Debate: Javadekar's Move to 'Let College Teachers Teach' Is Halfhearted and Dangerous

To say that teaching is for college teachers and research is for university teachers is to question the basis of higher education, where teaching and research should coexist.

This article is part of the ‘Let Teachers Teach’ series, discussing the Union human resource development ministry’s decision to not mandate college teachers to conduct research.

Renny Thomas is an assistant professor at the department of sociology, Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi.

Pushkar wrote on The Wire on August 1 welcoming the Human Resource Development ministry’s move to do away with mandatory research for college teachers. I thought I should write a response as someone who is part of the system or, in his words, a college teacher. I always have trouble understanding the term ‘college teacher’. Who are they? And what makes them different from university teachers. I teach in a Delhi University college and it is true that we have a heavy workload, but with all these difficulties many of us manage to write and do research. We go to libraries, religiously use our Saturdays and Sundays to work on pending papers and work on comments received for papers – not from ‘fake journals’ but from some of the leading national and international ones.

Many of us with PhDs from leading Indian universities and publications in Oxford University Press, Routledge, Permanent Black and Sage teach in colleges not because we were born to teach in a college. We teach in colleges knowing full well all its difficulties, because we believe that engaging with students helps us clarify and articulate our ideas better. As someone who finished his PhD recently, I have had stimulating discussions with students who have forced me to sharpen my arguments and more importantly make my research accessible to a wider public. Furthermore, there is a clear dearth of research positions in the country, which makes teaching the sole option for many young graduates. It is also a fact that many college teachers in Delhi prefer to teach in a college rather than teach in some of the newly established central universities or state universities, as many of them are lacking in proper infrastructure. We also know what happened in a so-called central university where a faculty member was suspended because she had invited a professor from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to speak. I can tell you with pride that we in DU colleges still have the freedom to invite those ‘JNU types’.

To make the distinction between university and college teachers (or research and teaching) is philosophically and empirically false as well. The author (Pushkar) should know that college teachers/teaching is not a fixed/ permanent identity. It is true that some of the brilliant college teachers preferred to teach in college and do research, as they thought it is politically important for them to teach at the undergraduate level, but many other teachers, after teaching for years in colleges, became university professors and distinguished scholars in their field. To deny the research done by these scholars in their early career as ‘college teachers’ is to deny the excellent scholarship they have done.

The author is happy with Javadekar’s announcement that research should not be made a compulsory criterion for evaluating college teachers. I can see that he is worried about the lack of facilities in many colleges, and thinks that, given the conditions, it’s better to let ‘teachers teach’ and that that is their primary duty. However, fake journals don’t exist because of college teachers; fake journals and publications have always been around. Just look at various universities and see the kind of publications they have. Given that this is the case, why blame only college teachers?

The very distinction between teaching and research is problematic. To say that teaching is for college teachers and research is for university teachers is to question the basis of higher education, where teaching and research should coexist. And how can one be a good teacher if she is not a good researcher? To deny their freedom to do research is to deny their freedom to teach that is supported by their research. It is to deny students the right to have good teachers as well.

At the same time, this is not to say that everything is fine with college and college teachers. It is true that many colleges lack basic facilities and libraries. It is true that people publish in mediocre journals and magazines. It is also true that one cannot generalise based on one’s privileged experience as a faculty member of a Delhi University college. But we should not forget the fact that college teachers in various parts of India, given all their difficulties, continue to try to do research in their own ways.

So the question is not about college v. university, as we know that the situation in most of the state and the new central universities is deplorable. The need of the hour is to make these places workable, be it colleges or universities; to provide basic resources, rather than make a distinction between ‘teachers’ and ‘researchers’. Instead of creating these binaries, we must try to bridge the gap between the central and regional universities, ensure equitable allocation of resources, end the contractualisation of teaching positions and create an academic atmosphere for teachers to pursue research and perform their teaching duties with equal zeal. Of course, the author is not vouching for a police state, constantly evaluating teachers based on their performance, but the solution is not to applaud the distinction between teachers and researchers or to accept half-hearted responses to structural problems.

It is sad that people are trying to see this step by MHRD as a progressive one instead of realising the danger in creating categories like college teachers and university researchers. Let’s hope for the best.