A letter from Faculty members in the History Department of DU

This is what some members of the Delhi University History Department have said in an Open Letter on FYUP.

Updated - November 16, 2021 10:09 pm IST

Published - June 07, 2013 09:58 am IST - New Delhi

“We are in the midst of strong protests by teachers and students against the imposition of the Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) in Delhi University by the University administration. Since forums for academic discussion and debate in the University are no longer functioning, this letter from Faculty members in the History Department at Delhi University seeks to set the record straight on many details related to this issue.

1) The public needs to know that discussions regarding the new FYUP were managed by the University authorities, not in a democratic academic environment framed by University regulations, but in committees carefully screened by the University administration. The Department of History, indeed no department in the university, was involved in its formulation. We were eventually given a framework within which we were compelled to produce a syllabus for undergraduate instruction (about 35 courses to be taught in the third and fourth years of the programme) in the ridiculously short time of a fortnight, eventually changed to a month. University authorities clearly have no conception that a task of this kind requires time for serious deliberation and discussion about academic content of the courses and the pedagogic principles underlining them.

2) If the History Department was distanced from the framing of the course structure of the FYUP, it was kept entirely in the dark in the making of the compulsory ‘Foundation Courses’ to be taught to every single student in the first two years. Until recently we were actually not privy to their contents – such is the level to which the University has distanced its Faculties from itself today. All new courses in the University are supposed to be first debated in the respective Department Councils, and then passed by their Committee of Courses and finally the respective Faculties. These basic University regulations that ensure the quality and academic integrity of its courses were systematically flouted to enable the passing of the Foundation Courses. The Faculty of the History Department was not informed, nor did we participate in the recently conducted orientation programme for the History Foundation Course which was held for the first batch of specially selected college teachers.

3) Serious questions can be asked about the intellectual and pedagogical quality of the Foundation Courses prepared by the University. The Indian History and Culture Course, for instance, lacks academic rigour, refers to subjects from history while providing no context, and does not introduce students to historical methodology or serious scholarship. Some of the signatories to this letter have drawn attention elsewhere – that the course suffers from a naive and flat presentism, and fails even so much as to mention caste, class or community formation. The casualness in the preparation of this course is underlined by the fact that some of its parts are plagiarized from a Class XI CBSE textbook. Leaving the ethics of the case aside for the moment, the education of first year students in Delhi University is pegged at the same standard as the CBSE! The course has a sophisticated bibliography, but it is clear that these readings were not the inspiration for its contents or the philosophy that guided its pedagogy. A more likely hint of its sources of inspiration lie in the online materials – links to Wikipedia – to which students are also guided. This is shocking considering that teachers all over the world strongly dissuade their students from using their variable and unverifiable quality of information.

4) It is essential to keep in mind that University Education is a moment for both intellectual exploration and training in the complexities of different disciplines. Instead we have courses like the compulsory Integrating Mind, Body and Heart, which consist entirely of a foray into selective episodes in the life of Mahatma Gandhi plucked out of context and require that students model themselves on him (and him alone) in their life. Surely the goal of a modern University is to promote independent and wide-ranging thinking rather than this kind of uncritical and most un-Gandhian worship / adulation of a single individual, no matter how great s/he may be.

The protest and anxiety voiced by the signatories to this letter cuts through the differing intellectual persuasions of the members of the History Department. While the University administrators blame the University Faculties for stymieing progress and course revision, this is far from the truth. We are protesting draconian changes that are conceptually weak, irregularly framed and arbitrarily enforced.”

Signatories: Seema Alavi, Shahid Amin, Yasser Arafath, Aparna Balachandran, Arup Banerji, Parul Pandya Dhar, Rahul Govind, Charu Gupta, Vikas Gupta, Amar Farooqui, Farhat Hasan, Sunil Kumar, Nayanjot Lahiri, Prabhu Mahapatra, Anshu Malhotra, Sanghamitra Misra, Biswamoy Pati, Bhairabi Prasad Sahu, Upinder Singh and Kesavan Veluthat.

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