Teaching And Research – The Rot That Has Set In

To understand why it is necessary to decouple research and teaching it is necessary to understand the corruption that their association first helped usher in.

Recently HRD Minister Prakash Javdekar stoked a controversy by saying that  college teachers and professors would no longer be ‘assessed on research for promotion’. He said that they would be assessed ‘mainly on teaching and their engagement in community work’. Though the move will have some limitations as universities will not come under the ambit of this decision but colleges will.

While many rue the move, it is a correct decision to decouple research from teaching. Prakash Javdekar is right. To understand why it is necessary to decouple research and teaching it is necessary to understand the corruption that their association first helped usher in.

The research here means the research papers and books written in academic journals and publications. But 99.99% of these professors write and publish them because it has been made mandatory by the government and not because they have something original to say.

They do it because each publication will get them some ‘points’ on the API (Academic Performance Index) which has replaced the annual report that decides the performance of a professor. Every professor now has to write a minimum number of research papers in ‘national’ and ‘international’ journals every year; attend at least two or three seminars and conferences every year along with writing at least one book every two years.

The system has converted everything into numbers. While some activities like publishing research papers, books and attending seminars come under the mandatory criterion, some other just accrue more numbers and put them at the top of the list of the professors eligible for promotions. The latter non-mandatory but number accruing category includes guiding PhD scholars, research projects from government bodies like the UGC or the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla etc.

And guess what it has resulted in?

Thousands upon thousands of ‘academic journals’ have propped up in the country almost instantly in the past five years and they are taking ‘fee’ from these professors for publishing their ‘research papers’.

Pay attention to this detail. The professors have to actually pay for writing in these journals instead of getting paid.

And since all these journals are paid, they print any nonsense the professors provide them. One can write absolute, meaningless gibberish and give them to any of these ‘academic journals’ and they will publish them… of course for a fee.

It is even worse in the case of the publication of books. Any nonsense one produces, with not just textual, but grammatical and even spelling mistakes is getting published, since every second person these days has a ‘publication house’ with a registered license for providing ISBN number to the books they publish. A trip down Ansari Road, Kothari market or Jhandewalan in Delhi would acquaint one with dozens upon dozens of such ‘publishing houses’.

And in the age of digital printing, an ‘eminent professor’ can give these publishers 30,000 or 40,000 rupees in cash and they will print just ten copies directly from the printer, without ever going to the press and give it to the professor. The book will never see the stands. It will never be judged by anybody. It will just have a name and an ISBN number and it will get its author, the eminent professor certain ‘points’ on the API list, which will help him climb the ladders in his ‘academic career’. Since the professor knows it is gibberish and is actually afraid that somebody might find the truth out, he is more than happy with this arrangement.

To add more ignominy to this process, most of the professors can’t write, even those who actually know something. Writing is a skill and like any other skill, one has to work with it for years to hone it. It does not just come to you because you have a PhD. It needs years of practice.

So guess what it has resulted in?

An army of ghostwriters has propped up, called ‘professionals’ in the university lingo. They gladly offer their services to these professors. These ghostwriters are talented guys with writing skills but who are out of the university system. They are more talented than the ‘eminent professors’ inside the university system, but as fate would have it, while the professors are getting salaries as thick as 2 lakh per month, these writers are struggling to earn even 8000 a month.

And so they offer their services to these professors. Anything from 800 to 2000 for a research paper and anything from 35,000 to 90,000 for a PhD thesis or a book. An overwhelming majority of the PhD theses, books and research papers are not written by the professors on whose name they are published.

About seminars and conferences, a majority of them just take place in an ethereal subtle dimension, often just on paper. Eminent professors pay fee online and in return get certificates of ‘delivering a ground-breaking research paper at the venue’ right at their home. Often leaves are taken; tickets are booked and then cancelled. Why shouldn’t the organizers of the event earn more money by cancelling a ticket, on which the eminent professor never has to travel?

In this post ‘research-oriented’ university marking system that has been introduced in the past decade in India, there are only two kinds of research papers, books and theses:

One that has so many grammatical and spelling errors that they are virtually unreadable. These works are written by the professors themselves, those professors who are not willing to part with the publishing fee and think very highly of their non-existent writing skills.

