Thursday, September 6, 2012

Declaration of Objectives of Teachers for Intervention in Education

Punjabi University, Patiala 

Declaration of Objectives

During the last two decades changes have been underway in education which aim at making the economic ‘reforms’ a success. This is part of a larger agenda of treating private and corporate profits as the highest good under the so-called new economic order. Education is being subjected to deep-rooted and widespread perversions in a systematic and studied manner. Vast numbers of students are being deprived of any opportunity for meaningful education. The overall standards of education are dropping. Teachers are being robbed of the space in which they can respond ably to the call of their vocation; they are being reduced to insignificant appendages of a dehumanizing system that treats profits as more important than human beings. The system of recruitment of the faculty has been slowly distorted so much that competence, scholarship and legitimate claims to employment no longer have any value. It surprises no one, therefore, when neither the governments nor the university authorities bother to pay any attention to the teachers’ genuine needs and demands, and even to their self-respect and social position.
It is obvious to everyone that the teachers’ organizations/unions active in the institutions of higher education have not responded adequately and effectively to the changing pressures of the system emerging under the new economic order. They have largely failed to suitably transform their organizational structures, styles of functioning and strategies of struggle. New teachers do not get deserved opportunities to participate equally in these organizations. In this situation the teachers wedded to academics and a life of the intellect are discouraged from performing a pro-actively constructive and positive role in the university. The academic atmosphere of the university thus enters a cycle of degeneration. These worrying developments have to be viewed against the context of a broader scenario in which the financial autonomy of the university has been systematically and steadily eroded, even as political interference in its internal affairs has grown proportionately.
The universities are meant to provide fearless and free-minded intellectual and moral leadership to society. In the prevailing circumstances, they are being turned into factories for profits and instruments for the unholy aspirations of some unscrupulous and myopic politicians.
          Punjabi University has not remained uninfected by these vile winds. At a certain historically significant point of time, the state government started imposing substantial cuts on its grants and gradually retreated from its social obligation to fund higher education. At the same time, however, political interference into the university’s internal affairs has grown monstrously. Right from the appointments of the faculty to the balance of power in PUTA - everything has come to be influenced by politicians. Worse, instead of following their vocation of providing intellectual leadership to society, a sizeable section of the university teachers has sold itself to certain irresponsible, insensitive and corrupt politicians.
          And so a time came when we the teachers lost even our last citadel, PUTA. In the absence of PUTA, a small number of ‘teachers’ personally prospered (and did so unchecked, unquestioned) because they had the blessings of some politicians. The ordinary, independent-minded teachers, who were in a majority, were left to fend individually for themselves and were driven into the wilderness, a sort of exile in their own university. Instead of a proper schedule for interviews for promotions on the basis of the date of eligibility and the date of application, an abnormal system of patronage and sifarish evolved in which those who had the right connections always managed to get their interviews fixed on a priority. The basic facilities given to teachers came to be marked by pure bias and discrimination. The teacher as such - the ordinary teacher who enjoyed no one’s blessings, had no office, and enjoyed no proximity to ‘those in power’ - was thus increasingly isolated. She/he was left to run alone from pillar to post to get even their routine files moved.
          Observing the situation and enduring its consequences, we were able to see clearly that during the period the university was without PUTA, most of the teachers’ groups had turned their backs on the collective interests of teachers. The teacher as teacher had ceased to exist in their eyes covered under ‘power glasses’. We noticed that they had unfortunately joined a rat race for trivial personal benefits and un-academic official positions. Who can deny that several groups had obtained positions of power in the university administration only to promote the personal interests of their own members and to get members of their own families appointed on various posts? Such teachers’ groups have thrown into the dustbin the very last scraps of the agenda that once guided the teachers’ groups – the agenda of working solely for academics, for the academic fraternity and for the society at large, while keeping from power a distance of dissent and unsparing constructive criticism. The bitter truth today is that what determines a group’s pro-establishment or anti-establishment position is merely their co-optation or not into convenient arrangements with power. In our view, the distinction between pro-establishment and anti-establishment does not make much sense in our university today. This is proved beyond doubt by the fact that for a long time now these groups have not stood up for the genuine issues raised by those teachers who are independent-minded, who move outside their narrow and exclusive circles and who refuse to submit to their domination.
