I walk into the examination hall and the students pay no attention. They keep on shouting at the top of their voices. I somehow manage to get heard, and ask for order. They reluctantly lower their voices. I ask them to remove all the reading materials so that I can give them the question and answer sheets. This is a closed book mid semester exam. They remove a few things. Whatever they do not, I throw it in a heap. Five minutes into the exam, I find book pages and other notes with a student and I have to almost physically fight to take it away. The student taunts “Ma’am you know nothing is going to happen to us. What is the point?” Inwardly, I wonder, what the point is but with a brave face I tell him (or on many other occasions it was her) “You cannot do it if I am standing in the class. It does not matter to me, whatever is going to happen later.”
Sounds like a scene from a bad Bollywood movie? Well, this was my first job in a private management institute. No, it was not in a small city or in an obscure college. The place ranks at number 15 or thereafter in many so called reputed magazine surveys in India. It also claims (and so do many others) to be the top most business school established after 1990.
I was just out of my Ph.D. where I saw my instructors teaching for 6 to 8 hours a week and many had a passion for research that I also caught to some extent. Just before joining this job I had given an interview in a European university for postdoctoral fellow position. It did not work out for various reasons, but one main reason was that the country had absurd visa laws for the spouse and we had already spent almost two years apart during my Ph.D. We did not want to prolong this separation.
Hence, I joined the place that was/is ranked around 15th in the country. After a few days of joining the Program Director asked me to submit his check in the bank on campus! Two months down the line the HOD one day wanted some help with Microsoft word. She was facing a tight deadline and I offered to type it for her. From then on I became her typist. I wish they would have included these duties in my offer letter and job description!
The students used to pay a hefty fee, and were actively encouraged to misbehave. They could yell, kick on the doors if they were late and left out. Talking during the lectures was usual and least of the offenses. I still remember the days when I used to come back and sit on the floor (I love doing this) and stare at the walls. My husband would cook food for both of us (my nephews had not joined us then) almost everyday. In fact, I should say everyday.
The management had the philosophy that ‘the students pay the fees, we give the degree and teachers are decoration pieces.’ If anyone tried to raise the issues, he or she was made to feel incompetent and many heavy weights like Program Director, HOD, etc. would act as if it was that particular individual only who was facing problems. I lasted there one semester and then we moved to a neighboring town as my husband changed his job.
I took a transfer to another of their business schools in the new town. It was better than the first but here I was required to teach 4 different courses in a semester and a total of 16 hours a week. And for the same position my salary somehow got reduced by 4000 rupees and they forgot to mention this fact before I joined them. I lasted two months here. But my students were better than the previous institute here.
My second job was at an engineering college where I used to teach Economics and Management (compulsory papers in even and odd semesters). Most of the students here came through state level engineering exams and were serious about their studies. When I left, they gave me a coffee mug that says ‘world’s greatest teacher.’ I enjoyed teaching them a lot. But I was forced to leave it after a year and a half. Why?
I used to teach 20 hours a week at this place in a five day week. We had staff room style sitting arrangement with no PC. I asked the management again and again that they hired me after looking at my CV and I have a few publications to my credit. How do they expect me to continue my research work?
They once held a meeting of the so called research committee, where the director (retired IIT Delhi faculty) asked us to do research. I asked them if they are willing to provide me a PC, as after teaching 20 classes a week, I need a PC on my desk rather than running to the common lab where the computers take 20 minutes to boot. They agreed in the meeting probably to save face. But later the so called dean (retired IIT KGP faculty) called me to his office, and told me that a computer costs 40,000 rupees and do I even knew to open and close a computer and asked me to demonstrate ‘how to close a window’ on his 1988 model laptop!
I was so taken aback that I could not even shout at him. After coming out, I locked myself and cried in the washroom and later raised a stink. I shouted at the management and told them I would never ever use a computer given by them. That is how I bought my laptop. But still I had good students here.
Push came to a shove on a particularly tiring day. I must have taken four classes that day and I was supposed to substitute someone at a short notice. I do not know why, maybe because the teacher gave the students a lot of rope, the students gave me hell.The substitution system was so weird that I had gone to Physics and Chemistry classes too, and basically let students do whatever they wanted (the management understood the problem but still wanted to play this sham), as I do not know any Physics or Chemistry. I again shouted at the management and told them what I thought of taking Physics substitution classes. Things got heated and I threatened to leave. I meant it.
The management fellow also got heated and said maybe I should. It was the last day of the month and I told him he could keep my salary in lieu of one month notice and I would not come from tomorrow. When he saw that I was serious he backed out and I stayed that day. But my search for a new job had begun.
What I wrote above are just a few samples. There were so many incidents, apart from what I wrote here. I can now understand why some books talk about toxic organizational environments. I have lived in them!
Thankfully, though I still teach in a private institute, I teach only 6 hours a week and at this place research is appreciated and there is an atmosphere of academics. How I got this job? That is a story for another day.
PS. In May 2015 I quit academia, for good or not, I don’t know.
PPS. In 2020 I went back to teaching part time but totally online due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. I now only work with people I trust.