Thursday, July 17, 2014

Conference leave and sundry other things

I had a feeling of a deja vu when I read a blog post in The Chronicle of Higher Education this morning. The blogger was an academic called Robert Epstein and the post was on academic freedom in the context of conference leave. Just in case you want to read the blog post, here is the link:
Reading the post was indeed a chastening experience as well. Let me tell you why.
For over a quarter century of my three-decade-long teaching career, I have been a faculty trainer and seminar/conference leader. At Andhra Loyola College, where I taught for about three decades, and at Vignan University, where I worked, on invitation, for about six months, I never had any difficulty in obtaining duty leave to lead conferences or run workshops in other universities and colleges; the managements of these institutions were, in fact, proud that one of their professors was invited to lead conferences and conduct workshops. Then I accepted, on invitation again, a key position in a college where this became difficult. In the very first month of my appointment, I was invited to lead a national conference as the keynote speaker, and I asked for duty leave for the purpose. I was told that I could avail myself of "academic leave" not more than two or three times in a year. I said, 'My role at the conference will be much more than that of a mere participant: I will be the keynote speaker.' But it cut no ice.
At first, I wanted to resign and leave the college. Then wiser counsels prevailed: I thought I might have to contend with almost the same attitude in any other college or university. The invitation to work would be gracious, and the position would indeed be flattering, but soon the routine would take over. So, I decided to continue in the same college in the same capacity but with a difference: I opted to work there for not more two or three days in a week and devote the rest of the week to faculty training and consultancy. I had a few other compelling reasons for opting to work part-time, but the attitude that underlined the decision on academic leave was the last straw. This, of course, led to some reduction in my salary, but the bright spot is that I needn't beg for what Epstein calls conference leave.
Instances such as these -- Epstein's experience, mine, and those of various others that Epstein describes in the post -- are a measure of how higher education is being led all over the world. I remember what the late V V John said several decades ago about the people who headed higher educational institutions in India during his days: '...they have the vision of the frog and the mental alacrity of the buffalo.'  If he were alive, he would now say that the frog and the buffalo shine by contrast.

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