The invisible crisis of college governance in Mumbai

The invisible crisis of college governance in Mumbai

While some discretion is at the heart of any authority, sadly, too often, this discretion, in practice, translates into arbitrariness and pettiness. It turns into an exercise of power to put a young teacher in her place, to show her who the boss is

VrijendraUpdated: Monday, February 13, 2023, 11:43 PM IST
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Representative Image | Pixabay

The most persistent — and largely invisible — crisis affecting our colleges is the crisis of governance. After all, all institutions are governed by some rules and regulations; all institutions work under various constraints and almost all institutions have an idea of where they wish to be in the future — its vision and mission — and orient their activities in that direction. In this regard, the governance practices of the institution play an important role. They ensure whether and to what extent the institution is able to realise its vision. In my experience, it is here that many colleges in Mumbai, with a few isolated exceptions, perform dismally, reflected in the wide gulf between how a college is supposed to be governed and how it is actually governed.

Let me briefly describe how regular undergraduate colleges are governed in Mumbai. These colleges are largely owned and managed by private, charitable trusts and they are affiliated to the University of Mumbai. (There are very few government colleges in Mumbai.) There are many layers of rules and regulations that govern the functioning of these colleges: the University Grants Commission (the UGC) at the national level (so far), the Department of Higher Education of the state government, the University of Mumbai, the trusts managing these colleges and, finally, the college Principal – the person actually responsible for ensuring the implementation of these rules and regulation.

These rules and regulations do not simply define the broad framework within which teachers are expected to work. Instead, these are very detailed instructions that circumscribe the day-to-day functioning of teachers in class-rooms: the number of teaching days, the number of hours of work per week, the duration of each lecture, the number of lectures, tutorials, if approved, and practicals (for science subjects) for each topic, each sub-topic, the kind of examinations to be conducted, the nature of question papers, the assessment criteria, the grace marks to be given (for improving the pass percentage in a paper) and so on. That is, all possible academic decisions are covered by these regulations.

For an individual teacher, the Head of the Department (the HoD), is the last, direct, and perhaps the most crucial layer of authority who exercises his/her vast discretion regarding all her work in the college, for example, the courses and classes she would get to teach, the time-table assigned to her, which seminars and work-shops she would be allowed to attend (or not). Further, depressingly, often, she finds that unless she teaches from a particular book, or follows certain specific notes, her students are going to suffer in examinations! The choice is often stark: fall in line or quit.

For administrative work in the college, each teacher is made a member of different committees and associations. In most cases, a teacher is assigned to these committees without taking into account her own interests and hobbies. In recent years, from time to time, additional circulars are issued by authorities to celebrate specific days, topics etc. And, of course, there are many unwritten, unsaid practices signifying the ‘ethos’ of a college, as defined by the trustees and others, that further regulate a teacher’s college activities.

Not surprisingly, often, for a young teacher, these detailed rules and regulations, coupled with the drastic power imbalance between her and college authorities translate into a stifling atmosphere in which her academic and non-academic choices are drastically restricted.

While some discretion is at the heart of any authority, sadly, too often, this discretion, in practice, translates into arbitrariness and pettiness. It turns into an exercise of power to put a young teacher in her place, to show her who the boss is. Further, there are very few checks and balances against such arbitrariness. And again, too often, the authorities at different levels function as informal and effective cliques, even as they often comply with all the formalities on paper.

There is a common thread running across all kinds of formal and informal regulations and restrictions on a teacher: a deep distrust of her judgements and choices; an unsaid apprehension that if she is given freedom to do as she wishes, she would shirk work, would somehow not perform well, would find an easy way out, whatever. Therefore, a strict, detailed monitoring of her work and activities is deemed necessary. The irony is that the same authorities have a blind belief in the competence of other authorities in colleges, and refuse to acknowledge that arbitrary power over a teacher’s daily work can be harmful to the teacher concerned and the institution itself.

Sadly, even as a teacher is required to follow all these rules and regulations, increasingly under the threat of disciplinary action, authorities at all levels feel no obligation to ensure that they implement their side of the bargain. Alarmingly, in recent years, different categories of teachers have been created who are paid differentially for the same work and same qualifications; a large number of junior teachers are paid fixed amount as salaries (much lower than the salary under regular pay-scales) with no regularity, no regular increment, no promise of job security and no possibility of future promotion. Even for permanent teachers, promotions are routinely delayed. In most cases, trustees and the Principal of the college, as well as government authorities, display no urgency in resolving such issues.

This dismal scenario is deeply demotivating for a college teacher. As a result, teaching hardly features among preferred career choices for most students in Mumbai.

Vrijendra taught in a Mumbai college for more than 30 years, and has been associated with democratic rights groups in the city

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