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COMMENTARY

Code of Professional Ethics


and Delhi University
Suman Gupta

Against the backdrop of the


adoption of the University Grants
Commissions professional code of
ethics for university/college
teachers by the Delhi University
executive committee in March
2014, this article explores how the
code is interpreted and policed,
and, therefore, acted upon as a set
of rules in an institution. It also
examines the implications of
the UGC-recommended code for
the integrity of academic
knowledge dissemination and the
academic profession.

Suman Gupta (Suman.Gupta@open.ac.uk) is


with the English Department, Department of
Literature and Cultural History, The Open
University, United Kingdom.
Economic & Political Weekly

EPW

may 17, 2014

he dissemination of academic
knowledge at the higher education
level is necessarily structured according to governmental and institutional
strictures. However, the principles and
rationales of such knowledge are not
conditional on governmental and institutional agendas these principles and
rationales are very much wider, and are
consistent in all contexts where academic
knowledge is cultivated. Such knowledge
is answerable to the peoples of the world,
is in the international public interest,
and may well be compromised if curtailed by governmental and institutional
agendas. So, when new governmental
and institutional strictures are promulgated with an effect on the dissemination
of academic knowledge anywhere, it is
of interest everywhere and needs to be
carefully examined to ascertain whether
core academic principles and rationales
are thereby being compromised.
The University Grants Commissions
(UGC) formulation of a professional code
of ethics for university/college teachers
(1989),1 when Yash Pal was the chairman, is thus of interest not just in India,
but for academia and the public internationally. Further, when this code is
adopted to the letter by the executive
council of the Delhi University (DU)2
in March 2014, that move is of interest
not merely in that institution, but more
widely in India and internationally.
This is especially the case since the
code in DU is effectively adopted as
coercively enforceable, contravention of
which could lead to punishment for
teachers in DU colleges and faculties;
ergo, it should not be regarded as a code
of good practice which encourages selfregulation (a soft instrument of control), but as a set of rules which can
be enforced by threat of punishment
(a hard instrument of control). The mode
of adoption of the code in DU sets a precedent for a publicly-funded universitys

vol xlIX no 20

management of academic work in India


and more widely.
Two lines of enquiry arise from these
considerations. First, it is expedient now
to explore the implications of the UGCrecommended code for the integrity of
academic knowledge dissemination and
the academic profession. Second, it is
necessary to consider the implications of
DUs particular way of adopting that code.
Content of the UGC Code
By way of background, such a code was
initially proposed by the All India Federation of University and College Teachers
Organisations (AIFUCTO) in 1976. In this
regard the statement at the time interestingly observed
The code should be broad enough to serve
as the source of constant reference for teachers themselves. Though its prescriptions
may not be legally enforceable, it should be
morally binding on the teaching community
to follow the code.

And also,
The code should contain a section on the
rights of the teachers (quoted in Rao and
Shantaram 1999: 3).

Evidently it was initially conceived as


guidance for good practice, with some
concern for teachers rights. The UGC
thereafter set up a 14-member task force,
with participants from AIFUCTO, to come
up with such a code, and it duly did
formulate the code in question to be
adopted by the UGC in December 1988.
This did not have an adequate section on
teachers rights, but did have a preamble
with a brief statement:
Teachers should enjoy full civic and political
rights of our democratic country. Teachers
have a right to adequate emoluments, social
position, just conditions of service, professional independence and adequate social
insurance.

Doubts about the pragmatics of implementing and regulating adherence to the


code meant that it was not taken up at
the institutional level till DU did so with
such firmness 25 years after being adopted
by the UGC. In adopting the UGC code, DU
deleted the preamble with the statement
of teachers rights. Arguably, however, it
is not just pragmatics which calls for
pause; the principles espoused in the
content of the code should also do so.
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COMMENTARY

