Sunday, June 9, 2013
The Reserve Armies of Academic Labour
By Rajesh Sharma
Another academic year is about to begin. Advertisements for faculty positions are popping out of newspaper pages. The universal promise is of salary ‘as per the UGC/State Government/University norms’. The opening gambit of a nearly universal ritual of deceit and betrayal!
As teaching for the last academic year ended, a former student who is now an academic journey-woman called me one evening. ‘I have been told not to come from tomorrow. At 5.30 p.m. we were handed letters that our services were no longer required. All fifteen of us have been suddenly dropped as if into the seas. We worked for eight months, usually giving six or seven lectures a day. We were still waiting to receive our appointment letters…. And they did not even bother to pay the one month salary they have been withholding as security since we joined.’
This is the standard experience of the young people who respond to the calling of education with dreams in the eyes.
Yesterday a young man who has recently passed the UGC’s mandatory National Eligibility Test rang up to tell he had been asked to work on less than half the current salary of a college teacher. He is expected to teach postgraduate courses which the college plans to launch this year.
On the other hand, I often have to hear the laments of college principals and managers. ‘We do not get good faculty, even qualified faculty.’
You too must have witnessed ostentatious luxury of the worst taste in offices of the managerial cadre in Punjab’s colleges. Many enterprising souls prowling around in the jungle of education swear they are out to serve the people, adding sometimes that of course one cannot do that without making money. Their chauffeur-driven SUVs almost embody their large hearts. Yet when it comes to paying the teachers, these large-hearted people often act as robbers and thieves.
Why does such a widespread crime against teachers go on unchecked? Why are no arrangements made to protect the defenseless teachers against greed’s depredations? Why do governments and universities invariably fail to uphold the rule of law?
Who benefits if the young educated people lose faith in the rule of law and confidence in themselves? Who gains if teachers walk into their classes distressed and frustrated? What character does an aspiring knowledge society acquire if its educators cannot even afford to buy books?
‘Compromise and shut up!’ is indeed a fine mantra for initiation into the adventures of thought. A smart, safe route for the freedom of thought and expression to self-abrogate. Education for democracy, is it?
They tell lies who say education is expanding. Business is expanding in the name of education. Profits alone matter, what if the Mephistophilean profiteers trade in human souls? The expanding education will bring ever more people offering their labour into the bazaars of education, giving even greater leverage to the unscrupulous merchants of souls. The difference between lawful remuneration and actual remuneration will grow. Cheaper academic labour will mean more degree-dispensing factories and, eventually, nothing by way of education.
But at some point in the future the loop will – it has to – snap. After all, the world, the countries, even the markets need thinking, confident people.
By that time, however, it will be too late to ask those who are responsible, ‘Why the hell did you do it?’