Why DU’s ad hoc teachers must be regularised

The continuance of ad hoc teachers in the University of Delhi is leading to their exploitation and hurting the system too. In such a case, the regularisation of their services can be a win-win solution.

The university system has been suffering from an acute shortage of faculty for long. Even premier universities are not free from this domestic hazard. Some of them are even operating with almost half of the sanctioned strength. Though one might attribute it to the failure of the system at producing an adequate number of qualified and competent teachers, the issue is far more complex than what it appears to be. There is a plethora of dynamics ranging from the availability of manifold avenues to manmade impediments, including the indifference of individuals and the apathy of the system.

There was a time when a fairly large number of universities were under a blanket ban on making fresh recruitments. But despite the lifting of the ban, universities continue to suffer from a severe shortage of faculty. Their programs are largely dependent upon the strength of ad hoc teachers, guest teachers and part-time teachers. Most universities are operating with depleted strength, some with over fifty percent.

University of Delhi has a sanctioned strength of 1,706 faculty members. Of them, 895 positions (52.46%) are lying vacant. The university is running its programs with the help of 76 ad hoc and 196 guest teachers, a total of 272, against the shortfall of 895 teachers. The situation is no better even in its constituent and affiliated colleges. Of the 90 colleges that are affiliated with the University of Delhi, 53 are receiving revenue grants from the central government. These colleges, with a sanctioned strength of 7,508, are having a shortfall of 3,057 teachers (41%).

The university system provides for the appointment of contract teachers, guest teachers and part-time teachers to meet exigencies arising out of eventualities like the untimely demise of faculty, medical leave, maternity leave, etc, with a ceiling of 10% of the total sanctioned strength. However, the University of Delhi has been following the practice of appointing ad hoc teachers for a long time.

It is understood that there were as many as 148 ad hoc teachers in its departments and 2,829 ad hoc teachers in 53 out of its 90 affiliated colleges in 2016-17. Against this, the figures provided by Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) around the same period showed 206 and 5,000, respectively (which may be inclusive of the remaining 37 colleges). This is primarily because the university and its colleges have not filled in vacant positions for a fairly long time. The issue of ad hoc teachers in the University of Delhi has now reached unmanageable dimensions because of their growing numbers, spanning a period of over 15 years.

The continuance of ad hoc teachers in the University of Delhi presents a situation of great concern. This is not a problem which has arisen overnight. It has reached an unmanageable proportion due to the ineptness of the system. The number of ad hoc appointments started rising from the beginning of 2000 due to incredible bottlenecks in the appointment of regular teachers, coupled with the complexity of the roster system. It was further compounded due to the unplanned handling of an inevitable large-scale superannuation around 2005. The situation worsened in 2007 with the sanction of additional posts due to OBC reservation on the one hand and, on the other, the stay imposed by the court due to inadequacies of reservation rosters. Under the circumstances, institutions were left with little option but to continue with ad hoc appointments.

The fact of the matter is that ad hoc teachers are appointed against permanent positions on their qualifying the same criteria as laid down for the appointment of the regular faculty. They are men and women with excellent academic records. Besides, they also fulfil other eligibility conditions, either of the National Eligibility Test (NET) or PhD, as laid down by the University Grants Commission (UGC). Most of them even have both the NET and PhD. Furthermore, they are appointed by a duly constituted selection committee. Not only that, they have to face the selection committee each year since their appointments are renewed every four months with the notional break of a day. It is all because of their academic credentials and professional expertise, which they have acquired over the years, that they are perpetually retained but in extreme precariousness.

A countless number of these distinguished teachers have been passing through this ordeal for decades. Though they are given the full scale of pay, including the vacation salary, they are deprived of quite a few essential benefits that are accrued with permanent positions, including ones related to their professional growth and development. Often, they are denied access to labs to pursue their research interests or not recommended for research projects or made a part of any decision making processes. They are made to work unofficially on several committees for which they do not get any credit. They are given the maximum workload with little time left to further their own academic interests. They are not able to derive any benefit from faculty development programs. Many a time it so happens that they have to compete with their own students whilst seeking renewal of their contract. Sometimes these ad hoc teachers, who are repeatedly given the same topics to teach, get outranked by freshers because of their lopsided specialisation. At times, they also get victimised by the competitive politics of the campus. Their predicament, at this stage, is that they cannot transit into any other vocation. It is given to understand that in certain cases this protracted wait for regularization even results in their attaining the age of superannuation.

Ad hoc teachers are actually exploited to the hilt due to their precarious situation. In fact, it is the ineptness of the system that has failed them and made them suffer. It is not merely hurting them as individuals, it is also adversely impacting the overall quality of the system. A considerable number of them would have surely been in permanent positions, had the university conducted interviews for regular appointments on time. Theirs is a thoroughly deserving case for the regularisation of their service. Therefore, having regard to their plight and services, a one-time exception can be exercised to compensate them for their sufferings without compromising on quality. The system should not deprive itself of such experienced professionals.

Their regularisation may be carried out in a non-partisan, transparent and objective manner, based on criteria as applicable for the appointment of permanent faculty. They may surely be evaluated on the basis of their academic credentials, research contribution, progress report and interview by assigning different weightages by expert committees. The entire exercise may be accomplished in five phases. Firstly, a list of all those teachers who have worked continuously for a period of five or more years, by ignoring the notional break of one-day after every four months, may be sought from individual colleges and departments as they may be safely presumed to have done a good job. Secondly, their data pertaining to academic credentials, research contribution and extra-curricular activities may be placed before the screening committees which can evaluate them based on weightages like 40%, 20%, and 20%, respectively. Thirdly, they may be interviewed (20% weightage) by duly constituted independent selection committees. Fourthly, the selection committees need not be provided the inputs of the screening committees to avoid biases of any kind. Fifthly, the entire data may be collated and placed before the empowered committee, which should finally assess the veracity of the entire exercise and declare the suitability on the basis of the twin criteria, with a minimum threshold level of 50% on each of the four criteria and with an aggregate of 75% and above to ensure that there are no compromises made insofar as quality is concerned.

It may be imprudent to lose such distinguished academics that have put the prime time of their lives into supporting the system, and that too at a time when the country is suffering from an acute shortage of teachers. This relaxation may be applicable as a one-time measure in respect of those who have been rendering remarkable services for years together despite adversities. Earnest measures in the form of a special drive need to be initiated to mitigate their miseries and that would be worth a lot. It would surely make a qualitative difference in the overall academic ambience of the university besides turning the dreams and aspirations of thousands of teachers into reality. Their regularisation is going to be a win-win situation for everyone. The bottom line is that a person who conforms with all the eligibility conditions, continues to clear interviews on a year-to-year basis and has been serving the system with due diligence certainly deserves far more consideration and respect.

The writer is former Chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.