Teachers’ Metamorphosis: Instrumental Rationality and Academic Clerkship

Umbridge’s mayhem isn’t as alien as we would like

The modern Indian academia is haunted by apocalyptic acronyms like CAS, NAAC, RUSA and not to mention that progenitor of endless eccentricities: UGC. What generates the spectral power of these acronyms is the nexus between money and paperwork to which are subjected young academics full of hope and promise and intellectual acuity who realise soon enough that the system only demands imitation, repetition and boundless vacuity. A college or university needs adequate infrastructure for a teacher to impart education properly to students. To that end it needs adequate financial grants. Hence the inevitability of NAAC and RUSA. But the teachers also need to lead a reasonably worry-free life to dedicate themselves to the project of learning and teaching. And s/he may have committed the blunder of having a family. So s/he needs money, and given the inflation in this country and the rising cost of medical assistance, food and accommodation, quite a lot of money. So s/he needs (and deserves) upward movement along the academic ladder popularly known as the promotion. Hence the relevance of CAS (Career Advancement Scheme). What binds these acronyms together is the demand for production of endless papers with different formats, immense data and repetitive hollow rhetoric of many kinds, all of which is supposed to justify either the distribution of money to institutions or to individuals. For example, anyone who has had to endure the pathetic farce that unfolds in the name of a NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) visit will know how the whole college is forced into a collective enterprise of fabrication, manipulation and concoction of data that covers almost everything from what percentage of SC/ST students were there in the college 5 years ago to what is being done by students who passed out from the college, some of whom did not even bother to attend the classes while they were there. And much of this conjuration happens through a process of duplication where one canny colleague smuggles in the SSR (another pesky bugger) of a college that has recently suffered NAAC and the current victim-to-be simply changes the name and the relevant data with what the former-victim has painstakingly (maybe not, may have been re-appropriated from the similar document from yet another co-suffering institution) fudged for months. As stated before all these translate into imitation, repetition and boundless vacuity. Something similar happens for CAS. One’s ability, dutifulness and accountability is measured through reams of paper congealed into an apparently fat file whose weight alone should impress prospective experts among whom one may even find associate professors or professors who have never qualified NET (National Eligibility Test) and have climbed the ladders of academic hierarchy with somnambulist stupefaction. None of these processes have anything to do with the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge which is supposed to be the essence of academia, or which should have been the guiding principle of academic life. Instead, teachers are forced more and more into immersing themselves in exhausting paper work.  And they also have to sit idle for hours while waiting for students to arrive with proper papers during admission season. And they have to draft stale and perfunctory letters to different offices and departments for assistance during examinations.  And they even serve as presiding officers during elections. None of this has anything to do with pursuit and dissemination of knowledge which alone should be the task of teachers. Academic institutions are supposed to be endowed with non-academic staff who should be able to take care of the other stuff as they are not professionally bound to pursue and disseminate knowledge – a task that requires single-minded devotion. While there is no denying that a group of people involved in teaching presently are incapable of such devotion and undermine the profession by dabbling in ten thousand other things, there has also been a systemic devaluation of the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, mainly by clubbing it with other professions and by introducing alien mensurational methods based on quantification which are utterly incompatible with the academic vocation. The thrill that one feels when one learns something new or the ecstasy that courses through one’s veins when s/he is able to impassionately teach something and see the glint of recognition in the eyes of the audience – these are immeasurably precious experiences which cannot be identified through quantifiable data and attendant analysis. Teaching and the alchemic communication that takes place at times through teaching is a matter of affect, a visceral tripartite bond between the teacher, the student and the text which arouses wonder, stirs the intellect and motivates the heart to soar like the skylark into a Rushdie-esque sea of stories where multi-coloured strands of stories are merging and splitting into innumerable other strands of inexplicable hues. Teaching is supposed to be a plunge into such oceans where the teacher first guides and then allows the student to swim in his/her own style, with his/her chosen currents towards whatever shore he/she envisions. None of this is a matter of quantifiable data and mechanical procedures culminating in points/numbers/grades. But there is no daring prince in this land of cards who might shake things up with his defiant tunes and gestures.

Such absence is evidence of the total domination of instrumental rationality over the lifeworld of our societies. Since capital only moves through the abstract hyperspace of data, numbers, figures and performance models of one kind or another, the growing commercialization of the education sphere has meant a pervasive integration of the teachers with the rationality of capitalist domination and as an obvious outcome we have become shackled in a world of spectral mechanisms of control heralded by the notorious acronyms with which I began.  The result of such control is the gradual transformation of teachers into a hybridised clerk whose greater qualifications only breed frustration and discontent as he/she remains chained to various forms of bureaucratic drudgery that clinically oppose that realm of freedom, innovation, experiment and affective bond which the academic world deserves and yearns for. Even the grand old Shantiniketan of Rabindranath is no exception to this process. Mercuse’s nightmare is coming true, the one-dimensional man is proliferating through the flatlands of Indian academia.

“Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach? 

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. 

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. 

I do not think that they will sing to me”.


Will these lines be our chorus then? Or will we dare to “bombard the headquarters” (figuratively, of course)?


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