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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 16, April 15, 2023

The plight of ad hoc teachers in Delhi University: is there a just way out? | Garima Mani Tripathi

Saturday 15 April 2023


by Garima Mani Tripathi *

Pankaj Lal (name changed) was teaching at a Delhi University college as an ad hoc faculty for the last 12 years. Originally from Western Uttar Pradesh, he has been an outstanding academician and boasts a rich list of publications. And yet, he was one of those many unlucky ad hoc faculty members who could not succeed when interviews were held in his college for permanent teaching positions. Indeed, the failure of these ad hoc teachers is symptomatic of the irrelevance of different theories of justice that we often boast off!

At a formal level, due process of law may have been followed through a supposedly transparent and competitive system of recruitment, providing equal space for those ad hoc teachers to compete. From that perspective, the recruitment procedure was fair and just. However, it may not be ‘just’ in terms of ‘outcome’ since many ad hoc teachers have missed out on the selection board. It needs to be noted that there is no open written competitive exam and the recruitments are based on interviews that are often coloured in terms of perceptions and misperceptions about the candidate’s educational background, ideological leanings, and even the candidate being an insider or outsider in the Delhi University system. At the end of the day, academic selections are highly subjective in nature and may not be just due to systemic fault. Had the same recruitment been through an open competitive written system followed by an interview pattern, the heartburn amongst the left- over ad hoc faculty would have been less!

The plight of the ad hoc teachers calls for a wider debate since many things have gone wrong ethically, if not legally. First, empathy was missing. For many years, these ad hoc teachers were slogging out at the minimum of the pay scale without getting any increments. They were like casual workers and were often treated as ‘secondary class of teachers’ within the colleges and were regularly saddled with extra responsibilities. Some of the faculties have been there in the system for 10-12 years, getting only half of the salary than they would have got if they were permanent faculties. They never got any perks like LTC etc available to permanent faculty. And yet, they never complained. Sadly, their plight was never discussed at public policy level or amongst the intellectual class in Delhi masquerading as ‘knowledge managers’. Second, while most ad hoc faculty were retained on a year-to-year basis, they were always forced to go for a one-day break or even a month’s break so as to induce service discontinuity and prevent claims for permanency in the future. This practice may be legally tolerable but it is laced with cunningness! It is debatable if the public institutions should be so blatantly insensitive as to force these hapless ad hoc teachers to lead a life that is ‘nasty, brutish and protracted’ for years without a guaranteed welcome relief at the end of the traumatic period. Third, during the ongoing interviews, we did hear some whispers such as retaining those ad hoc faculties with 10-12 years of service. However, these whispers were at best hogwash since such concessions are not part and parcel of recruitment rules for academic positions in universities and colleges and may, therefore, come in for legal scrutiny and challenges, if applied in a half-baked fashion. Different associations representing the teachers did not take any concrete action to secure the future of these teachers other than indulging in an ‘assurance-building exercise’. Needless to say, these ad hoc teachers were left to fend for themselves!

Consequently, there is an ‘ethical paradox’ wherein we do not have any unanimous concept of justice capable of ameliorating the sufferings of ad hoc faculty on a large scale. On the one hand, these ad hoc faculty members are suddenly booted out of the system and are without any financial resources to feed their families. They are too old to compete elsewhere and may lack energy and ebullience vis-à-vis the young generation of scholars competing with them. Worst, all of them are over-aged for any other Government or private sector jobs! On the other hand, the new recruits are coming through a relatively transparent and competitive mode of recruitment. Thus, the fairness and merit principles ‘may’ have been followed. The protagonists of this system also allege that ad hoc recruitments do not attract the best talents due to the very nature of job.

While such ethical paradoxes do challenge public policy formulations wherein decision-making process is constrained by conflict of interests, we cannot allow ourselves to remain victims of ‘concept of relative rights’ that wrecks the philosophical point. We, therefore, need affirmative action through philosophical corrections in our notions of justice since none of the existing theories of justice help us wriggle out of such ethical paradoxes. American philosopher, Michael Sandel can be of some help here. According to him, the right thing to do depends upon the consequences of the decision, i.e. morality is located in consequences. Unfortunately, such philosophical considerations do not figure in our decision-making calculus!

As responsible citizens, therefore, the least we can do is to initiate a wider public debate on the consequences of such a recruitment system wherein the ad hoc faculty members get a sympathetic hearing in our academic dialogues. While a written competitive exam could be the best bet in the long term; for immediate purposes, we need to devise a better concept of justice that would be acceptable to a larger mass of ad hoc teachers who are being forced into uncertain times.

* (Author: Dr Garima Mani Tripathi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Mata Sundri College for Women, University of Delhi. Views are personal.)

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