Delhi University in the dock following suicide of ad hoc teacher

It blew the lid off one of the university’s worst-kept secrets and drew attention to a serious lacuna in teacher appointments.

Published : May 18, 2023 11:00 IST - 8 MINS READ

Nandita Narain, Professor, St Stephen’s College, and former president of the DUTA, at a protest by student activists demanding justice for Professor Samarveer, on April 27 outside the Hindu College in Delhi.

Nandita Narain, Professor, St Stephen’s College, and former president of the DUTA, at a protest by student activists demanding justice for Professor Samarveer, on April 27 outside the Hindu College in Delhi. | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

It was a tragedy waiting to happen. Samarveer, a 33-year-old Assistant Professor of Philosophy, died by suicide on April 26 in a flat in a North West Delhi locality. Samarveer had lost his job as an ad hoc teacher in the Department of Philosophy in Delhi University’s Hindu College. His suicide blew the lid off one of the university’s worst kept secrets.

Ad hoc teachers comprise close to 50 per cent of teachers in the university, with an estimated 4,267 of them working in 66 colleges. This situation arose because the university did not recruit teachers in permanent teaching positions for a decade. Now the university has started filling those positions, and the ad hoc teachers are at risk of losing their jobs.

The selection process for permanent teachers does not give any preference to ad hoc teachers who have kept the academic routine running at the university for many years now; they were appointed as ad hoc teachers by a selection committee. A university regulation adopted in December 2007 laid down a detailed procedure for selection of ad hoc teachers, and the teachers so selected were issued appointment letters that clearly stated that their services could be terminated any time.

The appointment is for a maximum of four months, and after every 120 days they take a notional break in service for a day and are issued fresh appointment letters. They do not enjoy any benefits that permanent teachers get, yet their duties are the same as those of permanent teachers. 

Also Read | Government plan to let foreign universities enter India raises concerns

The colleges are not legally bound to absorb ad hoc teachers in permanent positions. The legal position on ad hoc teachers, as it stands in Delhi University’s Ordinances derived from the Regulations of the UGC, is: “All vacancies of teachers shall be filled through all-India advertisement by open recruitment, save in the cases of vacancies, appointment to which may be required to be made urgently in the interest of the organisation of teaching in the college concerned for the period not exceeding four months or beyond the term in which it is made whichever is earlier.”

When permanent positions are filled, ad hoc teachers are not given preference on the grounds that such preference would be unfair to candidates who potentially respond to the all-India advertisements. The fact that ad hoc teachers have been found qualified enough to teach for so many years through repeated appointments is apparently of no consequence.

  • About half of teachers in Delhi University are emplopyed on ad hoc basis.
  • There was no appointment in permanent positions for a decade.
  • Now that appointments in permanent positios have started, the ad hoc teachers who have kept the academic routine running for so many years are not being given preference.
  • The appointments are consequently displacing ad hoc teachers, some of whom have been teaching for years.

The ‘massacre’

So now the filling up of permanent positions is displacing ad hoc teachers at random, a situation that Nandita Narain, former president of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA), described as a “complete massacre”. She teaches mathematics at St. Stephen’s College.

But does this ruthless purging make for greater merit in college teaching? The University Grants Regulation (Minimum Qualifications for the Appointment of Teachers and Other Academic Staff and Universities and Colleges and Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education), as amended in 2018, gives 100 per cent weightage to interviews by selection committees. It replaces a previous set of guidelines (of 2016) that allowed 50 per cent weightage for academic record and research, 20 per cent to interviews and 30 per cent for domain knowledge and teaching skills. The DUTA had fought hard to oppose the amendment, which gave complete discretion to the selection committee in appointments.

Vacancies in teaching positions are filled by the colleges themselves. In the absence of any recruitment for permanent positions for a decade, every college has had to handle a large number of applications for each position. All candidates are interviewed by the selection committees, at best for a few minutes each. And that interview becomes the basis for recruitment of permanent teachers. How does this guarantee greater merit than the selection process applied for selecting ad hoc teachers?