          In this vacuum, it was felt that such independent teachers needed to organize themselves in order to raise their collective voice in defense of their legitimate demands and rights. Consequently, some of us came together to form an association which we thoughtfully decided to call Teachers for Intervention in Education (TIE). We decided that this organization would be authentically democratic, secular, and forward-looking. It would work for a system of socially relevant and responsible education. And it would strive to redeem and enhance the honour and dignity of teachers committed to providing intellectual-political leadership to society. We therefore define our association as pro-university, pro-teacher, pro-education and pro-student. We pledge that we will challenge and resist any force that undermines academic standards and that operates against the teachers’ interests, their rights and their dignity. This organization has been constituted for a purpose far larger than participation in PUTA polls. In the past we have accordingly worked consistently for the university teachers’ rights, for the restoration of the highest academic standards and for spreading awareness about challenges confronting higher education under the so-called new economic regime. We declare that irrespective of the results of PUTA polls, we will continue to work for the realization of our objectives and that we will not betray the principles on which our association is founded.
          Against the larger backdrop of the role of leadership that the university teachers are today called upon to take up at this historical juncture, we all need to be alert to the economics and politics of divisiveness, differentiation and segmentation being officially propagated and practiced in the sphere of education against the traditions of solidarity of all teachers. We have accordingly considered the problems and issues confronting us in this university. To find long-lasting solutions to these we seek your cooperation and support.
1.     Restoring the autonomy of the university: It is essential that the university should regain its autonomy if a socially responsible education system is to be raised as against the demands imposed by the blind and insensible market, if educators with outstanding academic credentials are to be attracted and if the sincerely devoted teachers are to be provided necessary facilities and good working conditions required for serious academic pursuits. Political and bureaucratic interference must be eliminated for autonomy to be realized. Academic accomplishment must be the sole criterion for selection of the faculty.
2.     A fair and just distribution of required facilities among the faculty and the departments: The teachers and the departments should be given the required facilities on the basis of their needs, work and seniority. The currently prevailing feudal kind of arrangement should be put to an end under which a handful of teachers take away the lion’s share of the university’s scarce resources, facilities and spaces, while other teachers remain deprived of even the basic needs and amenities. Campus accommodation in particular needs to be allotted on a rational, not arbitrary, basis.
3.     Ensuring the participation of all categories of teachers in the university administration: Administrative authority should not be concentrated and circulated among a small number of teachers only. Instead, teachers of all categories should be appointed on administrative positions as appropriate to their designation and rank so that the widest representation can be ensured in the decision-making. Women teachers have not received their deserved representation in the university administration for a long time. Gender discrimination against women must be entirely eliminated in the matter of appointments to positions of authority and responsibility in the university.
4.     Time-bound disposal of the faculty’s representations, applications, letters and grievances: A transparent, accountable and time-bound system, with inbuilt monitoring, needs to put in place for this purpose so that the teachers are not compelled to waste their valuable time in chasing files from office to office.
5.     Making an unbiased schedule for interviews under CAS: The interviews under Career Advancement Scheme should be systematized leaving no scope for interference and exercise of prejudice. The schedule should be based on the date of eligibility and the date of application submitted for promotion under CAS. The current arrangement encourages patronage and recommendation and compromises the self-respect of teachers who do not wish to approach anyone to get what the university owes to them as a matter of their right.
6.     University-level funding for the faculty’s research work: The University should establish a research corpus for funding the research projects of the faculty. At the same time, liberal research fellowships should be provided to deserving research scholars in order to promote the production of socially relevant knowledge.  
