By Aiman Zehra for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Editor’s Note: On 13th October, 2015, the Aligarh Muslim University Teachers Association (AMUTA) organized a protest against irregularities in the administration of the University. For nearly 20 years, teachers at AMU have faced persistent problems with the administration, from flouting of UGC rules to sanction of compensatory leaves. To add to this, AMU hasn’t had regular selection committees for both recruitment as well as promotion of teachers – which puts into question the basic idea of a University.
Across India, teachers aren’t allowed to frame their courses, and imposition of the choice-based credit system by the government translates into secondary issues like charging of money from students from less wealthy backgrounds for accessing new courses which lack infrastructure. AMU’s VC, who belongs to an army background, has imposed strict disciplinary action against a dissenting professor, Prof. Mustafa Zaidi, charging him of academic neglect and dereliction of duty.
Aiman Zehra, Campus Correspondent for Youth Ki Awaaz interviewed Mr. S. Mustafa K.Q. Zaidi, Associate Professor in the Department of Library and Information Science of AMU, who spoke about these irregularities, the historical basis of dissent in the University, and more.
Aiman Zehra (AZ): The dharna observed by the Aligarh Muslim University Teachers’ Association (AMUTA) on October 13, 2015 highlighted issues of the AMU teachers and irregularities of the University administration. Can you please tell us for how long has this been going on and what has been the Vice – Chancellor’s reaction to your protest?
Mustafa Zaidi (MZ): The problems of teachers are not new. They have persisted on for quite some time now – some for the last 20 years or so. Some minor issues like enhancement of the current examination remuneration rates and sanction of compensatory leave to employees who work on holidays, have lived on in AMU as stagnant problems, while most central universities in the country have enhanced their policies regarding these. Since these issues haven’t sprouted in the tenure of the present Vice Chancellor, but nonetheless been inherited by him from the vice chancellors of yesteryears, we want him to resolve these.
Then, there are other chronic problems which are specific to AMU. For e.g., we have a system of 20% nomination in various courses, which exists because we do not offer any formal reservation to any community as is provided by other central universities. The rules for the 20% nomination that were more objective in the past have now been distorted. Going by the rules, there is very little discretion that the Vice Chancellor should exercise, but he chooses to follow his own discretion, and as a result of which, other considerations are followed instead of merit. The admission test for the senior secondary schools run by AMU is competitive at the national level, which many internal students, i.e., passing out from the high schools run by AMU are not able to qualify. This has been a perennial problem, and to cater to this it was thought that some of these internal students could be provided further education by granting them admissions in the senior secondary schools via initiation of a new route, the self-financing scheme, classes for which are run separately from the regular sections. In the present vice chancellor’s tenure, the self financing scheme is catering predominantly to external students, especially those who have some influential references. On the form itself, there’s a field that blatantly asks for ‘referred by whom’. This has been used as a political tool, to get people into the civil and the police administration services.
The other problem is that, for decades, AMU hasn’t had regular selection committees for both recruitment as well as promotion of teachers. In all other institutions that I know of, this is not the situation. As per the University Grants Commission’s promotion or career advancement scheme, each teacher should have a teaching experience of a certain number of years, should have contributed to university’s life in various ways, like there are points allocated for writing research papers, attending conferences at the national and international level, etc. It’s a very arbitrary system, rather, it’s an imperfect system, but it is a system nevertheless. If it could be applied consistently, then people would have agreed, but what actually happened here was a very erratic implementation. In some places, people who have not done their PhD’s were promoted and in some places the criteria are that not only you should have done your PhD but you should also have guided 2 or 3 PhD’s in your subject before you can be considered for promotion. This means a large number of people were left out. So that has led to resentment. What we are trying to say is that you should go according to the UGC and not make your own norms. The UGC says that a university teacher should have a 40 hour work week; this stipulates that we should have 10-16 periods per week and the rest of it should be spent in our own research and studies, reading, and interaction with students. If you work in an institution, you have a 40 hour work week, so, those 40 hours have been given here also but here we are given flexibility primarily because intellectual work requires flexibility.
A university by definition is a place where dissent has to be allowed because no knowledge grows without questioning previous knowledge. In fact, knowledge grows only when you question it. Universities could have been single department institutes, but universities are conceived so that people from different disciplines can interact with each other. We study different areas of society, we study different subjects, and if we sit and discuss then our vision is broadened. An engineer doesn’t only think how to make a better machine; he also has to think about how to make a better machine which will make life better for somebody else. So, earlier the Vice Chancellor was receptive to these ideas, now it turns out that he doesn’t like them. He says if you are a teacher in a particular department, then stay in your department and don’t move out. If I don’t move out then why am I not working in an institute? The teachers’ problems range from very mundane problems to problems behind the very basic idea of the university. A Vice Chancellor’s role is primarily that of a catalyst. Coming from an army background we thought that he’d be a flexible person and not somebody who is rigid, who we thought would give a very good guidance to the AMU community. The initial period of the current Vice Chancellor’s tenure was very good: there was rule of law, everyone used to feel safe and secure, problems faced in the times of old VCs regime seemed to have disappeared; and suddenly things started to unravel and what we realized was that the world that he is envisioning is a world of make believe just like the world of cinema. If you look at what has happened in the last three years you’d find that very little work has been done for the enhancement of educational facilities. Of course we have got broad roads, trees planted on the sides of the roads, a fresh coat of paint on buildings, but nothing much of substance! Also they are not his achievements. It is something which was initiated by the former Vice Chancellor, and sanctioning of money was done during his times. It is just that he is here at the right time.
AZ: Has the Vice Chancellor agreed for a formal dialogue to resolve the matter?