Such a code of professional ethics for


higher education teachers, particularly
as a hard instrument of control within a
publicly-funded university, is extremely
rare I am not aware of any other current example and hence all the more
noteworthy. Such codes are common in
various countries for schoolteachers
(see van Nuland and Khandelwal 2006),
where the knowledge area in question is
more grounded in consensus than at the
higher education level. These kinds of
codes are also enjoined (occasionally in
legally binding ways) on various academic practitioner groups insofar as
practice goes (lawyers, medical workers,
engineers, etc) and as the disciplinary
standard guidelines for particular areas
of academic work (e g, for researchers
with human informants, authors of
scholarly papers).
By and large, they work as good practice reference points, formulated by professional bodies for professional training/
education and self-regulation by teachers
and academics. Universities in various
countries also have codes of ethics for
students, or contracts between institutions and students. Generally such codes
become expedient in institutions when
there are doubts about professional
accountability and quality and in geopolitically-defined territories when there
is a desire to have uniform professional
standards across a sector.
Vagueness of Phrasing
If the UGC Code were read as guidance
for good practice for a broad sector,
some of its content might puzzle but it
would not cause much concern. However,
if it were read as a set of institutional
rules, contravention of which would be
policed and could lead to punitive measures, then its content comes across quite
differently. With DUs example in mind
the latter kind of reading is now inevitable, and that is the spirit in which the
code is approached here.
Let me begin with a professional misdirection in the code seen thus. Section II
(Teachers and Students), Point (iv) reads:
[Teachers should] Make themselves
available to the students even beyond
their class hours and help and guide
students without any remuneration or
32

reward. As a moral norm this seems


acceptable; as an institutional rule it
undermines fundamental tenets of employment. The Indian Labour Law stipulates a standard work day, requirement
for rest during work, and limits of overtime work. University/college teachers
work is covered by labour law, but this
statement in the code obscures the fact
that there is a maximum limit of teachers work time, and, moreover, obscures
the remunerative rights of overtime.
The UGC (2010) sets some minimum
teaching workload norms for teachers
(not less than 40 hours a week for 30
working weeks in an academic year and
at least five hours daily in the university/
college), but no maximum. Typically, in
universities/colleges this minimum is
accepted in principle, and the maximum
is negotiated by teachers/departments
within the norms of employment law
along a chain of command (the linemanagement). University/college employment contracts, in fact, often tend to be
cagey about specifying the maximum.
Taking DU as a case in point, college/
faculty contracts (DU Ordinance XI,
annexure for University Teachers contract; and Ordinance XII, annexure for
College Teachers contract) stipulate
The teacher shall devote his whole
time to the service of the University/
College whereby it is presumably understood that this is the whole time
that is remunerated by the institution.
The quoted point in the code is apt
to suggest that teachers should do
unremunerated work, or, at any rate,
a student would be entitled to think
so by reading it, and given the vagueness about the maximum work time in
contracts so may teachers themselves
which would obviously contradict their
employment rights. Perhaps this point
was meant to suggest that teachers
should expect no remuneration or rewards from students, which is covered
in any case in the Code in IV, (ii) and
specifically in teachers employment
contracts, so that it seems supererogatory for that end. But the point is,
the code does not say so; presented as
a rule this point in the code seems
to suggest that teachers should do
unremunerated work.
may 17, 2014

Along not dissimilar lines, Section IV


(Teachers and Authorities), point (i) says:
[Teachers should] Discharge their professional responsibilities according to the existing rules and adhere to procedures and
methods consistent with their profession in
initiating steps through their own institutional bodies and/or professional organisations for change of any such rule detrimental
to the professional interest.

In general, first recourse to internal procedures for amending rules in institutions is obviously desirable and seems
morally acceptable; but understood as a
rule, this point draws a line that offers
no direction beyond internal procedures
and possibly affects academic freedom
and reasonable freedom of expression.
So, for example, suppose a teacher finds
the enforcement of this code in DU is detrimental to professional interests, and
appeals against it through the mechanisms available within DU and other
official bodies (such as the relevant
government ministry or court). Suppose
further that for whatever reasons these
recourses have no result and fail to dispel the detrimental effect. Then, say, the
teacher exercises her academic freedom
to analyse why the enforcement of this
code is detrimental to academic principles and rationalities and dissemination
of knowledge, and publishes her analysis in a publicly accessible journal or
newspaper (much as I am doing here in
relative safety) effectively, a recourse
to transparent public debate.
Could DU then take that recourse as a
contravention of this point in the code,
and an actionable offence (going outside
her own institution to seek change)?
Would DUs doing so be an undermining
of academic freedom, which is enjoined
on this profession? For this point in the
code to work as a rule, a great deal more
clarity is needed on what is internal
procedure, and how it gels (is regulated
and policed itself) with broader academic principles and rationales and
public interests.
Some teachers may justifiably feel uneasy about Section I, point (ii): [Teachers should] Manage their private affairs
in a manner consistent with the dignity of
the profession as a moral principle this
might be okay, as an institutional rule it
gives unlimited licence to institutional
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COMMENTARY