7.     Ensuring merit-based and transparent recruitment of faculty: If the university is to fulfill its mandate, utmost care must be taken to ensure that faculty recruitment does not suffer from any distortions. Academic achievements merit and research should be duly respected. For this purpose, a fair, fool-proof and transparent method of recruitment should be adopted and strictly followed.            
8.     Immediate disposal of all pending financial issues of the faculty: A larger number of financial issues have remained unresolved because of the apathy of the university administration. These include promotions, the financial benefits accruing from promotions, increments, the dues on account of delayed counting of past service, etc. A very large number of teachers face unmerited harassment and frustration as a result of the attitude of the authorities towards these issues. It is essential to dispose of all such matters regularly, justly and within fixed time frames.
9.     Functional autonomy and basic facilities to UCOE, YCOE, neighbourhood campuses and constituent colleges: The faculty working in these organic parts of Punjabi University has to face avoidable harassment and difficulties in the course of routine work. The teachers often have to interrupt their teaching and research in order to visit the main university campus for things which should be dealt with automatically. What is needed is an administrative arrangement which would ensure functional autonomy to these colleges and give to them the authority to take routine decisions at their own level. Moreover these colleges need to be equipped with proper facilities of faculty residence, library, canteen, etc.
10.                        Ensuring effective equality among all teachers employed by the university: In recent years the university has expanded enormously, establishing neighbourhood campuses, constituent colleges, etc. The teachers working in these places should be accorded an equal status. They should also be made members of PUTA as this will only strengthen the collective power of all teachers. Their democratic rights should be respected, particularly when it is clear that they cannot become members of GCTA or PCCTU. If these colleges are all given the status of departments, the teachers working in them can automatically get their political rights.
11.                        Making the functioning departments democratic and transparent in practice: This is necessary for ensuring equal participation of all teachers iin decision-making at the level of the department. This will also enable equal voice of and respect for all teachers. The ACDs must be given back their statutory role, autonomy and authority as laid down in the university calendar.
12.                        The eligibility condition of three years of Associate Professorship be removed for appointment as Head of the Department: Under the previous rules, a reader with three years of service in that capacity was eligible to be appointed as head of the department. Under the current rules, one becomes an Associate Professor after completing three years as Reader or Lecturer (Selection Grade). Hence it is unfair to impose the eligibility condition of three years of Associate Professorship for becoming head of the department. This is an unreasonable, unfair and arbitrary rule, and so it must be rescinded.
13.                        Striking a balance between the university’s environment and the compulsion for new constructions: The enviably planned Punjabi University campus is admired for its excellent balance between concrete structures and green spaces. However, this balance has recently come under a mindless assault as huge buildings are being raised without giving sufficient though to give overall viability and impact. A regular environmental audit should be initiated and nothing should be done that damages the university’s  master plan and greenery in a serious way.
14.                        Regulation of traffic in the university Campus: Excessive volume and movement of traffic in the campus has ruined the peace that an institution of learning requires. In place of it there is unbearable sound pollution and the rush of a bazaar. The physical safety and peace of mind of teachers and students stand seriously endangered. Women teachers and students have been rendered particularly vulnerable because of unchecked entry of outsiders in their vehicles.
15.                        Implementation of all recommendations of the 6th pay commission: The recommendation must be implemented without dilution and in toto, including the payment of arrears, the allowances, increase in the retirement age to 65, reemployment until 70 years, etc.    

We appeal to all teachers and the teachers’ groups dedicated to these objectives that they should come forward to contribute wholeheartedly to the consolidation of a forward-looking collective alternative committed to academics and the interests of the academic fraternity. We believe that every teacher aspires for a cordial and work-friendly atmosphere, for a fair and just administrative dispensation, for freedom of creative scholarship and expression, and for self-respect and dignity. But the achievement of these things demands continuous endeavours and everybody’s participation. With your help and cooperation, it is possible to do this.

Rajesh Sharma (Convener, TIE) 7837960942
Surjit Singh (Co-convener, TIE)     9356462593

No comments: