By Lalit Kumar:
I look at my designation written at the top of the left side of my salary slip each month which says ‘Assistant Professor’ with ‘ad hoc’ in parenthesis. However hard I try to turn a blind eye to the parenthesis part, I cannot, and I fail miserably.
Most of us agree that since antiquity there has been a power relation between teacher and students, which is based on mutual trust and respect. It can be seen as a precondition for the smooth functioning of a classroom with a semblance of order, not a source of exploitation and harassment of the latter. This kind of mutual trust and respect, it seems, have come to be increasingly eroded in recent times, which makes one wonder about the source of respect for the teacher. Is it her method of teaching and knowledge or the status of her designation?
I have remained under the illusion until very recently, that I get a princely sum each month for my services and the temporary nature of my employment as an assistant professor of English at a Delhi University college is a secret confined only to my salary slip and it hardly affects my academic career till the completion of my Ph.D. But recently, two incidents that happened at my workplace broke my slumber.
The first was a contemptuous public statement made by a student against a teacher that whatever she may do, the teacher being an ad hoc cannot take her to the principal and initiate any kind of disciplinary action against her. And the second, said with some respect, again by a student, was that college and the entire university were being run by only “ad hocs”. Of course, she was referring to their integrity, honesty and intellectual rigour as teachers. Students and their opinions and perceptions, which were never as vague and hazy about the nature of our employment as I initially thought they would be, come much later. The first and foremost problem that we encounter is how to deal with our ‘permanent’ colleagues, who are sharply divided into groups and demand our loyalty.
“Tories call me Whig, and Whigs a Tory,” is a line written by the eighteenth-century British poet Alexander Pope in his rendering of the first satire of ‘Imitations of Horace’, expressing his predicament over his political affiliation. This sentence often reverberates in my ears, especially when I sit in the staff room. One quick smile thrown at the adversary of your colleague can immediately make her suspicious of your loyalty.
The problem then is the problem of visibility, and I realised this when I ended up advising one of my ad hoc colleagues not to be seen too often with me in the staff room in front of those who had already established my identity as that of the ‘opposite camp’, forgetting that we had not come here to get an abducted Helen released, and I am not a Greek and you are no Trojan either. Eventually, everything boils down to one sentence, “Everyone loves a good ad hoc,” as a friend of mine, a Sainath fan, always puts it. Let everybody’s happiness continue, but show us some ways of being invisible, not officially, which we already are, but physically. Oh God, make me invisible! I have reconciled with the idea that once you are born in modern times you are bound to be humiliated, to witness your integrity attacked. Have you?
“I am his highness’s dog at Kew,
Pray tell me sir whose dog are you.”
Although Pope had composed these lines on a lighter note for the queen’s pug, it seems that the premodern and early modern need to have a strong patron continues in modern times as well. And it is as relevant for Delhi University ad hocs as for anyone else. The temporary teachers languishing at various colleges of Delhi University for years are being forced to ask this question: Whose dog are we; given their vulnerability, and a deeply divided nature of the teaching community.
It will be hard for them to have a life of dignity until they get a permanent job and the slow rate of permanent appointments is expedited. Without having a life of dignity, can one present oneself as a model for imitation before one’s students? And if not, is that job worth doing? Permanent appointments will be a major step towards restoring the dignity of the contractual teachers and maintaining and enhancing the high standards the university has always been known for. I would like to end with a cliché that a dissatisfied workforce can never be productive but who pays attention to clichés these days, let alone bureaucrats and administrators.
Featured image for representation only. Credit: Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.