ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Academics under Surveillance

We have been reading newspaper reports regarding the introduction of the biometric system to monitor college teachers’ attendance at work. That teachers should be accountable is not a novel idea; and it is something that we wholeheartedly agree with. However, we are not very convinced about mechanised surveillance techniques, especially the proposal to introduce a biometric system to mark teachers’ attendance in Delhi University (DU).

Teachers’ collectives in DU have always been actively engaged in deliberating academic reforms and accountability of teachers. On 21 September 2000, it circulated a report of one of its committees entitled “Recommendations of the DUTA Committee on Academic Reforms and Curbing Absenteeism”.

There is surely a need for accountability but the introduction of biometric system is neither effective nor the most dignified one. An approach based on mechanised surveillance is by its very nature undemocratic and violates the spirit of academic institutions that seek to nurture critical thinking.

We are told that this move is a result of a directive from the court as a con­sequence of a public interest litigation. We reiterate that the court has not asked the university to introduce biometric system per se but to ensure accountability. However, in the unfortunate eventuality of the biometric system being introduced in DU, we would like to make the following suggestions:

• The biometric system of attendance must monitor the vice-chancellor, other senior officials, including professors, head of departments, principals, vice-principals, wardens, bursars, etc.

• The personal records of attendance should be made available to every teacher.

• The entire data should be open to scrutiny by all those who work in the college.

College infrastructure must improve – most importantly, there should be a well- equipped library. Teachers should have individual offices with proper furniture, computer terminals, printers, stationery, functional internet connectivity, phones, washrooms, drinking water, and clean and affordable cafés. If teachers are expected to clock certain hours in college, it would be imperative that adequate and dignified spaces are made available to them. Most colleges currently would not be able to accommodate over a hundred faculty members simultaneously, many of them have, for instance, converted lobbies and foyers into partitioned classrooms!

Finally, teachers’ presence in college should be in accordance with their timetables which would give them ample scope for research and writing; and should be evaluated on a weekly, rather than on a daily, basis.

Krishna Menon, Sunalini Kumar, Rina Kashyap, Bindu Menon, and 16 other faculty members
Lady Shri Ram College for Women,
University of Delhi.


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