The other kind has grammatically correct coherent sentences. They are technically correct too. These are written by ‘professionals’, the ghostwriters who write for the professors for a fee. Neither of the categories has anything akin to truly original, ground-breaking research.

It is only very rare that someone has written an original work with real research in it. To find such thesis, research paper or book is like finding a pin in a haystack, well… not haystack, but a dung heap as that’s how stinky the nonsense that ‘research-oriented academic system of India’ is producing right now.

Ten years ago, in the pre-internet age in at least most middle sized cities of north India, most of the PhD research theses were plagiarized in absolution, in content, language and form. The only thing an enterprising new ‘research scholar’ needed to do was to change the title of a formerly published thesis, and if he was too meticulous, he would also change the names of chapters and subchapters. This was enough to ‘write’ a new research thesis and get awarded the doctorate for it.

And where would one get a readymade research thesis?

They took the thesis of someone they knew. But the smart ones did not take their close friend’s thesis. Their association meant there was a possibility, however rare, that their plagiarism would be caught. Like the Gotra system in Hindu marriage, they went two connections far, to choose the thesis of a friend’s of a friend’s of a friend’s to plagiarize.

They took the thesis of someone they knew. But the smart ones did not take their close friend’s thesis. Their association meant there was a possibility, however rare, that their plagiarism would be caught. Like the Gotra system in Hindu marriage, they went two connections far, to choose the thesis of a friend’s of a friend’s of a friend’s to plagiarize.

And alternatively one could go to the supermarket of theses: the university library. You could confidently walk up to the paan-spitting babu, the librarian, give him 5 Rs for a cup of tea and he would give you an entire thesis to plagiarize. And you need not even return the thesis to the library.

That’s how rotten the system had become under successive Congress governments. That’s how cheap it had become to bribe somebody. The amount was no longer in lakhs, crores and multiple of crores. One could buy someone’s future for as little as the price of a cup of tea. These were the two places one could take their thesis to plagiarize from.

Things changed when the universities got software that could check plagiarism. It still took them a decade to teach their officials to work on this software and when they did, it was no longer possible to pick the entire thesis from a previously published research thesis.

This opened up two new areas of entrepreneurship in ‘professional’ ghost-writing. Those ‘research scholars’ who were too serious about their thesis, and wanted it to be ‘original’, hired professionals to write it from scratch. Of course, the content would not be new. But at least the actual text would be original in the sense that you would not find those particular sentences written anywhere else. It was like hiring an entire catering service for a dinner party. The caterer would not just cook the food, but do everything else, from bringing their own utensils to serving the guests. Naturally, this cost more. Only a minority of the ‘research scholars’ thought it worthwhile to spend their money and get a ‘professional’ to write PhD thesis for them.

Those who were not so meticulous did it the other cheaper way. They found the thesis to plagiarize from, on their own, and then went on to someone who had enough language skills to paraphrase the thesis in newly constructed sentences, which would not be caught in the software. It was like hiring a cook, who would just cook the food for you. Arranging the ingredients and serving the food would be the responsibility of the host. It cost less than the arrangement previously described.

This is how the PhDs were done; theses were written and ‘research scholars’ became ‘Doctors of Philosophy’ and professors in universities.

Guess how these professors would behave, once in the job? It is simple from here. The logic is the same as the one which works with the corrupt policeman. He has bribed up to lakhs for getting a job worth only 12,000 per month and so he has to ‘recover’ that amount by becoming the swindler himself; ‘recover’ it from taking bribes from others.

And so when these professors become guides in turn swindle money from their ‘scholars’ to ‘recover’ the cost. Often the signing amount on the PhD thesis of a scholar alone is up to a lakh or so. The referee and the external subject expert who check the thesis and sign on it certifying its originality and authenticity want the same amount of money.

Since the thesis is plagiarized in content at best and even in text in the worst case, it makes the signature of the subject expert all the more critical. The thesis has no original worth of its own and deserves to be consigned to the dustbin. The rate for signing such a thesis is even higher. Since most of the theses are like that, even those who write original thesis on their own are asked for money and are harassed for years in many ways before their thesis is passed or rejected. And since the guides, experts and referees who run this system do not do anything without a fee, how does it concern them that a certain PhD thesis is original in content? What is it to them? They would still demand a fee. Plagiarized or not plagiarized.

