New Delhi: Dr Meena T. Pillai, Professor at the Institute of English and Director, Centre for Cultural Studies at the University of Kerala, resigned from the board of studies of English and Comparative Literature protesting against the “suicidal” and “feudal” decisions adopted by the University.
On March 13, 2019, a circular was issued by the university after the push from the HRD ministry directing the research students to focus on national priorities while taking up PhDs and choosing from a given set of projects. Pillai told News18.com that her resignation has alerted the society about the threats to higher education, and in coming elections education should be a matter of concern for the voters.
What lead to your resignation?
I was on the board of the Central University of Kerala, I was in English and Comparative Literature. But on March 13 the University issued a circular emphasising on three important points – first it said that research has to be curtailed to areas of national priorities, secondly, it said the irrelevant research cannot be permitted. The university will not let it happen. And the third one was that the faculty will prepare a shelf of projects and students would have to choose from them. All three were alarming for me as an academic.
As an academic, how do you see these three instructions impacting higher education?
Now when you say national priorities should be taken up when you research - What does that mean? Who decides national priorities? For example, research has to happen in an atmosphere where you can think freely, dissent and ask question. All of these are important. So when you say national priority, whose priority becomes national priority? Could you do research on a small tribal community in Attapadi, which is a remote part of Kerala, would that be a national priority? The NCERT has taken away an entire chapter on breast cloth revolt which is a very crucial aspect of Kerala history. So look at the way the entire history is being erased, a certain kind of history is being erased because it is not considered as a national priority.
The language question also comes up here. Would a regional dialect be considered a national priority? Would we be able to research on it? Do we think that small history is irrelevant, minor language is irrelevant? And on top of that, you have to choose from the shelf project. This is like bringing the feudal system in education. You are saying the next generation research student, who is normally 24 years old by the time he/she reaches the PhD is not imaginative enough to choose his/her area of research, and we will decide what to research on. This is suicidal for higher education of the country.
In your opinion what is the motive behind this circular imposing national priorities?
There is a change in higher education – we are in an age of corporate agendas in education. There is a market model is coming up in education. This will lead up to a scene to produce what the market demands. The state could always impose that on us. So free thought would be destroyed. The fabric of higher education would change, and whoever in power will be in the position to dictate the younger generation and cow them down into subjugated positions whereby they cannot think freely. This is against the spirit of education. We should not be regressing, we should progress.
Apparently, the Ministry of Human Resource Development discussed it with all the central universities, but none of the other universities implemented it. Maybe, because they are more alert. We are the only ones, (Kerala) as far as I know, to go ahead with it. Sometimes we are more loyal than the king. The circular is pivoted on the idea that we (government) fund, we decide what you work on. It dictates our areas of national priorities and forces us to just work on that.
What happened after your resignation – the way other faculty and the administration responded?
Nobody had taken note of this, but when I resigned from my post there was a debate. It kicked off an entire spark of debate. Today also somebody resigned. I don’t know about the outcome of this but people have at least become alert to the issue. Education is a crucial mandate as far as this Lok Sabha election is concerned. My resignation served the purpose – it alerted the society to take up these crucial issues.