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READING UPENDRA BAXI IN 2012 It was 1994.

We had come from Patna to intervene in a case( the University of Delhi vs Raj Singh) listed before a bench of Justice A. Ahmadi and Justice S. Bharucha in the Supreme Court. We were arguing that the university should follow the UGC guidelines regarding selection of lecturers. The bench, initially seemed to agree with us;common sense would say that all universities should follow a universal set of rules framed by their regulating body. When the tide seemed turning against Delhi university, a man, sitting in the front row before the judges stood up and made an argument that Delhi University was an autonomous body and had all rights to decide how to select whom as people who would be deemed fit for teaching there. What the apex body thinks good for all the universities in India may not be the best for Delhi University. His argument led to a judgement which allowed the UGC to frame qualifying norms and yet leaving the university free to devise its own selection procedure. While coming out of the court room, we encountered the man who had partly spoiled our case. We were told that he was Upendra Baxi, Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University. This incident has remained etched in my mind and keeps coming back to me occasionally. Last year, when the Academic Council of Delhi University was being told that as the university had to make its stand clear before the Supreme Court which was hearing a plea to remove the 'blasphemous' essay on Ramayanas by AK Ramanujan from the undergraduate reading list and the best way was to drop it altogether, I recalled this incident. Here was a Vice- Chancellor who thought it his duty to leave his chair and go the the highest court to give it awareness of the criticality of the concept of autonomy of a university and here is a leadership unwillingly to stand up and ague for the autonomy of its faculty to choose its syllabus and study material! Perhaps the era of Upendra Baxis has simply lapsed into oblivion! Similarly, I lamented when the JVice- Chancellor of the JNU did not feel it necessary to tell the Supreme Court that Lyngdoh committee recommendations could be good for other universities but the JNUSU election- procedures were unique and should not be interfered with. Students were left alone to fight the battle , as if its was a sectional interest at stake and not something which affected the corporate life of the university as a whole! When the departmental heads and principals of Delhi University were told to submit names of the teachers participating in the recent protests, apparently in deference to some imaginary ruling of the courts against protests and strikes on the campus , I started wondering if it was a willing surrender of the right of the university to govern its internal life before an outside agency ! Even before that, when the departments were discussing the proposal of the university to put all courses in the semester mode, they were asked to maintain a record of the teachers favouring the move, opposing it and those choosing not to take sides. Message to the teachers was very clear : fall in line or suffer! If not all the teachers, then at least the heads were made to follow the administrative diktat! And we should remember that all of them are senior professors! So, we have the spectacle of the professoriat choosing for itself an identity of establishment over that of teacher. It was argued by the university administration that since the UGC had asked all the universities to go for the semester mode and the best universities around the world followed it, Delhi University could not possibly remain outside the universal fold! Again the argument of universality and compatibility with a set of standards framed by some neutral agency was used to silence the doubting teachers. They were portrayed as status-quoists, shirkers and saboteurs . They did not have the capacity to understand the pace and dynamics of the world of knowledge and therefore there was no option for the leadership but to coax and force them into the new mode as only this suited the interests of the students. The same argument is now being used to justify the introduction

of four year undergraduate course. Teachers , who want a larger discussion on this issue before implementation , are again painted as obstacles which should be contemptuously kicked aside to make way for reforms. It is said that the so-called consultative process is too long-drawn and reforms cannot wait for them. Therefore,emergency powers of the VC have been invoked a number of times in the recent past , that too in matters related to curriculum and syllabus which have long-term implication for thousands of teachers and students. Use of emergency power or regular emergency meetings of the academic bodies to decide on academic matters also means that the larger teaching community is deprived of its right to contemplate on the proposed changes and reforms in a relaxed manner. As if the 'nation' were in a kind of military emergency and decisions could not wait for the luxury of 'parliamentary' discussion. Again, I am reminded of Upendra Baxi who abhorred the idea of emergency powers and seldom used it as vice-chancellor , never at least in curricular matters. The ongoing hostility between teachers and the administration in Delhi University is also a result of conflict in the ideas regarding the nature of teaching and academic life and the role of universities in general. Universities in India have long been shamed for not turning out productive people. And yet,when society at large and political class in particular, failed to rise to the occasion in the wake of the human catastrophe in 1984 or 2002, young men and women from our universities worked for weeks and months in the relief camps in face of all oddities,and then in the struggle to secure justice for the wronged, when students documented the discriminatory practices of the employers against workers involved in construction work on the campus or other manual jobs and fought for their rights; I felt that the departments of politics, economics, social work, law, literature and sciences of our universities have done their job well. Universities are rightly expected to prepare young persons for participation in the economic life of the nation and world. They are also expected to push the boundaries of knowledge.But their most critical role is to act as social critics, to question the ruling ideology of knowledge and the act of knowledge production , to understand that power and knowledge are entwined , or in the words of Baxi, to show that it is power that produces knowledge. And this understanding leads me to think about the politics of knowledge and its relationship with the politics of the campus. It is often taken as an activity 'lumpens' engage in , from which serious minded ,knowledge producer professors are expected to maintain a respectable and may I say, safe distance. Not a problem, it this politics fetches for you 'accelerated wage benefits' which you think was your due anyways ( Baxi again) but never legitimate in matters of curriculum or syllabus. Those who do it are dubbed 'lumpens' who disturb the life of the mind and interrupt in unseemly ways coitus cognitus. The ideal of a university is a citadel of knowledge without the lumpens ,the loud mouthed , politicking semi-literate students and teachers who mistake profoundly the area of knowledge with that of power. ( who else but Baxi?) Yes, I am reading Upendra Baxi in 2012 and what a distance we seem to have travelled from his time! The image of a vice-chancellor proud of his autonomy as a 'hedonist teacher' who would maintain and nurture a community of learners, looks like a mirage we are running after. Universities have already turned into mini nation states and its leadership morphed into righteous rulers who have a duty cast upon them by history to lead the ignorant to light. What is the role we teachers should choose now for ourselves ?