Thousands of teachers in Delhi University have been on strike for close to two weeks with one primary demand — that the 4,500-odd teachers working in the university on an ad hoc basis be absorbed into existing permanent posts in its colleges and institutions.
In the nation’s premier university that comprises 63 colleges, ad hocism has developed into a norm over the last decade, to the point that currently 40% of its teaching force works on ad hoc basis.
The anger of ad hoc teachers, most of whom have been teaching at DU for over six years, is not new. But things came to a boil this year when it appeared that the university might re-engage them in the even more vulnerable position of ‘guest teacher’.
On August 28, the university sent a letter to all of its constituent colleges and institutes advising them to “fill up the permanent [teaching] vacancies at the earliest and till permanent appointments are made, colleges may appoint guest faculty, if required, against new vacancies arising first time in academic session 2019-20”.
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When the time for the 120-day contracts of ad hoc teachers to be extended came in November, several colleges did not send across appointment letters and withheld their salaries, leading teachers to surmise that their positions would now be filled by guest teachers instead.
While an ad hoc teacher is paid a starting level salary of an assistant professor, around Rs 80,000 per month in hand, and is appointed for four months at a time, a guest teacher is appointed per lecture and is paid Rs 1,500 per lecture. According to UGC guidelines, their services have to be used in a way that they are not paid more than Rs 50,000 per month. Apart from the fall in pay, teachers who have been working at the university for long say they cannot conceive of this level of casualisation of their labour.
And this is the root of the current unrest.
After a call for a boycott of their invigilation and evaluation duties in the end-semester examinations which started in December, and after thousands of teachers stormed the vice-chancellor’s office in protest, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), the UGC and the V-C met on December 5 and decided to extend certain concessions to them, which removed the immediate spectre of guest teacher appointments.
The August directives to colleges were amended and a deadline was set for DU colleges and institutes to complete their appointments against permanent posts before the start of the next academic session. They were also amended to state that ad hoc teachers who worked at the university in 2018-2019 would continue to work there until permanent appointments were made. It was also decided to make amendments in UGC guidelines for assistant professor appointments so that ad hoc teachers would have an edge in shortlisting of candidates through additional points for their work experience. However, the strike has continued, with teachers continuing to camp outside the V-C’s office.
Even as government agencies offered concessions to ad hoc teachers, the movement is pressing for a one-time absorption of all existing ad hoc teachers, something which neither the MHRD and UGC nor the university has chosen to address.
Behind this doggedness is years of simmering resentment and anger.
“The fuel of the current movement is the humiliation that ad hoc teachers are subjected to — at the hands of permanent colleagues, college and university administration, and even students. Despite years of experience and academic achievement, there is a tendency even among students to treat them with a certain disdain. The humiliation of being denied medical, specifically maternity leave, cannot be emphasised enough. Some colleges require them to appear for interviews every year. Some even require them to appear for interviews every four months,” said a former ad hoc teacher, who was among the few who were regularised in 2015.
There is also mistrust in a system which has stalled permanent appointments for a decade.
Neeraj, who has taught at the Hindi department of Bharati College for eight years, said that during this time, the college had called for interviews for permanent appointments twice. Both times, the interviews never happened. “Many of us have spent thousands of rupees over the years, filling out applications for interviews at different colleges which never end up taking place. There is so much humiliation attached to the process as well. If interviews ever do happen, existing ad hoc teachers will be competing for starting level jobs against people who they themselves taught years ago,” he said.
The most common reason for scheduled interviews not taking place, according to principals, is the V-C’s office not sending across the requisite list of experts to constitute a panel for conducting the interviews. If interviews are not conducted within 18 months of the posts being advertised, the entire process lapses.
With the examinations coming to an end on December 16, the university will be under strain because of the ongoing strike. While invigilation duty has been taken care of by non-teaching staff, teachers will be required to evaluate the answer sheets, which will create pressure on the university to seek their resumption of duties.