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TISS Terminates Faculty Contracts: Another Attack on Academic Freedom

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The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, a public funded university, terminated the contract of 25 of its faculty members. The teachers, who were appointed on a contract basis, were sent letters stating that their terms will end on 31st March 2017.

The institute states that this move is unavoidable due to the fact that the UGC has not granted extension for three centers which were funded by it – Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policies, Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies and the Nodal Centre for Excellence under the Scheme of Human Rights Education. As a result, the faculties in these departments were notified that their terms will end on 31st of this March. S Parasuram, the director of the institute has said that UGC has not released 511.25 lakhs which are due to TISS. Such a move by the admin has raised much uproar among the faculties and the students. TISS is specifically being targeted because of its history of promoting dissent and dialogues. In its history, TISS has always exhibited an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect for differing ideologies and opinions. At a time when many policies of the government are being criticized, it becomes necessary for the dissenting voices to be suppressed. Hence, the fund cut.

In a country like India, at a time like this, this cannot be seen just as an isolated incident. On a bigger picture, it becomes one of the many attempts to curb and demolish the academic freedom and dissent across the country. The ruling party with its Hindutva ideology has been using various machineries to do this. There have been violent attempts to stifle all kinds of debates and dialogues. DU has recently witnessed a democratically organized event being disrupted by the ABVP. Students and even teachers were beaten up; all happened with the covert support of the police. Similarly, students belonging to the marginalized communities are often targeted. Najeeb Ahmed being subjected to a forceful disappearance and the state’s lukewarm attitude in finding his whereabouts, all point towards a fascistic trend that is slowly engulfing the academic environment of the country.  Also, the government has been pursuing a trend which aims to cut down on education expenditures.

The neoliberal approach that the government has been following seeks to extremely commercialize the field of education. It aims at promoting the vested interests of capitalists. Education is slowly being turned into merely a commodity which can be bought.  Such a trend is extremely alarming as it will make education a luxury which only the well-off strata of the society can afford. This will further weaken the already worsened condition of our education system. The marginalized and oppressed communities will be the ones who will have to pay the maximum cost for this. Recently, JNU witnessed a massive 86% cuts in research seats and Punjab University has made a drastic hike in its fees. At a time when the higher education centers mostly are modern agraharas with little entry to them, such a trend will extremely further the process of their social exclusion. It will be closing down the doors of education and empowerment to these communities.

Currently, TISS is only the latest example for the ongoing trend of limiting academic freedom and thoughts. At a time when the ruling class is afraid of any kinds of dissent and democracy, it is important to resist these attempts to protect and democratize the academic spheres of our country.

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