New Delhi: The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are yet to implement the reservations policy among their faculty, a month after the human resource development (HRD) ministry asked them to do so “with immediate effect”.
And seven months after the ministry, which oversees education, asked all Central universities to reserve 27% of staff seats for other backward classes (OBCs), that process has not begun.
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The reasons vary, from confusion over the edict to legal challenges, but the main problem is that finding educators is hard enough—and finding them from less privileged classes is even harder.
“In any case, we struggle to fill up the existing vacancies. With almost half of the vacancies for teachers going to reserved categories, it might just get more difficult,” said Juzer Vasi, deputy director of IIT Bombay.
At IIT Delhi, for example, about 20% of faculty positions are vacant.
Further, according to a report prepared by its alumni association in 2004, at least 20% of its most experienced faculty plan to retire by 2011. The shortage is most acute at IIT Roorkee, which has a sanctioned strength of 575 faculty; yet it only has 345 faculty members.
In a 9 June letter to all seven IITs, the government had ordered 15%, 7.5% and 27% quotas in teaching positions for scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and OBCs, respectively. For subjects in science and technology, the reservations would apply to lecturers and assistant professors, but not professors. In management, social sciences and humanities, reservations would apply only at the professor level.
The order came in the wake of a landmark Supreme Court decision that mandated all government universities implement a 27% reservations policy for OBC students.
The idea has been hotly contested for years, but finally met approval with the caveat that seats would be added, not taken away from general category students. IITs, which reserve no seats for faculty members currently, but do so for administrative posts, have called the ministry’s direction “vague” and “incomplete”.
“The question is not whether we would implement the quota, but the issue is how and how soon?” said IIT Guwahati director Gautam Barua. “Our institute is meeting sometime this month to discuss the issue and evolve a consensus.”
The situation is not much better at other places of higher learning. According to a 2003 report on revitalizing technical education in the country, an additional 10,000 doctorate holders will be needed by this year alone to meet faculty requirements at Indian engineering institutions.
The report was authored by an HRD ministry development committee headed by U.R. Rao, a prominent scientist and former director of the Indian Space Research Organisation.
After the ministry’s January directive to the regulatory arm University Grants Commission (UGC) to ensure reservations at Central universities, New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) approved the quota for its teaching positions.
But, Citizens for Equality, an activist group led ironically by another JNU professor, promptly filed a petition saying the government’s implementation of quotas was unfair. Central universities have already been applying quotas in faculty appointments for SCs and STs, but often have trouble filling them.
The group also challenges the earlier notifications of the ministry in 2006 that broadened the definition of lecturers to readers and professors so quotas would apply; it says this order lacks constitutional basis and also affects the autonomy of colleges, granted in the Constitution.
The apex court last month asked UGC, JNU and the Union government to file a reply in the case.
JNU vice-chancellor B.B. Bhattacharya declined to comment on quotas in faculty positions, saying the “matter was sub judice in court”, but he said the HRD ministry’s stance is generally supported by his faculty.
“The merit argument put forth by anti-quota activists is a standard upper-caste argument,” agreed professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy, president of the JNU Teachers Association. “At JNU, we all support the quotas that are very important for social inclusion of backward castes and communities.”
IITs also have apprehensions regarding a large number of reserved seats getting “de-reserved”, or going back to general category candidates, in case there aren’t enough applications from candidates under the quota. The ministry said this would be allowed if postings do not get filled “despite all efforts”.
“Each time we say anything against the quotas, we are termed non-inclusive in our approach. But if we de-reserve seats that otherwise belonged to the reserved category, we would be at the receiving end of overwhelming flak, no matter how earnest our efforts may be in filling up the quota seats,” one IIT director said on condition of anonymity.
“We, therefore, want the government to protect us against this prospect, too, while giving us absolute freedom to de-reserve the seats and fill them up with general candidates.”
The elite IITs have struggled to find overall talent and just last week a minister for higher education suggested they create a database of young talent at the doctoral level, as well as non-resident Indians and premier professors at other universities. With incentives from signing bonuses to fellowships, IITs are even helping faculty settle down on the campus; the Delhi campus recently added a Web page to help new hires negotiate details such as gas connections, maid servants and schools for their children.
IITs are also considering a proposal that would ensure no general category candidates are displaced due to the quotas among faculty, according to a person with knowledge of that proposal.