For the past few years there have been intermittent strikes in Delhi University and its colleges over a major demand ~ regularization of ad hoc teachers. The last set of interviews for various teaching positions in the university departments and its colleges was held in the sessions of 2014- 16. Since then, despite so many permanent teachers retiring fresh appointments have not been made. This has resulted in a situation where in many colleges the ad hoc teachers are as many as the permanent ones or perhaps even more.
The Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) puts the number of ad hoc teachers at between 4500 and 5000 of the total faculty strength of 9000. The figure includes colleges and university departments. The dearth of permanent faculty is among the many other reasons behind a dip in Delhi University’s rank in last year’s NIRF. There are many who have worked as ad hoc teachers for over a decade without any annual increment, medical leave, Provident Fund and the like. They shoulder responsibilities equally as with the permanent faculty, but their benefits are unequal.
Despite this wide disparity and given the large number of ad hoc teachers, the DUTA demand for one-time absorption of all ad hoc teachers is not justified. Incidentally, when the strike began on 4 December, this was one among the many demands. At the heart of the strike was the contentious 28 August 2019 letter, directing colleges to appoint guest faculty against fresh positions. The HRD Ministry agreed to withdraw the letter and also granted concessions that mitigated the sufferings of those working in ad hoc positions. But DUTA continued with its strike with the insistence of one-time absorption which effectively means doing away with interviews.
The ministry clarified that this was not possible as it has all- India implications vis-à-vis all appointments. The DUTA demand for onetime absorption is unreasonable and unacademic and should not be implemented due to several reasons: (1) Many ad hoc teachers are working in positions that are meant for reserved categories and do not belong to that category; (2) Since the nature of an adhoc job is for four months, many deserving candidates did not apply because of the temporary nature of the appointment and are waiting for permanent appointments to be made; (3) The ad hoc lists in Delhi University predominantly reflect the local character; the applicants are largely from DU, JNU and Jamia Millia.
Delhi University is a national university; so obviously for a temporary job and that too in an uncertain situation, an economically weaker person from other parts of India will not stake a claim. (4) At the time of permanent appointment, subject specialization is often taken into account. An ad hoc might not have that specialization. This would be important since having a Ph.D degree is increasingly becoming a requirement for appointment for the position of assistant professor and is counted as part of Academic Performance Indicators or API. (5) Many serious researchers in India and abroad who concentrate on full time research would be denied their legitimate claims to academic positions. (6) One-time absorption of ad hoc teachers violates the principles of career advancement, talent and equality of opportunity as enshrined in the Constitution.
The demand for one-time absorption rules out any contractual appointment when all the newly established central universities make only contractual appointments both in teaching and non-teaching positions. Even in Delhi University there are contractual positions among the non-teaching persons. Moreover, in many colleges, teachers have been appointed as guest faculty under new guidelines for appointing such a faculty through a panel constituted by the Vice-Chancellor of the university. It was issued in 2019 making the system more transparent, less arbitrary and fairer. Permanent jobs are becoming rare in today’s fast-changing world.
Blocking a job for 30-40 years might be counter-productive. For instance, due to declining numbers in Modern Indian Languages (MIL), some colleges bypass the merit list to accommodate students to maintain the student-teacher ratio and that is unethical, as it results in underwork or at times, even no-work but with full payment and benefits. One prominent campus college retains a fulltime teacher in Tamil with only one student. This is specific to DU, a federal university but is not the case with other central universities. The new central universities have only contractual appointments. Can there be two different policies for universities in the same category?
A strike in itself should be called only in the last resort and after exhausting all modes of redressal. An option that has never been really explored by DUTA is the legal one. The current promotion scheme in the university and its colleges have been due to Delhi High Court’s intervention in 1983. The court mediated settlement has been in place till date. For a transparent, rigorous and fair selection, a UPSC type of recruitment system to fill vacant permanent positions in the university and its colleges could be adopted with waivers regarding age only and nothing else.
Counting of ad hoc service, another DUTA demand, is unfair as it puts candidates who did not apply because of the temporary nature of appointment at a disadvantage. Taking ad hoc service into account for promotions is unfair to many retired teachers with ad hoc experience. If a benefit is given now, then shouldn’t it be extended to others as well, both permanent and retired who have or must have had ad hoc experience. If this is not done, then it is tantamount to treating similar cases dissimilarly. Unlike permanent teachers, ad hoc candidates are not selected through a duly constituted selection committee.
Instead, they are appointed from a small number who show up, in response to vacancies announced in the college/ university websites, by a committee in a given college consisting of the Principal, the teacher-in-charge and the most senior teacher. This practice has gathered momentum in last few years because of the large number of vacancies primarily on account of retirement of permanent teachers. Ad hoc vacancies are never advertised in national dailies. Interviews for permanent positions are usually highly competitive; this isn’t the case with ad hoc appointments. Given these differences in the selection process of the two, it is unfair to take ad hoc service into account.
Moreover, though ad hoc appointments for only four months; once appointed the same person continues for a number of years without any academic consideration or marked improvement in their academic contributions. The Delhi University Teachers Association has not provided any academic reason(s) as to how one-time absorption of ad hoc and counting of ad hoc service would lead to academic advancement. By and large DUTA has mostly taken up issues pertaining to service conditions, pay etc but has never really focused on a more important issue of how to attract the meritorious to the teaching profession.
This is of pivotal importance as Delhi University is a unique federal university with identical service benefits to teachers of university departments and its affiliated colleges. Being a central university, its pay package is attractive. As such, many bright researchers would like to build their careers in the Delhi University system and it is imperative to recruit the faculty with utmost care and publicity so that the very best in the country can enrich the rich heritage of Delhi University.
(The writer is former Professor of Political Science, Delhi University)