authorities to blur the boundaries of the


professional and the private. Much
would depend here on how dignity of
the profession is defined, and since
there is no definition it becomes open to
the quirks of interpretation by institutional authorities. It could be used, for instance, by institutions to police teachers
sexual practices, domestic arrangements, ideological subscriptions outside
the institution, tastes, and so on. Stated
as a rule in the code, this point could test
the boundaries of privacy ensconced in
Indian law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In brief, the points picked up so
far (and others can be picked in a
similar vein) present a vagueness of
phrasing and openness to deleterious
interpretation which may pass muster
as loose directions towards moral selfassessment, but are unacceptable as rules
which could lead to punitive measures
if contravened.
Broader Ideological Qualms
Beyond specific points, there are broader
ideological qualms which might be felt
in contemplating the code. The UGC
Code was a document of its time, the
late 1980s, when the notion of emancipative postcolonial nationalism seemed
obviously worthy and the potential of
majoritarian fundamentalist nationalism
was perhaps yet to be widely registered
in India (arguably the latter kind of
nationalism was already making its
presence felt then). This was also a
period when the domestic economy
seemed of more moment than the complicated interpenetrations of the international/global economic system. On
the nationalist front, however, circumspection would not have gone amiss
even in that decade with both contemporary Indian circumstances and the
history of ultra-nationalisms in Europe
and elsewhere in view. The code enjoins
strong subscription to nationalist values
on teachers:
[Teachers should] II (ix), Aid students to develop an understanding of our national heritage and national goals;
VII (iii) Be aware of social problems and
take part in such activities as would be conducive to the progress of society and hence
the country as a whole;
Economic & Political Weekly

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may 17, 2014

VII (v) Refrain from taking part in or subscribing to or assisting in any way activities
which tend to promote feeling of hatred or
enmity among different communities, regions and linguistic groups but actively work
for National Integration.

As loose statements of moral principle


these sound possibly acceptable. However, the insistent confining of higher
learning to the boundaries of nation and
country is, in academic terms, limiting
the principles and rationales of academic knowledge, as observed at the beginning, are very much wider and suffer by
such delimitation. Some gesture towards larger than national interest say,
the interests of humanity in general
would not have gone amiss as a moral
principle when this code was formulated; now it seems more than necessary.
Hypothetically, if an ethical principle of
international import seems to contradict
one that is putatively of national import,
should the latter be given precedence
over the former in teaching students?
For example, if a principle of sharing
natural resources across nations appears
to be against the national interest, or if a
security measure taken in the national
interest appears to contradict a universal
human right, should the teacher necessarily have to defend the national and
should the student compulsorily subscribe to the national?
And certainly, the suggestion that
national heritage and national goals
and the progress of society and hence
the country and national integration
can necessarily be unitarily described,
in monologically definite ways, now
seems very doubtful indeed possibly
deleterious. Assuming that now appears
to be as much a denial of diversity
in and beyond India, as the singular
community seems in the opening point
of the code: [Teachers should] Adhere
to a responsible pattern of conduct and
demeanour expected of them by the
community. Much would depend on
who defines the nation and its heritage
and goals, who takes it upon themselves
to speak on behalf of the community.
If that defining authority goes in a
majoritarian direction that is not ethically desirable, it cannot engender consensus with moral justification.

