Call for change after ex-contract lecturer’s likely suicide

University teacher organisations in India are calling for an improvement in faculty employment practices in higher education institutions after the recent death of a former temporary lecturer – apparently by suicide – who lost his job at one of the country’s most esteemed universities earlier this year.

On 26 April, Samarvir Singh (33), formerly an ‘ad hoc’ (temporary contract) teacher at Hindu College, affiliated to Delhi University (DU), died at his home in outer Delhi. Family members, colleagues and students claim that Singh was depressed after his contract at the DU college, where he had taught for seven years, was terminated earlier this year. An ad hoc assistant professor at the time, Singh was also pursuing a PhD.

His death gave vent to angry protests by teachers and students, amidst allegations that Singh was displaced from his job despite being highly qualified, capable and diligent. DU teachers’ organisations and staff associations of colleges affiliated to DU have unanimously demanded that ad hoc teachers be made permanent.

Singh was popular with his students and fellow teachers at Hindu College. His students told reporters at a press briefing on 2 May that he taught well. One of his students said: “Some of the best teachers are being thrown out. There has been a decline in the quality of teaching. Ad hoc teachers have no security for their families.”

Recruitment drive

According to Singh’s colleagues, in a massive recruitment drive to fill thousands of permanent positions, the university has been replacing ad hoc teachers with new graduates who have no university teaching experience. They described the process as “a grave insult” given the years of service put in by ad hoc staff.

During the last 13 years, a large number of ad hoc teachers were hired by Delhi University, but very few of them were made permanent. Meanwhile, almost 5,000 permanent positions at DU had remained unfilled until a recruitment drive started last year.

Now some 4,000 to 4,500 permanent teachers are to be recruited for DU and job interviews have been ongoing since the second half of 2022.

However, many ad hoc teachers, some of whom had been teaching their subjects for the last 10-15 years, failed to clear the interview as the new openings for permanent positions attracted thousands of external applicants.

Around 72% of ad hoc staff have lost their jobs during the DU permanent faculty recruitment drive, according to teacher associations.

Ad hoc teachers claim the selection process is not transparent: those with years of teaching experience were dismissed after just two to three minutes of interview. Some claimed that preference was given to inexperienced and less capable people over those with PhD degrees and years of experience.

Assistant Professor Rajesh Jha, a former member of the executive council of Delhi University, confirmed that since the recruitment drive began last year, three-quarters of ad hoc teachers have been displaced and said: “How can a candidate, who has been found suitable for the job by the college for years, be declared not suitable in a ‘blink and out’ interview?

“In the given situation, interviews failed to ensure justice for them and absorption [conversion to a permanent post] is the only way out,” Jha said. “Conventionally, university departments played a very important role in the process of recruitment, but they have been sidelined in the ongoing process.”

No job security

Ad hoc positions tend to be governed by a contract lasting four months. Performance is reviewed after that period and the contract may be extended on that basis. Because they are paid less, institutions usually hire temporary staff to save money.

Delhi Democratic Teachers’ Front President Nandita Narain said: “According to university rules there cannot be more than 33% of ad hoc teachers, but in Delhi University more than 40% of the teaching workforce was [employed] on an ad hoc basis.”

In addition to a lack of job security, no promise of a permanent position, and a salary appreciably less than their permanent counterparts, ad hoc teachers are also not entitled to the same benefits, such as retirement benefits, teachers’ associations said.

Many ad hoc teachers have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. However, they are also indispensable in maintaining the quality of education, the associations said.

Job insecurity and displacement of ad hoc teachers has been a long-standing issue. In 2019, DU tried to ‘displace’ over 4,500 ad hoc teachers, leading to protests and strikes that continued for weeks. Finally, the university extended the contracts of temporary teachers.

Claims of ideological appointments

Some argue that ad hoc teachers are being replaced for ideological reasons, with preference being given to incumbents whose beliefs align with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“The professors of DU are not sent in [to their jobs] as experts, with very tiny exceptions. Hence, neutrality has been compromised and there is large scope for biases in the selection of candidates on the basis of political and ideological considerations,” said Jha.

Some 50 to 60 ad hoc teachers recently lost their jobs in Hansraj College, also affiliated to DU, with teachers’ associations saying those who had to leave were not close to the ruling party.

Attempts to reach the vice-chancellor of Delhi University for comment on the recruitment process failed to elicit a response.

Binoy Viswam, a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, who belongs to the Communist Party of India, expressed dismay at Singh’s suicide and urged Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan to expedite the process of regularising ad hoc teachers at the earliest.