Thursday, 02 February 2023

# Highlights

Must Read

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Subin Dennis responds to the pseudo-intellectual froth delivered in a sermon in Times of India by a doctoral fellow from JNU supporting the obnoxious seat cut in JNU. (Here's the article in reference by Arunoday Majumdar:
Subin Dennis
It is not very often that I read 'The Times of India', but when some of my friends sent me a link to an article written by a JNU student in ToI justifying seat cuts in the University, I had to take a look.
The massive seat cuts in JNU (1212 seats have been reduced compared to the number of seats approved by the Academic Council) have caused a serious setback to the University and a colossal loss of opportunity for a large number of students all across the country. But the author of the ToI article thinks that the seat is a blessing. The article slams JNU for its student politics and claims that the University produces little other than "lengthy slogans and lousy research".
Now, if this article is representative of the standards of research in JNU these days, I would have to sadly agree with the author that the academics in the University has indeed become lousy.
The article says, for instance, "Of the more than 8,500 students in the residential university, only 4,865 students had stepped out and cast their votes in the last student election. Among them, 1,077 voted NOTA."
Sure, the article is not a research paper and it was published in ToI, but that doesn't mean cooking up data is justified. According to figures published by the Election Committee, the number of students who cast their votes in the JNU Students Union Elections 2016-17 is 5138, not 4865. The maximum number of votes polled for NOTA was 437 (for the post of Vice-President), less than half the figure of 1077 claimed by the author. In other office-bearer posts, the NOTA votes cast were as follows: President - 135, General Secretary - 296, Joint Secretary - 272.
Soon after this faux pas, the author makes this astonishing claim: "[The UGC notification] will discourage the possibility of seat distribution on the basis of ideological affiliations of candidates... With the upper limit of the number of supervisees now fixed, only the very best from all social sections will gain admission."
Now this is logically fallacious. If the seat distribution is done on the basis of the ideological affiliations of candidates as is alleged, what prevents the practice from continuing even when the number of seats are lower? On the other hand, if the best from all sections are the ones who have been gaining admission (as I would argue), there is no reason why the practice should be undermined by the number of seats being higher. In other words, even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that the allegation that candidates gain admissions "on the basis of ideological affiliations" was somehow true, it would have nothing to do with the number of seats.
There is no proof yet that the student-teacher ratio in JNU has become so worse that the teachers are unable to supervise the research work of their students. A large number of teachers have asserted the contrary. They readily recognise that the move is to target higher education and research in India. Having failed to take over the central universities of India by muzzling dissent directly, the RSS-BJP have realised that it would be easier for them if there are fewer research students in the country. After all, research in the social sciences and humanities teach people to read, think and debate. Once they do that, they become critical of the communal-fascist forces which are trying to rip our country apart. When that is the case, why bother to fund and sustain all these places from which critical voices are emerging? Thus comes the solution: curtail student intake.
The author then goes on to make yet another dubious claim: "The only indication of excellence in research is publication in peer-reviewed books and journals."
Can "excellence" or the quality of research be reduced to numbers? Unsurprisingly, this very same belief is the one underlying the UGC's discredited API score system as well.
On the one hand, there are a number of research areas and topics where papers can be published relatively quickly and in larger numbers, while there are other areas on the other hand where it will take more time for research papers to be written and published. In yet other cases, the M.Phil. or Ph.D. work might be the precursor to a much larger body of work or one with deeper insights and hence publications might come at a later stage. There would also be a number of people for whom research as part of M.Phil. or Ph.D.provides the foundation before they turn to some other field. A number of concrete examples can be given which correspond to each of these cases.
The key point here is that the number of research papers or books published per se is not a barometer with which to assess the quality of research.
Nevertheless, if one assumes that the conditions as outlined above would be not be very different in the universities all across the country, it might be possible to use statistics regarding publications to arrive at some conclusions regarding the state of research in a University in comparison with other universities. (Let us also disregard, for now, the various rankings which put JNU among the top Universities in India - such rankings come with their own set of problems.)
Therefore if one is to say that the proportion of published theses (or the number of publications by researchers in general) in a University is abysmally low, one has to produce comparable statistics for at least a few other universities as well. So what statistics does our author provide to make his case? Absolutely none - whether it is for JNU, or for any other University! The author seems to think that something can be proven merely by stating it.
The only figures the author has bothered to cite in his article are the polling and NOTA figures - which, as we saw earlier, turned out to be completely botched!
Considering the factual, logical and analytical errors in the article, it could very well have been titled, "How not to make an argument". As our Professor Utsa Patnaik keeps saying, a course on logic should be compulsory for all University students!