Why are ideas like “discipline” and “world class” not only detrimental but also regressive for a university? And if protests, hunger strikes and campaigning have no impact whatsoever on the institution, then what is the alternative? All this and more was discussed at a seminar on “The idea of a university” organised by the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) at India International Centre here on Thursday.
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Professor Jayati Ghosh said the institution called university was going through a period of crises and that the academics couldn’t afford to be excessively academic while fighting the evil. She also said that “solutions imposed” by those with the power to bring about a change were only detrimental and went on to list the “myths” of improvement being propagated by the reformists.
“A university should not be world class,” she said, while dispelling the first myth, that aping and copying institutions overseas was the key to improvement. An example was of the practice of rankings. She said most of the rankings were dubious and mere advertisements generated by businesses.
The next myth to be dismissed was that of “efficiency”: “We cannot measure out efficiency by the number of working hours, the number of times we were face-to-face with students, etc. It is more complex and rich.”
Myth No.3 was that universities must be oriented towards generating returns. “This is just foolish. Studies have shown that the universities that are made with concentrated efforts on employability have the poorest percentage of employed students. They do not generate graduates who can understand the world. We must create the ability to learn.”
Myth No.4 is that universities must be more disciplined. “Mindless focus militates against creativity, imagination and democracy.”
“Myth No.5 is that you can do all this on the cheap. Universities are like a white elephant. Why are these professors and students standing or sitting about discussing things all day? They must be more active. They must make do. Let the professors all sit in one room, no need for individual rooms; there is no need for a bigger library, things like this,” she said.
The reason for the event was well-known. The recent agitations against the “reforms” that DUTA said were being bulldozed by DU without academics being consulted. DU Executive Council member Abha Dev Habib started out by saying that this was a political platform and that it was a dangerous situation for a university when heads of departments said things like “the V-C has ordained and so it shall be” without listening to counter-arguments or offering an explanation for any act.