Mumbai: Twenty five faculty members of the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences were simultaneously issued termination letters on Friday, informing them that their tenure would be coming to an end with effect from March 31. The totally unexpected move, which came as a shock to the teachers, was on the grounds that the University Grants Commission (UGC) had not yet officially extended the term of the centres they worked for. “The scheme is officially ending on 31st March, 2017 and extension of the project has not been received from UGC as of date,” says the letter, dated March 24 and signed by C.P. Mohan Kumar, Registrar.
The teachers are from the Centre of Excellence for Human Rights Education, School of Law, Rights and Constitutional Governance, Advance Centre for Women’s Studies and Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policies. Each one is funded for up to five years after which the UGC extends them. The due date was March 31 and a decision was expected next week. In the past, TISS had reportedly continued to fund the Centres while waiting for the formal extension.
However, a professor who is one of those terminated, told The Wire that many of those who got the letters had been trying to form a teachers association for the past six months, a move that had angered the TISS establishment.
“Their excuse about the extension of the centres simply does not wash because UGC often has in the past issued its extension after the last date-this time too it may have done that. Why pre-empt the UGC’s decision?” asked the agitated faculty member. He pointed out that a few other faculty members from the same centres had not got these letters, indicating that these 25 were specifically targeted. “Clearly the TISS management sees us as trouble makers and wants to get rid of us. It’s a totally mala fide decision.”
TISS is one of India’s premier post graduate institutions, offering MPhil and PhD programmes in the social sciences. It has around 5000 students and almost 250 faculty members. There are two kinds of positions-90 percent are funded by the central government and 10 percent by the Tata Trusts. In its 77 years of existence, it has not ever had a teachers association-“the funders have not allowed it to emerge,” said the professor. “Now, for the first time, it looked like an association would be formed. The TISS establishment must have got worried and pre-empted that move.”
The institution has also been hit by a funds crunch and, according to many insiders, a decline in research standards and a disinclination to confront and study controversial social issues.
According to the professor, the management has been generally wary of doing anything that would anger the government, and that includes protest activities of the kind seen in other universities. “What happened in JNU and DU really scared them-just recently the director had sent an open letter to students not to get involved in JNU type student politics.”
A faculty member, who has been at the Institute for less than five years, said that many young assistant professors had moved to Mumbai for this job barely a couple of years ago. “Their children will start a new term in school and this action will displace them badly. Plus, the loss of a salary will affect them.”
The sudden termination also could create a complication if the UGC does extend the terms of the Centres. “Will we then be taken back, since that is the reason that has been advanced?” asked the professor. He said that a large number of classes in TISS were being taken by part timers and suspected that the management would do the same if the Centres continued.
The affected faculty have called for a meeting on Monday where they will decide their next course of action. “We will definitely appeal to the UGC. We are not going to take this lying down.”