Sant Prakash, president of the Voice of the Ad Hoc Teachers Association, approached the courts with a few others to challenge the UGC regulation on appointments. “What kind of employment is this where, on the one hand, people are recruited and, on the other, those who have been teaching for more than a decade are thrown out on the streets,” he said.  

Vishal Pandey is one such teacher who approached the Delhi High Court in February 2023 seeking a stay on the UGC regulations of 2018. Pandey, who is among the few ad hoc teachers in his college who have not been “displaced” yet, contended that in the selection process for direct recruitment of Assistant Professors academic excellence, teaching experience, research and publication were not considered as criteria; interview was the only criterion. The UGC claimed in court that the changes in the regulations were made following recommendations of an expert committee. When the court asked for the report, none was furnished. The hearings are still on.

Interestingly, candidates are shortlisted for interview on the basis of academic scores even though overall academic excellence is not a factor in the interview. Pandey told Frontline: “I think the regulations were amended as that enabled the process of appointing people with a certain bent of mind. Had the 2016 rules been applied, it would have been difficult to do so as we, as ad hocs working for years, would have easily made it.”

No justice

One ad hoc teacher who has taught history for 10 years spoke of the injustice they faced. “Earlier, we used to give three interviews a year for the same course, sometimes in the same college. DUTA fought this and said that every 120 days we should be given an appointment letter…. The history of DU has been that our permanent colleagues started off as ad hoc and were finally absorbed.”

The teacher also spoke of how in many colleges interviews were held but results were not announced: “Where staff associations put pressure, teachers could not be thrown out. In the Mathematics department, 11 of the 12 teachers were thrown out. They were all long serving. In History, 10 posts were advertised. Five of the eight of us who were compensating for the work load of the remaining two posts, were thrown out. In the Physics department, 27 posts were advertised while 18 were teaching. Fourteen of them were thrown out, and two of them had two decades of experience in teaching.” 

Ad hoc teachers have some hope when the teachers in charge (TICs) or principals are assertive in their favour. Teachers who spoke to Frontline said that there were political considerations in appointments and in the constitution of selection committees, with most of their members being nominees of the Vice-Chancellor.

Most ad hoc teachers whom Frontline spoke to were reluctant to identify themselves as selection interviews were still going on. One of them said she had gone through eight interviews so far. But there was no way of finding out who had got in. “We choose our words carefully in the interviews. There is no respect for ad hoc teachers. We did not receive a mail about our termination. I had to write a mail to the college for an experience letter and a relieving letter so that I could try other job options,”she said.

Also Read | Lack of government funding is starving Jadavpur University

There are murmurs that the recruitment process for permanent positions is politicised, not only in DU but other Central universities such as JNU. In several colleges, even students have protested that some of their best teachers are being displaced. 

There was an outpouring of rage in Delhi University following Samarveer’s death. A former colleague of his, now retired, said Samarveer had become withdrawn after his candidature was rejected by the selection committee of the college where he had taught for many years.

Ashutosh Vyas, who teaches Philosophy at IGNOU, knew Samarveer since 2010 when they joined the MA Philosophy programme of Delhi University as students of Hindu College. He described his friend as “an extremely sensitive person, who was at the same time a dreamer who thought of and weaved the dream of a better world, where morals, justice, merit and hard work are appreciated and valued”. His background was middle class but his parents ensured that he and his sister received the best education. Vyas said Samarveer was also “poet, a singer, song writer, actor, scholar, ardent reader, film analyst, a teacher, a deep reflective person”.

Nandita Narain spoke of how certain changes were introduced in the education system as early as 2008 and thereafter, such as choice-based credit system, increased fees, granting space to private universities and foreign educational institutions. “The difference is we protested and were able to stall some things. But today, we can be thrown out, taken to court and even jailed for protesting,” she said.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment