Indian Computer Science (CS) & Information Technology (IT) Academic Reform Activism Consolidated Blog Document

Mainstream Indian newspaper article on Delhi University's Academic Council - "Everyone is terrified ..."

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Mainstream Indian newspaper article on Delhi University's Academic Council - "Everyone is terrified ..."

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Last updated on September 1st 2014

Some notes from, Everyone is terrified: Why Delhi University's Academic Council may have allowed the FYUP debacle, dated July 25th 2014,

According to unnamed Delhi University (DU) faculty:

* Retirement benefits. leave, promotion, approval of funds for recruitment, maintenance, seminars - all are under control of DU administration

* Very few HODs are willing to go against view of DU administration

* FYUP (Four Year Undergraduate program) was pushed through using threat, incentive and humiliation. [Ravi: DU earlier had a three year UG program for science, arts and commerce streams, which was made four year, and then rolled back this year to the earlier three year program under pressure from the newly elected union government and the regulator UGC (the main academic regulatory agency of India).]

* Unprecedented coercion including threats of legal action.

* "Everyone is terrified, says a teacher, "That's how they got things passed in the AC."

--- end notes ---

Ravi: I am not at all surprised at the above reports due to my personal experience as a "Visiting Faculty" in a deemed private university in 2011-12. I must say though that I had initially thought that deemed private universities are notorious for arbitrary management practices but that public universities (govt. funded) like Delhi University would be better managed. However, over the course of the past two or three years as I read up on the Indian academic setup, I was very disappointed to note that many public universities of India have a lot of nasty stuff going on in their administration setup.

In my case at this deemed private university, a senior administrator X, instead of standing up for academic integrity, supported another administrator Y who, IMHO, had become power-crazy and dictatorial in opposing a project related to online school education, of the main body which funds the university, and which (project) had been heavily supported by the founder-chancellor. The senior administrator X told me that as I am a visiting faculty I should do whatever administrator Y tells me! Now this administrator Y was an electrical engineering and electronics industry (or some field like that) man who later on in his career moved into the Computer Science field. While he certainly may have some credentials in some Computer Science research areas he, in my considered opinion, was rather ignorant about the practice of software development. That was an area where my knowledge level was far superior to his (please excuse me blowing my own bugle). But the senior administrator X, instead of getting a feel of the academic truth regarding the matter, ordered me to do whatever the administrator Y says! Administrator Y was dead against the project even though students, some other faculty besides me and key people in the main body funding the university all were interested in the project and felt it to be a good thing to do.

I was shocked to hear such a directive from the senior administrator X. But that was a traumatic period for all of us (around July/August 2011) in the university, including the senior administrator X who must have been under tremendous strain then, as we were struggling with the recent huge loss of the founder-chancellor of the university. In the interest of keeping things peaceful and not rocking the deeply traumatized university setup then, I did not argue, swallowed my outrage and quietly listened to the senior administrator X's dictatorial directive and some pretty harsh words. I mean, I was the trouble-maker for him and his approach to solve the problem was to cut me down to size even if it meant that I left the university.

Over the next week I went through an emotionally draining and very stressful period of trying to understand what I should do next. I came to the conclusion that my considered view was that the senior administrator X and the administrator Y had failed to do their academic duty properly. But I recognized that others may have a different view. However I needed to go by my considered view, and so I felt that the right thing for me to do was to withdraw from the institution. After all, no matter what my level of knowledge about the practice of software development and my contribution to software lab. courses and M.Tech. and M.Sc. software projects in this deemed university over eight and a half years then, my designation was "Visiting Faculty" and so I was in no position to challenge this senior administrator X and the administrator Y. As I was acting as a technical consultant to an M.Tech. project student I decided to limit my activities to only providing support to him (otherwise the poor student would suffer), to which activity administrator Y had no objection. That required me to visit the deemed university, on the average, for only an hour a week (with some work being done via email separately).

Then I wondered what would I have done if I was receiving salary/fees from this deemed university for my services (my somewhat spartan spiritual lifestyle permitted me to offer free service) and was dependent on that salary/fees. I may have had no choice but to follow the dictatorial senior administrator X and administrator Y's instructions even if these instructions went against academic integrity. In other words I would have had to compromise my academic integrity due to the dictatorial senior administrator X and administrator Y's instructions. The above article shows that many people in Delhi University Academic Council had to face similar situations. As most of them would be dependent on salary and/or benefits which are controlled or influenced in some way by Delhi university administration, they had to compromise their academic integrity and simply toe the line of the dictatorial Delhi university administration.

In my case, the M.Tech. student project consultant activity came to a close in Feb. end or early March 2012. By that time I had learned a lot more about academic rules and procedures, the power that UGC & MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development which is the key Indian government agency providing funding to Indian academic institutions through regulators and funding agencies like UGC) have over deemed universities and how one, including visiting faculty, can approach authorities like the Chief Vigilance Officer of MHRD as well as UGC secretaries to complain about such matters. I spotted two key mistakes made by the academic administration authorities, one of which was showing me with an incorrect (very junior) designation in some reports sent to UGC. [My designations during my free service stint of 9 years in this deemed university, as given in the signed identity cards issued by the principal of the campus I was associated with, were Honorary Staff/Honorary Faculty/Visiting Faculty.]

The other mistake was that administrator Y had committed a breach of academic procedure (in July/August 2011) by sending me an email copied to the senior administrator X and another administrator Z, revoking permission I had been given to interact with the external software company which was involved with the software development part of the online school education project. The permission had been granted by administrator Z in a letter to me, and it was administrator Z (or his boss, senior administrator X) who had the authority to revoke the permission, not administrator Y. The proper procedure would have been for administrator Y to write to the senior administrator X and/or administrator Z and have administrator Z send me the letter revoking the previously granted permission. The senior administrator X and administrator Z had raised no objections to this clear breach of academic procedure by administrator Y. At the time it happened I was quite blissfully unaware of such academic procedural matters, and this mistake came to my notice some months later as I was learning about academic procedures related to such matters and discussing them with some senior academics.

By end Feb./early March 2012, I had heard a lot more of such crazy dictatorial happenings in this deemed university with a very respected senior faculty whom the founder-chancellor had given a lot of importance to, being severely ill-treated by the administration. After the passing away of the founder-chancellor it seemed that there was no check on the dictatorial actions of some administrators! I decided that, by the Grace of God, as I was financially independent, I was in a position to push back on these people. I slammed the administration over email on these two mistakes they had made. That resulted in some ridiculous behaviour from administrator Z which I do not want to waste my words on, but which was the final step in me formally terminating my relationship with the deemed university.

I have mentioned all the things above to show how really bad academic administration can become in some universities in India. Given the Delhi University case, which is a leading public university of India, where the skeletons are now tumbling out of the cupboard, I think this serious malaise would have affected many universities in the country. The urgent need of the hour is reforming Indian academic administration first and then worrying about improving teaching and research standards in Indian academia! If the top itself is rotten any efforts done to improve activities at lower levels will have minimal or no impact. Expecting academic administrators themselves to improve the situation will not work, IMHO. We need the funding agencies (UGC) and the government (MHRD), who have the power over these academic administrators, to put pressure on academic administrators to bring in transparency and accountability in their academic administration mechanisms, and also have grievance redressal mechanisms for matters related to top academic administration, where complaints against it are handled quickly and effectively with anonymity and protection from unethical disciplinary action being provided to the complainants.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

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