MZ: No! The Vice Chancellor hasn’t agreed to anything. He says that he respects AMUTA. Now you may call it my personal bias, but as far as his proclamation is concerned, what we’ve observed is that he doesn’t respect it. All he wants is that we should be loyal to his idea of the university. He says that I’ll give you time to come and meet, and he gives out a whole list of dates on which we have permission to go and meet him. But if you see the events of the last few days he has got a team of his administration, most of the people in which are teachers. Our objection to their sitting in the meetings of the Vice Chancellor is that if they are sitting there as teachers, we are their representatives and we already are talking to the VC about their interests. But if they are sitting there as part of the administration, then the manner in which he is running the university, he doesn’t allow any criticism, so why should they sit. He doesn’t allow any form of criticism.
Sometimes there are genuine problems like I may have a problem with the style of working of a particular person regarding the policies being followed. He/She may follow the policies because they have been given these directives by the Vice Chancellor. So, whom should we talk to? We’d prefer to talk to the person who is responsible for the policy formulation, why should we talk to a person whose only job is to implement the policies. So, that has been our condition!
AZ: Do you believe that autonomy in teaching is now being infringed upon by the administration? Why has this change come about?
MZ: Well, of course, it is being infringed upon. Autonomy means that we should have the freedom to frame our own courses, we should decide what is to be taught, who would teach it, how the students would be admitted, and how they are to be evaluated. Now what is happening at the national level is that the government is setting the agenda, they are telling us what is to be taught, and who are to be admitted as students. All emphasis is on one single national test for every subject, for every course. This, in a way, is an elitist concept. For example, people belonging to the middle class in Delhi or Bombay have got much better educational avenues than people in Aligarh. Social planners and especially educational administrators need to understand that merit, as we assess it in terms of grades and marks, is a nuanced concept. We should look at the background, – did the students have equality of opportunity.
Talking about choice-based credit system, it says that a student should have a choice of subjects that he wants to study. The choice is only in theory of the choice-based credit system, and the concept lacks practicality in terms of implementation constraints. For instance, the students of BA might say that they want to study computer programming courses. Do we have the infrastructure facility available for all of them to learn computer programming? No! Then the administration will introduce revenue; they will say, that if you want to study computer programming, deposit Rs.500. If you deposit the amount every month we may give you computer programming facility. Now this is something that not every student coming to public funded universities can afford. Hence, the university will not be able to provide the computer course.
This year, on December 31, the Government of India is committed to signing the World Trade Organization agreement on converting education into a service. As soon as it is converted into a service, they will start charging service tax; if you try to cost the education which is offered at AMU, it will be out of reach for most of us considering the kind of salaries teachers get, the kind of infrastructure we have, the kind of salaries the support staff gets, all of it will add up to a big amount., rendering education inaccessible to most people.
AZ: Do you believe that the whole purpose behind organizing the dharna has taken a back seat amid all the chaos that followed it?
MZ: Well yes, it is taking a back seat, but we are trying to focus on the problem. I mean we are trying to reassess the situation and ensure that we are not distracted by the actions taken by the VC against individual office bearers. And we are trying to focus back on the real issues, because if we don’t do that we’ll lose in the verbal fight with the Vice Chancellor, which will not bring any good, neither for the institution nor for the teaching community.
AZ: What are the future action plans of AMUTA?
MZ: The Vice Chancellor also thinks that he has got rid of us; therefore we’ll regain our focus on the real issues. We plan to refocus on what we were doing earlier, and the reason why am I saying this is because we realized in hindsight that maybe he was told that these people, when they are going for an agitation, they’ll have a small tent, giving shelter to 5-10 people; passersby will pass from there and they’ll make fun of them, and that will be the end of it. What really agitated him was the fact that we put up the posters and banners. Those posters and banners made it much larger than what it seemed. The posters and banners pointed at the real issues bothering teachers, which contrasted with what he was trying to project to the outside world. So this led to the kind of drastic action that the Vice Chancellor has taken. He was very irritated. Our plan is to refocus on those issues because when we refocus on those issues, then maybe something good will come out. Otherwise, there will be no resolution.
AZ: Do you feel the VC’s questions on Muslims ‘enslaving’ women point to a larger paradigm of gender discrimination, or are his comments a direct attack on women, in general?
MZ: I think his comments pointed to the larger paradigm and he was trying to play to the gallery. I don’t have much data to support that but he has been in a habit of just shooting his mouth off and he doesn’t really think what he is talking about. He comes from an army background, it has a very patriarchal setup, women are seen but they are not heard, and if you go to army parties, women are segregated. I mean a person who rose to the rank of the deputy chief of the army staff has such pathetic ideas. He was there on NDTV a few weeks back; there also some of the comments he made were outrageous. Of course people here have the habit of applauding whatever the VC says, but it was Prof. Gupta of Jawaharlal Nehru University who rescued the situation. Otherwise he would have got into a trap, and not to forget his comments on the Maulana Azad library incident.
Mr. S. Mustafa K.Q. Zaidi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Library and Information Science of the Aligarh Muslim University. He has been teaching since 1978, and has earlier worked at the British Council library, the Zakir Husain library JMI, and the Center of Social Medicine & Community Health Library and Documentation Centre JNU. He was elected Honorary Secretary of AMU Teachers Association during 1999-2001 and 2011-2013, and is also currently serving as the secretary of AMUTA. He has also been involved in civil liberties and democratic rights issues by working with PUCL/PUDR etc. and has also assisted the Indian Peoples Human Rights Commission and IPHR Tribunal in their hearings on some occasions.
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