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Equal Work, Unequal Benefits: The Struggle Of Ad Hoc Teachers For Permanence And Dignity

The death by suicide of Samarveer Singh, an ad hoc faculty at Delhi University, has opened the fissures of the recruitment system in colleges and varsities.

DU teachers protest demanding withdrawal of circular mandating appointment of guest teachers
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What is the value of a well-lived life? Is it all about negotiating with the existing fallacies? And if the negotiation fails, one perhaps feels what Rohith Vemula wrote in his ‘first and last letter’: “I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty.” Did Samarveer Singh, the 33-year-old ad hoc teacher of Philosophy at Hindu College feel the same way when he was replaced despite seven years of his untiring service?

Popularly known as Jean-Paul Sartre of the department, Samarveer’s suicide has reopened the fissures of the recruitment system in colleges and universities.

Throughout the last decade-and-a-half, Delhi University (DU) has seen a massive spread of what is widely referred to as ‘ad hocism’. Other universities are not far behind. Credible estimates indicate that until recently, there were around 4,500 ad hoc teachers working only in DU colleges. Some of them have been working for more than a decade. But how did this systematisation of ad hoc faculties come up?

Systematisation of ‘Ad Hocism’

To understand it, one must look at the recruitment requirements of ad hoc faculties. According to DU’s Executive Council’s Resolution No. 120 (8), dated 27.12.2007, “In case there is a sudden, unexpected and short vacancy, arising out of a sudden sickness or death, on medical grounds (including maternity leave), abrupt leave or any other situation that may disrupt the normal process of teaching-learning, an ad hoc appointment may be made”. The resolution clearly notes that the appointment should be of a minimum of one month to a maximum of four months’ duration.

In addition, it also notes if it extends beyond four months, it should be “filled up on a temporary basis as per due process and procedure i.e. through a duly constituted Selection Committee.” But the delays in recruitment processes changed this four month’s tenure to years of unacknowledged work— sometimes stretching up to more than a decade.

Mukul Mangalik, who taught at Ramjas College, says that this was never the situation prior to 2009-10. “I will not say that permanent recruitments were always done within the stipulated time, but they were done soon enough, and generally ad hoc appointments did not stretch on endlessly,” he says.

The surge of vacancies in DU colleges, nevertheless, can be attributed to three major factors. Firstly, in 2006, due to the Other Backward Class (OBC) reservations, Central Universities were provided with additional teaching posts to maintain the student-teacher ratio. As per the reports, DU was given 2,600 posts, of which around 1,300 had been filled.

In 2010, when the Academic Performance Index (API), a measure to quantitatively judge the merit of a teacher comprising different matrices ranging from research paper publication to attendance in foreign conferences came up, there were formidable discontents among faculties leading to protests that consequently affected the recruitment process. Lastly, between 2008 and 2013, a considerable number of teachers retired from DU.

All these factors created conditions for the recruitment of ad hoc teachers. As ad hocism began to spread, pressure, it would seem, built up on the authorities to hold interviews for permanent appointments at the earliest. Unfortunately, instead of such interviews taking place, ad hocism appears to have been systematised by continuing to extend the four-month terms of already appointed ad hoc teachers while giving them a break-in-service in between.

“For the break-in service, we lose around two months’ salary. Mostly the session gets over around the end of May following which the summer vacation starts. If we join on the very first day of the next session, we get a salary. Otherwise, in 12 months, we get 10 months’ salary only,” says a faculty of a DU college who didn’t want to disclose her identity as it might affect her “prospects in the ongoing recruitment.”

Everyday Uncertainty

Currently, large-scale recruitment of permanent faculties, pending for years, is going on in DU colleges. Its outcome has pushed several of them toward further uncertainty as many allege that the recruitment process is biased and politically motivated. This allegation, however, is not new.

In 2017, media reports say that there were several faculties who accused DU of favouritism. A few faculties even pointed out that they started doing household chores of the powerful senior teachers who could help them to sustain as ad hoc, if not recommend them for a regular post.

Bereft of the social security benefits like Provident Fund (PF), pensions, health insurance and even basic leaves, these ad hoc teachers are pushed to the brink of uncertainties every now and then. Sandeep Singh (name changed on request) of Kamala Nehru College says: “We have four leaves in four months and we can’t avail those together. If something happens to us, we are unable to take a week off. Or else, we would be removed,” says Singh who has been teaching in ad hoc position for around seven years.

Most of the ad hoc faculty members become meek due to the constant pressure of losing jobs, he notes. “During the Covid period, the ad hoc faculties were asked to report to the college if they leave the station. They were instructed to take online classes from Delhi only! The circular though was valid for everyone, the regular faculties didn’t follow it as they knew that these things would hardly affect their jobs,” Singh adds.

