The recent developments in the Ashoka University in the private sector where two Professors left is inappropriately being extrapolated to public universities by many questioning the autonomy and academic freedom. Having worked as CEO in social science institute of repute under the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), Ministry of Human Resource and as Dean and as University Professor and Head in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) – State Agricultural Universities (SAU) – National Agricultural Research System (NARS) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, there are no compelling reasons to believe that the academic freedom is in peril.
On the other hand, the extent, magnitude, quality of discussions and debates which go into during the presentation of field research results, results of extension programmes in the ICAR-SAU-NARS in the Annual Zonal Research and Extension Program (ZREP) meetings are the true reflections of the academic freedom and autonomy enjoyed by scientists, extension workers, professors and all those involved in research and development in agricultural sciences. These are truly subject to experimentation, test, analysis, comparison, stability and adaptability and social acceptance as reflected in economics of technologies and the extension requirement before the release of new technologies, new skills, innovative agricultural practices, innovative horticultural practices, new methods of pest control, new methods of disease control, innovative sericultural, apicultural, agricultural engineering, dairy practices are thoroughly discussed not only by the concerned members of faculty, but also all the other members of faculty since agricultural sciences are an integrated science which includes and not limited to agronomy, plant pathology, agricultural economics, agricultural entomology, soil science, agricultural microbiology, sericulture, dairy science, animal science, biochemistry, biotechnology, horticulture, genetics and plant breeding, crop physiology, agricultural extension, seed technology, food science and nutrition, agricultural engineering and experimental results along with implications and recommendations cannot be considered in isolation. The external experts and farmers will also participate in the meetings which makes the whole process transparent and accountable.
Therefore, even to this day, if the debates, discussions, arguments which take place in ZREP, Research Council, and Extension Council meetings in the NARS are any indication of the maturity, wisdom exhibited in the meetings and discussions, one will have no hesitation to state and appreciate the level of autonomy and academic freedom enjoyed by the honourable members of faculty, scientists and the farmers who are invited for the meeting.
The Masters and doctoral students in the Universities too have tremendous independence in the choice of research topics of benefit to the farmers and society.
In the ICSSR institutes heralding social science training, research and development, the members of faculty have absolute freedom in the choice of research topics, choice of funders, and in publication. When the results are presented in the Research Programmes Committee (RPC) which meets frequently in a year, the members of faculty belonging to different fields of social sciences such as economics, sociology, demography, Ecological and environmental economics, Gender studies, Political Science, Education, Agricultural Economics,
Decentralization and Development and other disciplines, jointly discuss the results, policy implications presented. In addition, there will be external referees as members of the RPC who also offer their comments and suggestions. Similarly, the Academic Programmes Committee (APC) also meets frequently in a year to discuss about the student academic issues and training programmes offered. The members of faculty, Professors, Associate Professors, Assistant Professors not only enjoy full academic freedom in commenting, discussing, debating on the presentations, but also freedom in choice of research projects of theirs and their colleagues and in commenting in a healthy academic environment. The doctoral students too have immense freedom in the choice of social science research topics as well as freedom in choosing their research guide.
For the promotions and prospects the score card, quality considerations laid down in the Career Advancement Scheme (2006, 2016) rules laid down by the University Grants Commission (UGC), ICAR and the ICSSR are being followed in the SAU and ICSSR institutes. It is certainly not true that the promotions and prospects depend on the relations with top politicians and bureaucrats. The CAS promotions depend on the quality research papers.
Accordingly, it is incorrect to generalize the experience of Ashoka University with the rest of the Higher Education Academic institutions and bodies in the country, where the members of faculty and students are enjoying academic freedom, par excellence. The academic freedom on the other hand is hampered at publications level, especially in certain journals where decisions regarding acceptance or rejection of publications are not as transparent as in blind review process.
Therefore, it is crucial to recognize and appreciate the academic freedom and associated ambience enjoyed by members of faculty and students in higher educational institutions of the country in general and agricultural sciences or social sciences in particular in order that members of faculty and students carry forward the ambience in perspective.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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