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Shrinking Academic Freedom, Worsening Work Conditions’: AUD Faculty Protest

Saying that the public university’s standards and environment are steadily declining, the AUD faculty has raised demands to the university administration.
Ambedkar University

Delhi: The BR Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) faculty members staged a demonstration at the Kashmere Gate campus of the university on August 17 against shrinking academic freedom, crumbling infrastructure, alarming faculty attrition, and arbitrary processes of implementing the Career Advancement Scheme (CAS). 

The protesting faculty, under the banner of AUDFA (Dr B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi Faculty Association), submitted a memorandum and a charter of demands to the varsity’s administration in this regard. 

The AUDFA has decided to give the varsity time till August 24 to consider and act on their demands, failing which the committee would decide the future course of action regarding reaching out to higher concerned authorities in the Delhi government.

Image: AUDFA’s protest demonstration outside AUD’s administrative block.

The memorandum highlights the university's consistent downward trajectory, citing the significant slip in the NAAC rankings from a CGPA of 3.02 (A grade) in 2014 to a CGPA of 2.80 in 2022. 

Research and Pedagogical Work Discouraged

The memorandum states that no service rules have been notified to the faculty, which allows for arbitrary and whimsical interpretations of existing rules and regulations. Contractual positions that were introduced in lieu of regular faculty are now being disbanded in favour of guest faculty posts, it said.

However, the AUD administration told NewsClick that as per the First Statute, “The administration always follows the provisions and the rule as per the University Act and statutes and ordinances.”

The appointment delays result in a loss of teaching and learning time and prevent programmes from running optimally, AUDFA said... The non-teaching staff also face insecurity due to short-term contracts and delays in renewals, which result in long breaks. 

The memorandum further notes that while AUD centres and faculty undertook projects and consultancies worth around Rs 5-7 Crore in the past few years, this amount is now barely reaching Rs 1 Crore. 

Raising the alarm over the restriction on academic and research work, an AUDFA member anonymously told NewsClick, “The university has served new pay fixation notices claiming that the pay received by the faculty has been wrongfully interpreted. Even though such a wrongful interpretation results from bypassing administrative procedures, some faculty members have been served recovery notices and recoveries are being made forcefully.”

The AUDFA member added, “The faculty is being denied their rightful privileges such as research projects, which bring the university prestige, are continually discouraged in the name of prior approvals that never arrive. This is evidenced in the drastically reduced research output of the university. Faculty members are required to get an NOC from the LG of Delhi for overseas travel for international conferences.”

However, the AUD administration claims there has been no delay on the part of the University in processing any proposal, including the NoC for the faculty member if the complete set of documents and the proposals were submitted.

Image: AUD Faculty’s protest demonstration in Delhi.

Wrongful Implementation of CAS

AUDFA alleged that the implementation of the Career Advancement Scheme (CAS) has been done arbitrarily, wherein few select faculty are rewarded with research opportunities while most faculty are denied a fair chance. An AUDFA member told NewsClick, “The promotion committees for faculty should comprise academics from the same disciplinary area as per the UGC regulations. However, these committees routinely consist of members from entirely different disciplines who pronounce judgments regarding the efficacy of the working faculty without any concrete grounding.” 

Delays in holding CAS meetings and denial of past service have also emerged as a norm in the varsity, leading to stagnation of the faculty’s careers. As many as 25 faculty members have resigned from their positions as the work environment in AUD continues to become increasingly hostile. 

Crumbling Infrastructure

Concerning the poor state of the university’s infrastructure, the memorandum says, “Students and faculty routinely work with broken furniture, power outages, non-functioning air conditions and fans, fungal moulds, unusable toilets, and flooded rooms.” 

Image: Situation of a building on the AUD Kashmere Gate campus.

The AUDFA member told NewsClick, “The idea was to use this space as a makeshift campus till AUD’s new campus comes up. However, the work on the new campus has not even begun. Poor infrastructure affects staff and students alike as they are forced to work and study in hazardous conditions. Ironically, despite the faculty raising demands for renovation, the university administration has renovated the administrative block twice in this period.”

AUDFA has also underlined the erosion of a culture of dialogue at the varsity, which leaves the majority of stakeholders outside the consultative decision-making process concerning the functioning of the public university. 

AUD Denies Charges

The AUD administration, in a written reply to NewsClick, has denied most of the charges levelled by the protesting faculty. 

The AUDFA claimed in its charter that at least 17 faculty members, including senior scholars, have resigned since 2020. Some of them have left AUD without any job “because of the stress resulting from the worsening work conditions,” it said.

Denying this, the AUD said, “Some of the faculty have gone to other universities with many new openings.” Regarding the resignations, it said, “The resignation tendered by the faulty members are unilateral decisions voluntarily taken by them. The competent authority has always given a personal hearing to all these faculty members.”

It said that CAS was also carried out on a regular basis since 2019, and 36 faculty members have so far been promoted to various levels, including Assistant Professor, Associate

Professor and Professor. “There are discrepancies in terms of eligibility and guidelines by the UGC CAS Regulations, whose cases are under review,” it added.

Regarding infrastructural issues, the administration claimed that the university has added various facilities including a multipurpose hall, auditorium, girls hostel, and faculty residences. Renovation work on classrooms and academic blocks is ongoing, with completed library and clinic renovations. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the university has made significant infrastructure improvements, it added.

Image: Photos from AUD, Kashmere Gate campus.

Charter of Demands

The AUDFA has raised certain demands in their memorandum to the university administration regarding the issues mentioned earlier. The charter demanded an end to harassment of faculty, immediate withdrawal of show cause notices and recoveries, a time-bound application and a review of CAS. It has further pressed for investment into repairing infrastructure and making the campus safe. 

To create a respectful work environment and promote academic and research work, the union has demanded the reinstatement of stakeholders in the consultative process and the restoration of functional autonomy to AUD’s schools and centres. The faculty union has decided to escalate these issues and demands with government authorities if the university administration fails to take proactive steps toward course correction.

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