Work Culture In Universities
Some call it best amongst the Indian universities. Without an iota of doubt it can be said that the Delhi University—DU—is one of the most prestigious centers of higher education and research. Everyone feels proud about it and students from all over the country aspire to get a place in its courses. On several occasions, and particularly during the current academic year, considerable anxiety has been caused to most of the well-wishers of DU. The current crisis pertains to the lack of communication between the authorities of the DU and the Delhi University Teachers Association; the DUTA. It is indeed shocking to learn that the university authorities have approached the UGC and MHRD to help them in implementing the ‘no work-no pay rule’ for the teachers, who abstained from teaching during the prolonged strike period! One wonders whether this is the task assigned to NHRD and UGC! Then what happens to the much-publicised concept of the university autonomy? It is a rare case of a university surrendering its rights and responsibilities to other agencies. It is another matter, whether the proposed action to deduct pay for the strike period is right or wrong. The main issue is the credibility of the university is certainly sliding downwards and the students on role are the real sufferers. Apart from the loss of learning, they are being exposed to a highly-inappropriate wrong work culture, institutional management practices and essentially the human values and values at the work place. Obviously, all this cannot go unnoticed in the academic circles in other universities and colleges.
If lead universities present such depressing instances of academic work culture, it deserves to be pondered, what would happen to new universities and institutions? To appreciate the deterioration, it would be appropriate to recall an instance involving the personal experience of yours truly as a student of the then well known and prestigious Allahabad university. Revert back to March 1962. Professor Krishna asked his batch of final year postgraduate students specialising in electronics, whether every chapter has been covered, as preparation leave was to begin next day onwards. Out of the nine major chapters, one on detectors was not taken by the other faculty member, who was sharing the paper with him. In his characteristic style, totally unruffled, he asked us to come next day and attend a special class on detectors; 9:00 AM to1:30 PM! It was followed by another session next day of three hours duration. We all thought one question was sure to be asked on this topic. It featured nowhere in the final question paper. After some three years, as research scholars in the Physics Department of Allahabad University, we narrated this episode to the professor in an informal gathering. The response: “Yes, I had set the paper and I knew that no question on detectors finds a place in it. But how could one get a degree from this department with specialisation in electronics and not know in detail about detectors? That would be totally unethical.” It was a great lesson in value education. After some time he took a paper from his pocket and told all of us—young research scholars and lecturers—“I never enter the class without putting on paper what I am going to teach. I have meticulously followed this practice for all the past thirty years. Now there are occasions when I may not get sufficient time to make detailed notes, but I do write the points and the sequence. Once or twice, I had waited outside the classroom to jot down the points. I could be guilty of being late but not of entering a classroom unprepared.” What a great lesson in work culture was delivered by the learned professor, known to be one of the best teachers and researchers in the university, to all those who were fortunate enough to be present that day! It was all so simple yet had the potential to create a lifelong impact!
So much has changed in the university functioning during the last fifty years and the change was inevitable. Unfortunately, only the marginal traces of that high level of sincerity and commitment that was the hallmark of higher education remains visible in some isolated islands of academic excellence. Certain teachers in DU are teaching on the sly! They do not mark attendance, avoid all the formalities but teach! They do not have the strength and support enough to insist upon the DUTA that hundreds of universities and institutions look towards DU as a role model! That DU could permit erosion in its work culture to such a level is beyond the perception of most of the academics and scholars in the country. This includes academics within this university also.
Michael Fullan of Toronto University wrote in his famous treatise in early nineties—Meaning of Educational Change that change is everywhere but progress is not. Not every change is coupled with progress. So much has changed during the last five decades and progress has been projected on all fronts. In the process much has been lost as well. Work culture and value inculcation has suffered most. Where do children and young persons receive most of the acquaintance and exposure to work culture and eternal human values? Obviously: It is the responsibility of schools, colleges and universities; apart from the family and social context. This is the foremost responsibility of the universities and more prominently, of the universities like DU, which without doubt is one of the leading universities of India. It is so depressing to note that teachers go on strike at their sweet will, university authorities count days lost due to these regular wrangling between the teachers association and the administration. The state of higher education in India is best summarised by the happenings (or inaction) that has gripped the DU for the last couple of months. Teachers are on strike, classes suffer and uncertainty thrives all around. A great university has not acquired skills to communicate with its own teachers! Interestingly, the current contentious issue pertains to the introduction of the semester system in the undergraduate classes and, surprisingly, the dons of DU are opposing it! Universally, the semester system is accepted and considered far more academically and pedagogically sound than the annual examination system. Probably having realised, he folly of their contention, the teachers have now reworded their protest: they are opposed to the manner in which the decision to introduce semester system was taken by the VC! The semester system is working successfully in so many institutions at various stages. This includes the DU itself in which it is claimed that more than sixty per cent students are studying under semester system. The VC claims that everything was done after due consultation and the proposal was duly approved by the various bodies of the university. Then why this fuss that makes students suffers for no fault of theirs?
Professor DS Kothari; one of the most illustrious of the DU professors was very fond of quoting Jawaharlal Nehru: “A University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search for truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards even higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the nation.” Let DU and DUTA apply this criterion to what they are presently busy with.
By JS Rajput