Device proposed to record teachers’ attendance at a few city colleges; faculty term it a violation of ethics

Ethiraj College for Women may soon introduce a biometric attendance system for its faculty, a decision that has not gone down well with many of its teachers.

The biometric system, which involves clocking in and out on a device that has a fingerprint scanner, is not new to city colleges. Last year, Stella Maris College and Anna Adarsh College for Women installed it for their teachers.

At Ethiraj however, teachers said the introduction of a time clock amounted to “regimentation of teachers and completely violated liberal academic ethics.”

“Many of us stay behind after hours to help students. Sometimes, parents call us late in the night to seek our advice. Doesn’t all of that count as work? A teacher’s job is not just the five hours she puts in at college, but how she prepares and deals with work outside college hours too,” said one teacher.

College officials said the system was being considered only as part of a larger decision to automate administrative work.

Principal Jothi Kumaravel said the biometric attendance system would ease the administrative workload. “We are automating departments one by one. We can do away with the regular signing and carrying of the register once this is in place,” she said.

Ms. Kumaravel also pointed out the system was being considered not only for teachers, but for all staff and non-staff members.

“Instead of signing and writing in their time of entry, they will have to give a fingerprint impression which will automatically record their attendance. There is no difference really, between the two,” she said.

However, teachers in other institutions have questioned this reasoning.

Stella Maris teachers pointed out that they continue to sign the register, along with registering their attendance on the biometric system.

“The reason we were given for switching over to biometric – to do away with registers, does not hold good,” said a teacher.

Anna Adarsh College principal Jayasri Ghosh said they have always maintained a ‘late register’ and the biometric system has not made much of a difference, except for bringing in some accuracy in recording the arrival time of teachers.

“Our teachers, especially those who have been with us for many years, have always been very punctual, and there is a grace period of ten minutes too. The system however, may work for youngsters,” she said.

The move has also drawn a lot of ire from teachers’ associations. “This is a counterproductive initiative, as it strengthens a misplaced presupposition that teachers are habitual offenders. Such policing will only dampen the spirits of teachers, most of whom are self-motivated,” said M. Ravichandran, vice president, All India Federation of University and College Teachers.

Over the last few weeks, the idea of installing biometric systems for teachers to ensure they spend five hours in college every day, has been mooted at other colleges too.

According to sources, teachers at an arts college in north Chennai protested, refusing to provide their fingerprints for such a system, after which the management put the matter on hold. Many colleges maintain a separate register for latecomers, and teachers with three late marks, lose a casual leave.

Such policing of teachers is not rare in colleges in the city.

Colleges seem to compete with one another to install CCTV cameras to record and monitor the movement of teachers and students. Such monitoring is common at DG Vaishnav Evening College, which also has a biometric system for attendance.

“Many teachers across colleges are forced to keep standing when they teach. The moment they take a break, or sit down, they are summoned by the principal,” said a teacher from a women’s arts college.

This was not the case some years ago, said old-timers, especially in colleges known to respect the liberal nature of teaching.

“For many years, we never had an attendance register. Still, teachers used to come to class with books, fully prepared to engage with students,” recalled an old professor at Madras Christian College (MCC).

Recently, when MCC insisted that teachers wear ID cards to work, citing security reasons, many teachers protested saying it was an assault on the liberal nature of the college.

“The teaching world is being corporatised at the cost of the dignity of teachers. Teachers use various techniques to teach students. This can never be time-bound,” said another teacher.

In private engineering colleges, the policing often is even more rigorous. In all Jeppiar institutes the quality of teaching is monitored through CCTVs by the management, and teachers are often asked to explain the failures of their students. “There is no privacy once you reach the college, as every movement is monitored in the name of discipline,” said a teacher.

The concern is not limited to private institutes alone. Even in a college such as Anna University, there are at least 60 cameras that capture movement of teachers and students on campus all the time. Deans and higher officials can monitor them on big screens in their rooms.

“Such measures reflect the lack of confidence authorities have on their teachers, and the control they want to exert. All of it is very unhealthy and condemnable,” said Prof Ravichandran.

More In: Chennai | News