The clause of termination with 24 hours’ notice or without, mentioned in their contracts, always hangs over their heads and is reflected in their tendency to overburden themselves with work. “The ad hoc teachers’ responsibility at work is the same as that of a permanent Assistant Professor. Their terms and conditions of work, however, are different and unequal,” says Professor Mangalik.

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Noting the discrepancy in the emoluments, social security and other benefits, between permanent and ad-hoc teachers, he says, “Sadly, it amounts to institutional exploitation to push ad-hoc teachers through this for years on end. It is a clear case of being made to work in unequal conditions for equal work.” Among other things, ad hoc teachers are neither entitled to promotions for instance, nor to increments in pay, adds the scholar.

“After working for decades under such conditions for no fault of theirs, and contributing to the making of colleges through their long histories of labour, they have earned the right to work permanently in these institutions. It is an ‘earned right’,” he emphasises.

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Factors behind Ad Hocism

But what are the possible factors that promote and sustain ad hoc and contractual employment? Perhaps, as suggested by a former teacher from a DU college, it needs to be understood as part of the global spread of short-time contractual employment, combined, in the case of today’s India, with the need to ensure that the people employed, either as permanent faculty or on short-term contracts, will remain pliable and ideologically aligned to the requirements of the regime currently in power.

However, another ad hoc teacher at DU, who also did not want to reveal his name, said that political appointments have been the case for decades. “It may be possible that the frequency and density of such recruitments have increased but this systematic bias has always been there,” she says.

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On August 28, 2019, the DU authority sent a letter to all colleges under it asking them to “fill up the permanent [teaching] vacancies at the earliest and till permanent appointments are made, colleges may appoint guest faculty, if required, against new vacancies arising the first time in academic session 2019-20”. It floated a perception among the ad hoc teachers that their contracts would not be renewed and unless the regular faculties are recruited, the colleges would only hire guest faculties. It led to significant protests by the ad hoc teachers.
Under pressure, an amendment was issued that allowed the hiring of ad hoc faculties as well in case there are vacancies. It also asked the colleges to fill up the vacancies by July 2020 and assured that the ad hoc faculties would be given weightage on the basis of their experience during the permanent recruitments.

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Not an issue of DU alone

However, DU is not the only case where ad hoc employment has become a nightmare. The contractual faculties of other Central Universities Outlook spoke to also echo the words of their DU colleagues. Tabrez Alam (name changed on request) who has been working in Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) for more than a decade—sometimes as a guest and for several years as a contractual—points out their fate during the Covid period. “During Covid, they stopped hiring contractual and guest faculties. Nobody knows how people suffered.” While Alam managed to find work in different colleges, there were many who were not so lucky.

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Coupled with this uncertainty of being removed anytime, comes the systematic bias. “If you don’t have Godfather, it is difficult for you to become permanent,” says Majid Khan, who also has been in JMI for more than a decade. While in DU interview of the ad hoc faculties in every four months was discarded due to the pressure from Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA), in JMI, Khan claims, they appear in front of the selection panel in every six months to get re-appointed.

After passing through all these ordeals, do they get an edge over the others during the recruitment of permanent faculties? Khan says, “I have never got any advantage in JMI. Rather, I have seen my juniors being recruited for permanent positions.” Still, the possibility of protests to achieve what Mangalik calls ‘earned rights’ is the last thing that they think of. As everyone knows what the administration could do if someone protests, says Alam.

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One case of protest, far away from Delhi, at Central University of Jharkhand (CUJ), nonetheless, shows how it is side-lined, if not completely dodged.

In April 2021 Sameer Shau (name changed on request) joined CUJ as an Assistant Professor (Temporary). His contract though got over in October 2021; he continued working up to January 18, 2022, as his Head of the Department (HoD) asked him to carry on.

As his file was pending with the Dean, Academic Affairs, in expectation of his contract being renewed, he took classes, evaluated copies and did all other administrative work without taking a single penny from the University. In January, when he got to know that his contract would not be renewed, he asked the University to at least release his three months’ salary.

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Even after meeting all the administrators, except the Vice-Chancellor, who allegedly didn’t want to meet him, as he failed to get his dues, he lodged his complaint to the portal of the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances. Subsequently, the University received a notice from the government. The CUJ responded to it saying that he was rightfully paid during his tenure without even referring to the fact that he worked beyond his duration of contract. The government, nonetheless, closed the complaint noting that the University is an autonomous organisation and any grievance related to it should be redirected to them.

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“I only know what I had gone through for a year until I got another job,” says Shau.

This form of ‘institutional exploitation’, becomes many times compounded when these ad hoc faculties, in their times of extreme crisis, don’t even get the support of their own colleagues with whom they have shared work, concerns, struggles and moments of happiness for years. It is the vacuum stemming also perhaps from the lack of solidarity when he was removed from his job, that might have made Samarveer feel unbearably alone—a vessel of emptiness.

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