Those who can, teach

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SummaryIs creative scholarship found only in research institutes? Across disciplines, the most notable names are teachers

the stodgy upper echelons of the academy kicking and screaming in radically new directions of theory and practice. The ivory towers of research institutes have contributed little to this ferment, and certainly no career researcher has faced any risk by taking anti-establishment positions. The majority of teachers, on the other hand, daily risk their autonomy, even their salaries, in protest. They have almost no say in how their institutions will be run and what changes should be brought about.

As I watch in increasing dismay and anger the systematic destruction of Delhi University by the vice chancellor and his bosses, I find it patronising of Mehta to describe the “push factor” from the universities as “dogmatism, factional politics and dispiriting institutional complexity,” for the first two appear to be the fault of teachers themselves, and the last is anodyne and meaningless. The push factor is in fact the deadening and monstrous bureaucracy over which teachers have no control whatsoever. Most teachers, even today, would prefer to stay in teaching, with short breaks in research institutes for a little breathing space from the enormous numbers and challenges of bilingualism in their classrooms; from the continuous grading of hundreds of exam scripts, an exercise that can take a third of the working life of a teacher; from administrative drudgeries career researchers can have no conception of. For, despite everything, we know that teaching is what keeps us from becoming complacent, and it is what keeps us creative.

Research institutes are critical components in the academic field, but only if they see themselves as organically connected to universities and teaching. There must be a dynamic exchange of energies between teaching and research — perhaps even exchange programmes between research institutes and universities in which teachers get time off to do research while the faculty of research institutes get to teach. But this kind of organic connection is possible only if people in research institutes have the clearsightedness and humility to see themselves as a part — and only a part — of the larger energies constituting the intellectual field.

The writer is a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

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