On March 7, the Narendra Modi government passed an ordinance restoring an old system of reserving teaching posts in public institutions of higher education. While the ordinance ended a year-long freeze on hiring, it came too late for most universities to start recruitment before the election schedule was declared on March 10 and the Model Code of Conduct came into effect. There is also confusion about the new 10% quota for upper caste poor, introduced early this year. Only a handful of institutions have initiated the process to implement the quota so far, with only one university actually adding it to the reservation basket.

Appointments to faculty positions had been on hold since March 2018 when the University Grants Commission adopted a new system of reserving teaching posts for the historically marginalised communities. The central reservation policy mandates a 15% quota for the Scheduled Castes, 7.5% for the Scheduled Tribes and 27% for Other Backward Classes.

Since 2005, this was applied after taking all vacant teaching posts of a particular rank in an institution as one unit. But after the revision, which was prompted by an Allahabad High Court order from April 2017, reservations were applied with a department, with far fewer posts than an institution, as the unit.

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This made it practically impossible to reserve teaching positions and left nearly all vacancies for upper caste candidates. The move led to widespread protests, forcing the commission to put its own direction on hold.

The Modi government challenged the Allahabad High Court’s order in the Supreme Court and, when that failed, brought an ordinance on March 7 restoring the old reservation system. The ordinance was notified by the human resource development ministry and the same day the University Grants Commission asked the universities to “start recruitment immediately”. But teachers say the government left it too late.

They fear they may have to wait until after the election ends in May for recruitment to begin again. Rajnish Jain, secretary of the University Grants Commission, said the universities will have to “check with the election commission” if they can advertise posts now.

Allahabad University in Uttar Pradesh has announced 558 vacancies but is yet to notify the detailed list. The advertisement first said it would do so on March 18 but issued a correction on that day saying “due to unavoidable circumstances and Holi festival” the details of faculty posts would be uploaded by April 5.

Similarly, on March 8, the Central University of Karnataka in Gulbarga announced 147 vacancies without details and said the application process would begin on March 26. However, on that day, it postponed the faculty recruitment process “due to unavoidable circumstances” and is yet to announce a new days.

Implementing new quota

In January, while recruitment was on hold, the government amended the Constitution to grant a new quota for upper caste poor. Public universities were told to reserve a further 10% seats for students who were not eligible for any of the other quotas and came from families with income of less than Rs 8 lakh a year. This new quota is currently facing a challenge in the Supreme Court.

The ordinance, however, does not mention the new 10% quota, said Nenavath Sreenu of Indira Gandhi National Tribal University in Amarkantak, Madhya Pradesh.

This has caused confusion and led to the quota being unevenly implemented. The Central University of South Bihar in Gaya has reserved 10 posts, all at the assistant professor level, for the economically weaker section, but the Central University of Jharkhand in Ranchi has not earmarked any post under this quota, neither has Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh. The Haryana Public Service Commission has advertised 524 teaching posts in colleges, applying the state’s reservation policy. Again, there’s no post for the economically weaker section.

N Sukumar, a political science professor at Delhi University, noted that implementing the new quota would require institutions “to revisit and rework the entire roster” for calculating reserved positions. They cannot simply restore the old system but must compute afresh the number of reserved positions and the departments where they belong.

A protest against the new faculty reservation system before the ordinance was issued. Photo via Twitter

‘Backlog and shortfall’

Teachers are also closely watching how reservation for the Other Backward Classes is being implemented. While the March 7 ordinance provides for a 27% quota for these groups at all levels, the universities appear to have continued to apply it only at the entry, or assistant professor, level.

After the 27% quota was introduced in 2006, its application was restricted to assistant professor posts. This was done mainly to ensure the number of unreserved posts did not drop drastically, but the “creamy layer” rider was also responsible. In addition to social backwardness, applicants from the Other Backward Classes had to prove they did not belong to the “creamy layer”, or prosperous section, within their respective communities. To be eligible, their family income had to be below a certain amount, which has been revised several times and currently stands at Rs 8 lakh.

Teachers from the Other Backward Classes expect the March 7 ordinance to open up the higher ranks of the academia for them. “We are observing the process, checking if universities are applying it at all levels,” said Lakshman Yadav, a Delhi University Hindi teacher hired under the Other Backward Classes quota. The Universities of South Bihar and Jharkhand and the Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya have all reserved only assistant professor posts for the Other Backward Classes so far.

Yadav said they are also keeping an eye on whether the universities factor in “backlog and shortfall” while reserving posts. Because reservation in teacher recruitment was implemented long after the universities were established, the majority of the posts are held by general category candidates or lie vacant. In this situation, applying reservation only to new appointments would not ensure that 27% of the teaching staff is from the Other Backward Classes, 15% from the Scheduled Castes and 7.5% from the Scheduled Tribes. “It will take decades for the composition of the teaching staff to change unless the universities factor in this shortfall,” said Yadav. “But the universities are not doing it and as a result reservation isn’t being applied properly.”

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