Ashoka University’s Irresponsible Approach To Ancillary Teaching Staff
Tathagat Chaubey, ASP 21
Ashoka’s TFs and ICT instructors are the teaching staff pushed to the periphery of academia at Ashoka. One saying that they are “the class of instructors at the lowest rung of the academic hierarchy”. There are twenty hours of teaching as agreed in the contract, but office hours, building lesson plans and so on require a lot of additional time and effort. Due to the contractual nature of the job, there are a lot of benefits that are not available for these employees. Working conditions, pay and terms of employment are all different compared to full time or even visiting professors.
Last year, there was a team of fifteen ICT instructors and around thirty five TFs. Most of these faculty members have recently graduated and are working at their first job. There are very few job requirements, making the position quite open. Most faculty move on after their contracts expire. Of the fifteen ICT instructors, only nine remain. Two haven’t had their contracts renewed and four have moved on to graduate school.
There are several issues faced by these faculty members who feel like there is nowhere for them to turn. There is no real representation mechanism for teaching fellows or ICT instructors at Ashoka. There does exist a faculty council called the Teachers Association Faculty Council Meet but the right to vote and contest is limited to professors. “There is no TF Union because [they] are ‘individual contractors’”. Even instructors who have been working at Ashoka for four years are told that their jobs aren’t supposed to be permanent and they must choose different pathways eventually.
The Vice Chancellor has in the past, following the TF orientation meeting in January 2020, given reassurances and promised to help those wronged by unfair proceedings. The promises included but were not limited to an update in the housing policy, an option of 10 month contracts/early pre-registration that would be looked into, an OAA member to be the new point of contact for all TFs, assurances that semester feedback forms would be compulsorily looked over by professors to discuss student responses, and TF representation in CASH support. Additionally, TFs who teach multiple courses must be compensated accordingly, instead of getting paid the same amount as those teaching just one course. The last demand is in line with a Supreme Court ruling which says that there be equal pay for equal work. Despite these hefty promises, no action has been taken yet as the VC remains unresponsive to follow-up emails.
There is a lack of job security due to last minute contract renewals, leaving employees in a prolonged state of limbo after their initial four month contracts run out. Moreover, this makes shifting houses and searching for new jobs at the last moment quite a burden. Additionally, contractual workers don’t have transparency when it comes to the details of their colleagues’ contracts indicating a lack of structure or formality. This leads to misinformation and distrust as workers are perceived to be arbitrarily awarded contracts that could last four months, ten months or even a year.
Additionally, employees don’t have clarity when it comes to the details of their colleagues’ contracts indicating a lack of structure or formality. This leads to misinformation and distrust as workers are perceived to be arbitrarily awarded contracts that could last four months, ten months or even a year.
This leads to employees feeling like they are “disposable” and that their position at the university is “precarious” and uncertain. Though there is plenty of talk about mental health on the campus, employees feel like these amenities are unavailable to them. At the end of the day, there is “no esteem, no surety of employment, no way of addressing all of this when something like this happens in the middle of a pandemic… we are very vulnerable within the university community.”, a former ICT instructor said.
The firing or technical “non-renewal of contract” of two ICT instructors was alarming. Especially, given the VC’s email justifying full tuition fees, which states explicitly that there have been no firings and that the current university employees will be paid full salaries. Two former staff didn’t have their contracts renewed on the pretext of “low student feedback” despite having been given assurances upon their hiring that this would never play a part in the judgement of their work.
This decision is “arbitrary”. Not only has there been a breach of understanding and trust between the employer and employee, there is also a shirking of responsibility. First year, first semester students are given the power, without their knowledge or consent, to decide the fate of their ICT instructors under the duress of not getting their grades until they submit feedback. These students have “no idea about the repercussions their decisions will have” the former ICT instructor said.
A former ICT instructor was left helpless after their contract was not renewed. There was nobody they could approach to inform themselves about their rights on campus, let alone get help when those rights were breached. “If a [teacher union] exists, they’re not easy to reach … we felt like there was nowhere for us to go, we were cut off from the rest of the university. We didn’t know enough people to approach anyone”. Upon seeking support from colleagues, the ICT instructor’s supervisor insinuated that they would get no help from that area. “Essentially [what she said was], don’t unionise”.
Efforts taken by the ancillary staff to unionise were thwarted by the admin. The Admin said that a union could not work if people are not going to stay for a while as there is nobody to lead. The Admin also said, “find a new pathway, this is not meant to be a permanent job”.
During the fairly recent orientation procedure put in place for new TFs and ICT instructors, there was lack of information about worker and labour rights. What is truly shocking, though, is that there is a lack of information on how to deal with issues of sexual harassment. The general trend seems to be geared only towards protecting students from the ancillary teaching staff, without focusing on the mechanisms to protect faculty members themselves.
The reasons behind the administration and in particular the VC’s disinterested and unsympathetic nature are unknown. One can only hope that bringing these issues to light will result in justice being served and concrete steps being taken to keep these issues from happening again. The onus lies not only on the ancillary staff but also on students and professors in speaking up and holding the administration accountable.