Tenure Track System: Observations & Thoughts- A Difficult Way To the New World
Dr Aniruddha Babar
The Education system in India will go through a serious change as it gradually adapt itself with the framework laid down by the New Education Policy. I have spoken extensively on many occasions on the factual dynamics of NEP 2020 on various platforms; however, I believe that there have been issues which may need wider public debate. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore that the ‘change’ is coming to the education sector which has relatively escaped from ‘reforms’ for over three decades. The current Government has been strong on reforms.
It is critical to recognize the role and contribution of colleges and universities in the policy narrative, and time is ripe for government and independent forces in education to start aligning and collaborating towards a new world where Education sector will thrive with new possibilities. The 21st century classroom requires 21st century teachers. The NEP has given new meaning and dimension to the profession of teaching & research. Professional development of teachers, building their accountability through tenure track system and periodic performance appraisal, all can create a positive impact. One of the many new changes that NEP has prescribed is the suggestion to introduce ‘Tenure Track System’ at pan India level.
The idea of Education in India has evidently remained stagnated at the level of classroom teaching where Teachers habitually comes, delivers a lecture and disappears. It has been said that the teachers teaching in higher education institutions in India have a limited understanding as to their profession merely in terms of ‘delivery’ of academic lecture and completion of ‘administrative responsibilities’. Consequently, what has been widely observed that the gross ‘Quality Research Output’ from Indian academia at all levels-in Universities, Colleges as well as Independent Research Institutes has been comparatively lower than their Western counterparts.
This is the major concern which has rightly been pointed out and addressed by National Education Policy 2020 which has openly emphasis on the need to maximize Quality Research Output to contribute to the ‘Universal Ecosystem of Knowledge’ that has been largely dominated in the modern days by Western Academicians and Scholars. It has often been said in academic circles that, “What Indian Academicians and Scholars think today, Westerners have already thought ages ago”. National Education Policy of 2020 has challenged this notion and raise serious questions as to the necessity of REFORMS in the Education system not just in the interest of students but also in the interest of larger spectrum of ‘knowledge’ where Indian Academia is duty bound to contribute- not only for the present, but also for the tomorrow to come. Teaching and research are two sides of the same coin and help improve higher education while creating a better society around us.
One of the core objectives of the National Education Policy 2020 is about generating and sharing ideas that will be widely applicable in real-life settings which encourage Academicians and Researchers to discover applied solutions to the burning problems in the society. On the contrary, quality research in India principally hinges on doctoral research work (leading to the award of MPhil/ PhD degree) produced by the universities that follow UGC regulations. There is a common misconception that influenced large number of our Academicians all over India that the PhD is the final frontier of knowledge that they could achieve, but the reality is far different. PhD Degree is nothing but a license to enter deeper into the darker depths of the ocean of Knowledge, research, discoveries, possibilities, creations and annihilations. PhD has no value if one does not know how to utilize it in the best possible way in the interest of the world around him/her. Therefore, New Education Policy sets an agenda of improving the “quality of research” by faculty and creating new knowledge and strategies for improving research culture in colleges and universities which would be super competitive and quality oriented. India has massive potential to enrich the knowledge ecosystem.
Due to the entry of private players in the education sector in the last two decades the quality of infrastructure, institutional support system has also improved, funding sources has been freed from Red-tapism. However, the consensus is that the quality of research is far from reasonable or no research at all. Here we should not be just concerned about the quality of PhD Research but also what PhD holding Academicians does in their academic career. India has been rightly called by the world as a Cradle of Civilization- a Land of world class ancient learning centres and universities like Pushpagiri, Nalanda, Vallabhi, Telhara, Somapura Mahavihara, Sharada Peeth, Jagaddala Mahavira, Taxila and Vikramasheela that remained sources of the light of knowledge to the world for thousands of years. Where that rich academic culture and heritage has gone? When the Western Academia has been standing true to the legacy of Library of Alexandria, Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Peripatetic School, University of Constantinople, University of Bologna, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge; where are WE standing? Where are our Academicians standing? Where is our Research and our Achievements standing? Where are our Colleges and Universities standing?
We love to dwell in the past knowing well that past has no meaning at all on the dynamic timescale on which human civilization is constantly moving, progressing, evolving through the tides of Time, Space and Social gravity. We must look up at the horizon and walk STRAIGHT to the light and for that we need new ideas, new thoughts, new perspective, new approach, new vision and new courage. Who will give that? It should come from the custodians of knowledge.
Who are the custodians of knowledge? The Colleges, Universities, the Research Institutes, the Centres for Higher Learning, the Think Tanks are the custodians of knowledge. In order to allow the custodians of knowledge to perform their ‘sacred’ duties and responsibilities, the ‘REFINERIES’ of the knowledge must be strong, well-maintained and these refineries are the ACADEMICIANS, SCHOLARS, THINKERS AND TEACHERS. Without Quality Refinery there cannot be Quality Knowledge contribution and dissemination. Future of society depends on Colleges and the Universities- Where Present meets the Tomorrow and conspires to CREATE A BRIGHTER FUTURE.