This is not the beginning of the abuse of the ‘research scholar’. He would be a personal servant, an indentured laborer for his research guide, the eminent professor for the entire duration of his doctorate. He would guard his home when the guide is out for a party; bring grocery for his wife; escort his children to school; and keep contributing financially to the guide’s household whenever the opportunity arises, which arises quite too often in the form of marriage of the guide’s daughter, the admission of his son to the college, the construction of a new house or the organization of Bhagwat Katha by the guide, for instance.

The research scholar would have to make an offering at every critical juncture, like: the filling up of the form of the PhD; the day of the RDC when he is approved by the university for conducting the research work; at the time of every six monthly academic report of the progress of the research work; at the submission of the summary of the research work; and at the submission of the research thesis etc.

And never should he appear before this ‘guru’ of his, without 2 kg of the choicest of sweets. And woe be gone him if he chooses the simple ladoo or barfi or pedha for the offering at the pedestal of his research guide. The only choice is a dry-fruit sweet or a similar concoction, not less than Rs 1200/- per kg. And since eight out of ten such research guides are diabetic, so the sweet also has to be sugar free.

After the thesis is submitted and the viva is about to take place, the often octogenarian wife of the research guide gets a makeover which should make a Bollywood heroine burn in jealousy. She gets to go shopping for an entire new set of clothes: a silk saree not less than 8000/-, sandles, purse, bangles and a string of cosmetics. She gets bedecked like a newly married bride. She is the wife of the research guide, no less! She has to look good on the day of the viva of the research scholar. Need I say, at whose expense all this is done?

And in rare but documented cases, if the research guide was male and the research scholar was female, even sexual abuse was reported. Up till ten years ago, only women were the victim of this kind of abuse, but we are well into the age of gender equality and LGBT rights, so well…

And it is Eid on the day of the viva of the research scholar. No prizes for guessing who is the bakra. The ‘research scholar’ would have to give an elaborate feast in a five-star hotel. Why? His research guide, the eminent professor would oblige the subject expert who came to take viva, by giving him a lavish feast in a five-star hotel and many ‘gifts’ both in cash and in kind, all at that expense of the ‘research scholar’. Why does he do that? Since he knows the thesis of his ‘research scholar’ is plagiarized and absolute rubbish, and he himself is in it for money, he depends upon the benevolence of the external subject expert for completing the sham and that benevolence is not bought easily.

In turn this research guide would become the external subject expert in another university and be invited to take the favor in return. The posts of the research guide and the external subject expert are complementary to each other and the individuals occupying these positions would switch roles periodically. It is like monkeys scratching each other’s backs. They cover up each other’s failures.

For in a system which is rotten to the core; in which only plagiarized theses are being ‘written’; in which these plagiarized theses are easily signed by guides, experts and referees for a fee; only the very corrupt choose to remain in the system. The genuine professors try to avoid the whole system, even at great personal cost. As a result, the ground is free for the swindlers.

The professors who got into the system thus have nothing else to go by. They are not just unqualified to occupy those positions. They are a disgrace to them. Since they have acquired the post by all the wrong means, it means that they will be perpetually insecure, academically speaking. They will make up for it by creating a patron privilege system, a kind of corrupt eco-system, where a web of corrupt professors and would-be professors will make sure that they and only they survive while the genuine students, scholars and professors are smothered.

The system has become so corrupt that the idiom of ‘rotten to the core’ no longer does it any justification. It shall be described no less than the dung heap of Indian education system, the stinking rotten mass in which only the dung beetles survive, suffocating all others.

And what to do in a system, which puts a premium on ‘academic potential’ based on published papers and books? Especially if one is unequipped to do any research? Again the market with ‘professionals’, the ghostwriters is availed.

Thus, a vicious circle of bogus research is created, which is self-perpetuating. It promotes bogus research and gives academic license to the incapable. The present API system which connects teaching with research oriented activities has made this self-perpetuating system even more intensely hollow and corrupt. Decoupling teaching and research might be a brilliant idea after all.

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Pankaj Saxena is a scholar of History, Hindu Architecture and Literature. He has visited more than 400 sites of ancient Hindu temples and photographed the evidence. He has been writing articles, research papers and reviews in various print and online newspapers and magazines. He currently works as the Asst. Professor, Centre for Indic Studies, Indus University, Ahmedabad. He has authored three books so far. He maintains a blog at http://literaryfalcon.wordpress.com/