Notes on the Academy is a magazine that aims to critically evaluate academic institutions and culture. Our efforts are directed at making the larger community admit that these problems are not one-off cases but are systemic. We hope that our efforts spark a conversation among your circles about how higher educational institutions may be re-imagined, and how we, as a community, might work to cure academia of its illnesses.
As we see it, our major efforts will be directed towards the compilation of testimonials — anonymised accounts from people across as wide a base as we can find. Take a look at the detailed introduction for our thought process and instructions to move forward.
We also host articles about these problems. If you’re here for the first time, we encourage you to consult our manifesto, which highlights our foundational beliefs.
All these links, and more, can be found in the main menu.
In part 1 of this piece we tried to understand tenure through the lens of the role it plays in the system of academia. To do this, we first listed out some essential aspects of academia, and how tenure functioned in relation to those aspects. Let us now take these observations and synthesise them to try to understand what our position should be on the new type of tenure proposed by NEP 2020.
When we evaluate a machine, we think about the stresses and strains various components exert on each other. In normal conditions, it is by way of these forces that the machine performs its intended function. And t is precisely these forces that cause degradation over time — the piece that gets bent out of shape first is the one on which the most force is acting. Similarly, when evaluating this social system, we should evaluate the stresses and strains the components of tenure exert forces on each other, deforming it so that it is no longer able to perform its function; we should look for the ways in which tenure negates itself.
“India debates a nationwide tenure system,” reads a headline in Nature.1 It seems academics across the country are debating whether to adopt a tenure-track system for faculty, or keep the current one. This should confuse anyone who has spent any time in an Indian institution. Senior professors in our institutes seem to have no worries about losing their jobs, with some of them not even turning up at their office. What is the cause of this nonchalant confidence, if they don’t have tenure? Why is our current system not a tenure-track system?
The discussion summarised in the article takes for granted that professors should be given tenure; the discussion is not about whether professors should be given tenure but about which of two models the tenure system should follow — tenure after one year or tenure after five years —, and whether tenure is called tenure. We usually think of academic tenure as a guarantee of continued employment, not a question about when professors get that guarantee. Why is this being discussed at all? Because the NEP 2020 has proposed such a change.
I remember reading Sandipan Deb’s The IITians: The Story of a Remarkable Indian Institution and How Its Alumni Are Reshaping the World a little over a decade ago, around the time my classmates and I were studying for the Indian Institute of Technology’s Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) in hopes that we too would one day join the ranks of those world-reshaping alumni. Breathless and hagiographic, the book crystallised the reverence with which IIT was viewed, not only by my peers but also society at large. To “crack” the IIT-JEE and become an IITian meant many things at the time. For some, it meant one was marked as a member of the intellectual elite, standing head and shoulders above the rest. For others, it meant one was guaranteed a high-paying job on graduation. Some even wanted to go abroad, and for them an IIT education was the surest path to a foreign graduate school admission. An imprimatur, a golden ticket, a lifeboat. This impression of the IITs has changed little in the decade since then.
Ajanta Subramanian’s recent intervention — The Caste of Merit: Engineering Education in India — is an impressive and welcome salvo against the all-pervading sense of exceptionalism surrounding all things IIT, in particular aiming to understand “how the democratic ideal of meritocracy services the reproduction of achievement.”
Recently, “The Mine Field,” a powerful testimonial that was published in NotA, received many heartfelt responses. Two of particular interest to us were those from faculty members in Indian institutes. Since one of the prime purposes of this publication is to start a conversation about life in Indian academia specifically and academia more broadly, we must begin by thanking them for participating.
What follows is more than 1000 words in response to a couple of tweets from months ago. This is somewhat self-evidently ridiculous. We would like to offer the following in the spirit of countering harmful ideas that we thought were reflected in the tweets, while fully acknowledging that it is unreasonable to assume that these 140 characters, or what we read into them, is a reflection of the authors’ true opinions.
“Let us begin by expressing our appreciation for all the students here, as well as prof. Sudharson, fighting the fight. And thank you for sharing your stories. We are humbled that the NotA collective has been able to play its tiny part in all this. We at the NotA collective would like to learn how to help more with these important and necessary battles, please reach out to us if you’d like to discuss. We will leave our details in the chat box.
“The unlawful termination of Prof. Sudharson from the Madras School of Social Work is the most recent addition to an already long list of instances where faculty at colleges and universities in this country have been intimidated, harassed, suspended, or dismissed for doing precisely what is expected of them: thinking critically and speaking honestly. The case of Prof. K.S. Madhavan at the University of Calicut, who was issued a show-cause notice by the university administration for authoring an article highlighting how reservation policies are being subverted, is just one more example, but there are many others. There are some common features shared by all these events that we would like to highlight. We believe that these three features are all different faces of the same overarching process.
Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.