the term ‘ad-hoc.’ It was resolved that the appointments hereafter would be made on ad-hoc basis where the term/tenure of an ad-hoc teacher would be for a 4-month period or 120 days drawing the salary on the same pay scale as that of a permanent faculty at entry level; renewable at the end of the term until the posts against which he/she is serving is filled up on permanent basis through Government/UGC approved selection process.
As is evident from above, the practice of hiring teachers on ad-hoc basis not only has the legal force in DU as per the EC Resolution 2007, but should also be viewed as a constitutional and ethical act by the well-meaning teachers of DU from all political affiliations who brought the ad-hoc system in the university to ensure that the marginalized sections get their due and ample opportunities to better their lot.
Ad-hocvs Guest and the Global Market Factor
The persistent argument cited by the VC in support of the 28th August letter is his compliance of the UGC Guidelines, 2018 and the differential pay and status enjoyed by the DU ad-hoc teachers which is missing in other Central and state universities and colleges in the appointment of teachers. ‘What is it that makes DU special which appoints teachers on ad-hoc basis as against contractual or Guest—a norm in other universities and colleges in the country, thus causing a great loss to the exchequer by giving inflated salary to its teachers?’ is a recurring question posed by the general public on the validity of the term ‘ad-hoc.’It is to be clarified that Guest teachers were indeed appointed in DU in the past getting paid on per lecture basis but a maximum of 25 lectures in a month alongside the ad-hoc teachers. They were hired in necessary circumstances like the increase in workload where an ad-hoc faculty could not be appointed (16 lectures per week is sanctioned for an Assistant Professor) or Child Care leave availed by a permanent teacher.But the matter of appointing only Guest faculty in all circumstances whatsoever, as the VC letter directs, and not a single ad-hoc teacher has surfaced for the first time in DU. At this critical point, I would like to refer to some global market factors and their immediate implications on public-funded higher education in India.
Ever since Neo-liberal policies to open Indian markets to foreign and private investors were adopted in India in 1991, education sector has been the prime focus of this class. While school education has already been triumphed over giving rise to two categories of schools—State-funded and privately-owned, a distinction which has kept the idea of ‘quality of education’ alive and undisputed in the Indian popular imagination, a similar roadmap is ready for the public-funded higher education in India as well. The signing of the global trade agreements like the WTO GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) by Indian governments which treats higher education as a ‘tradable commodity’ is the reason why the institutions of higher education in India are being forced to sign MOUs which grant autonomous status to these institutions i.e. no more state funding or subsidizing of higher educational institutions. This appears to be the motive behind establishing funding authorities like HEFA (Higher Education Funding Authority) which would now sanction loans instead of grants to universities and colleges after weighing their assets and monetary value. Since the loans taken must be returned both with the principal amount and the interests calculated unlike grants which could be returned if not utilized without the interests, such a situation would adversely affect the teachers and students alike: teachers getting a slash at their salary or being hired only to meet the learning demand if any, thus the contractualisation or casualisation of the teaching work, immediate example is the DU ad-hoc teachers, whereas students getting a hike in their fee which would disadvantage those who can afford only public-funded subsidized higher education. Such an economic regime is most likely going to affect the marginalized sections including SC/ST/OBC/EWS/Women who being the first-generation learners have just started to mainstream themselves through affordable education and safeguards granted under the Constitution.
Besides, it is also worth pointing out that there is a fear of the judiciary being rendered toothless and helpless in this economic regimeas the disputes related to fund-cut, fee-hike, contract and casual work, denial of research grants and scholarships to students etc. would be reviewed and settled by the ‘Disputes Settlement Body’ set up by the WTO—an international body whose main objective is profit-making, not nation-building. In this scenario,not only would the judiciary would have any say in such matters, thus providing little help to the affected, but the Constitution itself would get reduced to a mere rhetoric and lose all significance amid the talk of protections and safeguards enshrined in it.
Thus, a collective and combined struggle is the need of the hour to save the university from passing into private hands. Like in the past, the DU teachers under the banner of DUTA despite their political differences and affiliations came together and defeated all attempts to destroy the universitybecause of their sheercommitment to the principles of social justice and equal rights to education, I sincerely hope that the history will be repeated once again with the withdrawal of the 28th August letter giving relief to the ad-hoc teachers.
AMIT KUMAR is currently employed as Assistant Professor (ad-hoc), Department of English, Vivekananda College, DU. He regularly writes on issues facing the higher education in India and its implications on students and teachers alike.