Research is to see what everybody else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought. Research is a primary duty of an Academician who should not be assessed or judged merely on the basis of his/her capacity to teach but also an ability to produce original ‘THOUGHTS’ & ‘IDEAS’ to increase the stock of knowledge. The quality parameters on the basis of which the performance & abilities of an Academician needs to be judged should have a stronger support of a robust system in place to evaluate ‘intellectual calibre’ by an ‘External expert committee’ as evidenced by the quality publications, documented research grants, consultancies and over all intellectual contribution made from time to time. Even though there is a set system in existence as prescribed by the UGC regarding the selection of a candidate for the post of Asst. Professor- a stepping stone in the world of academics it does not at all guarantee the quality of the chosen ‘talent’. Eminent educationists are of the opinion that in the present academic context of India even the NET, SET and PhD cannot guarantee the quality performance of a ‘Faculty Member’ in the ‘real-time’ scenario. We can observe number of cases of PhD holders or even the Post-Docs who are not able to deliver-par excellence; let alone do research, similar chaos can very well observed in cases where candidates have qualified NET/SET examinations.
Such is the scenario which has already been well documented in various research studies that attempted to explore, assess and evaluate the standards of Academics in India. There have been many cases and institutional scenarios wherein no research has been actively encouraged and the faculty members are allowed to remain content with their mediocre performance. How do we then ensure that quick appointments to a very well paid, highly privileged and permanent position do not encourage complacency?” Who is at the loss in the end? It is the Institution, Students and finally the society- the biggest stakeholder of academic institution is at the loss. Will there be any solution to this million dollar problem? YES there is!
Introducing Tenure Track system in the rigid Academic world of India may not be able to yield immediate solutions to the aforementioned problems; however, it can definitely pave the path to the quest for a better academic world. Advocates of the system emphasize the contributions of tenure to professional excellence and the social quest for truth. They deem these common benefits more important than either the individual benefits or the costs to those who do not achieve tenure. Tenure grants a professor permanent employment at their college or university and protects them from summary dismissal. The concept is closely tied to academic freedom, as the security of tenure allows professors to research and teach any topic—even controversial ones.
So here we can see that the Tenure system creates a win-win position for the academic institutions as well as the academicians. The evaluation of the performance of a new faculty member for initial 6/7 years (American practice) before granting or rejecting a tenure offers sufficient time to prove his/her metal through rich continuous contribution to the knowledge ecosystem by way of academic visibility, series of publications, securing research grants and other academic ways & means. There is no doubt that the system puts immense pressure to ‘perform’ on newly recruited candidates however at the end this pressure will bring out the best from them and set them on the right track with robust mental constitution and necessary sharpness to survive in academia and contribute to the knowledge ecosystem. We have success stories of young academicians from all over the world engaging in path breaking research endeavours resulting in miraculous discoveries under professional pressure.
System of Tenure Track can be easily accommodated in local settings of academic institution with suitable modifications considering the local needs. Trial period after appointment which we understand today as ‘probation’ which is generally kept as one Year has lost its meaning and became a mere formality; instead probation can be increased up to 2.6 or 3 years before granting a ‘Permanent Appointment’ however, that too would have to be subjected to rigorous continuous internal and external comprehensive assessment, evaluation and blind review. This system will make mandatory for faculty members to do ‘Research’ and produce quality publications. This will also benefit the institution as well in improving their NAAC ranking. Also, the research oriented environment will create positive impact on the students and inspire them to produce quality research output.
Tenure Track System helps young academicians to develop and inculcate productive academic habits which would enable them to perform in a challenging working environment with ease and meet the demands of ever changing academic world. Also, it is one of the finest ways to establish professional accountability as well as necessary credibility. The future of academic institutions and the academicians in India will depend on how well they can perform under pressure without losing balance and sight. The Tenure Track System if developed and implemented religiously in India can produce intellectually robust, super competitive, goal oriented, performance oriented, highly professional Academicians and Academic Leaders.
Therefore, I conclude, it is not NET/SET or PhD or some Post Doc that can give the guarantee of performance of Faculty Member but a systematic implementation of ‘Tenure Track System’ with absolute transparency can change the destiny of Academic world in India. This is the system wherein the BEST and the FITTEST PhD holders, Post Doc Academicians, Teachers will perform, survive, grow, prosper and reach to the much deserving glory. This is the system where their past achievements, their royal alma-mater, past international awards & fellowships, their NET/SET qualifications would not be enough to protect their careers but continuous, quality performance throughout their careers (even after getting ‘tenured’ or ‘permanent’) can only make them sustain. If WE need robust intellectuals to change the destiny of our land then we have no option but to introduce ‘Tenure Track System’ on War footing.
The 1940 Statement argues tenure, by ensuring academic freedom, contributes to the common good through the search for truth and its free expression. This argument was well elaborated by Kingman Brewster, then president of Yale University:
“This spirit of academic freedom within the university has a value which goes beyond protecting the individual's broad scope of thought and inquiry. . . . If a university is alive and productive, it is a place where colleagues are in constant dispute; defending their latest intellectual enthusiasm, attacking the contrary views of others. From this trial by combat emerges a sharper insight, later to be blunted by other, sharper minds. It is vital that this contest be uninhibited by fear of reprisal. . . . ["On Tenure," AAUP Bulletin," Winter 1972, (Vol. 58, No. 4) pp. 382-3.]
(Aniruddha Babar is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Tetso College in Dimapur of Nagaland)
February 13 2021