Kolkata: Teachers drop out, Presidency's world-class dream takes a beating

PresidencyIn the past one year, at least nine professors have left the university, some of them in less than a year after being hired
After the Trinamool Congress came to power, one of the promises Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made was to turn the Presidency University into a world-class centre of excellence and revive its past glory. But two years later, things are not exactly looking up for the university, with the flight of teachers being one of the major headaches.

In the past one year, at least nine professors have left the university, some of them in less than a year after being hired, because of low payscale, corruption and poor infrastructure.

Professor Prabir Mukherjee, who joined the physics department in October 2012, quit on November 30 that year. His appointment, he said, was "confusing". "When I was given an appointment letter, it said I was being hired as an associate professor but when I received my salary it was that of an assistant professor. The difference in pay was about Rs 20,000," he told The Indian Express.

"When I asked, I was told that I would have to be on probation for a year and after that I would be officially made an associate professor and would be paid the difference in salary with retrospective effect. I didn't agree to it because I am associated with various journals and there are friends whom I had told that I was an associate professor and updated my information on the net as well. How could I tell them that I was back to being an assistant professor? I would be proving myself a liar. So, I put in my papers," he said.

Another professor, who did not want to be named, alleged that he quit because there were people in the administration who told him to resort to unfair ways to make up for his pay deficit. "They offered me several projects through which I would charge the university and earn a lot of money apart from the salary. I was told that my salary could not be beyond what the UGC permits but these perks would help me earn more. It was unfair and I found it very disturbing, which is why I resigned," he said.

History department's Professor Benjamin Zacariah alleged that he quit because of corruption. "I resigned after I witnessed disregard of all rules in the appointments procedures, reopening of sealed examination papers and victimisation of students who protested against irregularities," he replied to a query from The Indian Express.

But the university administration said that Zacariah was asked to leave following several complaints, a charge the professor denied.

Former principal of Presidency College Amal Mukhopadhyay blamed the flight of talent on loopholes in the system. "The university had promised teachers a higher scale of pay than what the university teachers across India got. That is not possible if you are affiliated with the UGC," he said.

He also alleged that the selection process was not perfect. "Many qualified scholars were even denied an interview. There was no transparency in the hiring process. People were selected because of their research in some field or other but being a researcher and teaching efficiently are two different things. Quite a number of teachers left the university because they were unable to teach."

Mukhopadhyay also blamed the mentor group formed by the government in 2011 to provide a roadmap to make it a world-class university accusing it of barely doing anything.

"The government had appointed a mentor group which has no knowledge of the university. The chairman of the group is from this university but as far as I know he has not set his foot here in the past 30 years. Plans to make it a world-class university overnight is a pipe dream," he said.

Former vice-chancellor of the university, Amita Chatterjee, attributed the problem to non-implementation of statutes because of which there was a confusion among professors about their appointment. "The statute was submitted in April 2011 while the regulations and ordinances were submitted in June 2011 but those had still not been implemented. People who were hired were not aware of their service conditions," she said.

University Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar, however, said the professors who left had their personal reasons. "Out of 159 professors if seven or eight leave in a year, you can hardly call it an exodus. Some had resigned because of family problems while some were not happy with the pay," she said.

Sarkar also defended the mentor group, saying, "Of the mentor group, only three live abroad and the rest are in India. Even the ones who live abroad visit the place regularly. The professors who come from abroad bring in their experiences from places like Harvard and MIT. The mix of many minds and their way of thinking would bring in the change that we want but it will not be an overnight process."

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