The article “Give the professor a raise” by Philip G. Altbach and Iván F. Pacheco published in The Hindu (April 16, 2012) correctly calls to attention the much troubled state of affairs among teaching and research communities.

While, undoubtedly, the issue of what is an appropriate salary is important, the authors fail to provide a proper and helpful academic context to their assertions.

In part, they confuse, wilfully or otherwise, the critical difference between the quest among most academics for dignified pay rather than competitive salaries. It is crucial that this important difference — to be understood as the issue of dignified pay — has been linked by scholars in overwhelming numbers to the larger pursuit for creating an academically nurturing and learning environment or setting.

Demands by the teaching and research community, especially in recent times in India, have been mostly based on advancing the idea of academic freedom, adding to research infrastructure and crafting incentives which encourage and sustain learning.

Salaries are not and cannot be the only carrot for carrying out teaching/research. At heart are problems of the democratic functioning within university systems, the quest to formulate credible and meaningful standards among teaching faculty and finally, though this is perhaps the most difficult thing to raise in our current environment, there is a question of ethics on the part of the teaching community which has to be defined or at least raised.

Sadly, all these challenges have been dealt with through increasing bureaucratisation and sustained efforts to further reinforce administrative hierarchy. The recent effort by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to create what it has termed as an Academic Performance Indicator (API) point-based system to assess and regulate academic performance has become the source of much anxiety. This new point system not only undermines scholarship in several ways but also tries to engineer a quantitative approach to assessing academic work over that of qualitative assessment. The UGC's point system quantitatively measures and gives greater value (more points) to numbers of conferences attended/organised and to the number of publications, rather than recognising the quality of such work, the quality of the publisher and publications, innovations in research and teaching.

The conditions of academic work have, in recent years, faced many challenges in many of the central and State universities. The hollowing out of the public university system by imposing adverse working conditions with increased bureaucracy and declining infrastructure for research appear to be aimed at paving the way, as some rightly argue, for the wholesale introduction of profit seeking education by foreign universities in India.

Rather than listening to the call by academics for enhancing and enabling creative research and teaching standards, we, as current faculty members in Jawaharlal Nehru University, feel that many of the current policies have systematically been working to weaken and degrade university education in India.

G. Arunima, Pratiksha Baxi, Rohan D'Souza, Ajay Gudavarthy, Sneha Sudha Komath, Rinku Lamba, Siddharth Mallavarpu, Nivedita Menon, Rohini Muthuswami, Janaki Nair, Mohan Rao, Parimala Rao, Valerian Rodrigues, Kumkum Roy and Jaivir Singh, all of whom teach at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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