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An ethical code relevant to higher education teaching and learning now has
to be devoted to equipping students to
engage critically with such conundrums,
to exercise rational judgment, not to predetermine the precedence of the national
interest and some monolithic notion of
community. To do the latter is to possibly
open the door to majoritarianism, disempower minorities, dumb down rational
dissent and protest. This is especially so
when the code is used as a hard instrument of control within institutions
which brings us to the particular case of
DUs adoption thereof.
DUs Adoption of the Code
The vagueness of the phrasing of the
code on various points, and its anachronistic ideological thrust, render it of
doubtful value as an ethical guidance
document in any context and apt to
arouse considerable misgivings as a
set of institutional rules in a university.
The vagueness of phrasing means that
how it is interpreted, policed, and therefore, acted upon as a set of rules in
an institution becomes of vital interest.
It is effectively a set of rules that are
open to abuse by the administrative
authorities in an institution, if those
authorities so desire.
The code was adopted by the DU executive committee (EC) in a meeting of
6 March 2014 chaired by the vice chancellor (VC) Dinesh Singh incidentally,
that meeting also amended the terms of
VC appointments so that a holder can
seek reappointment. In the EC meeting
reportedly the code was championed by
a strong majority: only four of the 23 EC
members opposed it (The Statesman
2014). The spirit of its adoption was
clear in the supplementary agenda
of the EC meeting of 6 March, which
ratified the following amendments in
DU Ordinances XI and XII:
Clause 1-A: The teacher shall comply with
the Code of Professional Ethics at Appendix
A. Failure to comply with the said Code of
Professional Ethics will also be construed as
misconduct on the part of the teacher and
he/she shall be liable to face action as may
be deemed necessary by the Vice-Chancellor
and the Executive Council.
Clause 1-B: The teacher shall comply with the
Code of Professional Ethics at Appendix A.

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COMMENTARY
Failure to comply with the said Code of
Professional Ethics will also be construed as
misconduct on the part of the teacher and
he/she shall be liable to face action as may
be deemed necessary by the Governing Body
of the College.
Provided further, if the circumstances so warrant, the Vice Chancellor may direct the Governing Body of the College to initiate action
against a teacher on the ground of misconduct, failing which the Vice-Chancellor may
take such action as provided for in the Act,
Statute and Ordinances of the University.

These stipulations strengthened prerogatives on disciplining power in favour


of DU administration at the expense of
the administrations of affiliated colleges
(the kind of relationship which has a
larger significance in Indian higher education (Singh 2003)). Disciplining powers within DU colleges have conventionally been formally vested in the governing body (GB) of that college led by its
principal; whereas those within DU
faculties and institutes and centres
were vested in the EC led by the VC,
who also had ultimate oversight on
college principals.
Effectively, in this instance disciplining power has been inordinately shifted
to the judgment of one person, the VC.
This does not mean that the VC has a
completely free hand (that would be unconstitutional), but that the VC as an
individual has a broad licence to act on
the basis of the code and according to
his interpretation of the code, without
consequences detrimental to himself, so
as to do considerable damage to accused
teachers careers and prospects even if
not to actually have them formally punished. I do not point this out as a matter
to do with a particular VCs outlook and
judgment; the case is that the DU system
in this regard has now been set up so
that its coercive mechanisms can be instantiated at the whim of any VC in office
by allowing him or her to exploit the
interpretive ambivalences of the code
described above. This is a position that
undermines the democratic credentials
of a university in principle and for as
long as the position obtains, and not
simply as a practical possibility at this
given juncture and with the particular
administration in place now.
The DU Ordinance XI Annexure 6
(1-4)/7 lays out the process of how a VC
34

and EC will deal with misconduct: in


brief, the VC first suspends the teacher,
then informs the EC which is responsible
for investigating the allegations (giving
the accused three weeks to respond),
possibly by appointing a committee,
and the EC then determines the outcome (in case of termination of service,
with three months notice). This process
opens a small window for due process
and representation to a teacher accused
of misconduct, depending on the integrity and independence of the EC from
the VCs decision.
There is inevitably a conflict of interest where the body that formally promulgates rules is also the final arbitrator
for challenges to those rules. The point,
however, is not whether a punishment
will formally be meted out or not, but
the possibility of the VC suspending a
teacher on the basis of misconduct. For a
teachers career, and indeed, personal
well-being, that step is itself seriously
detrimental. So, the grounds on which a
VC can suspend a teacher pending investigation by the EC are of crucial interest.
These grounds have to be clearly defined
and be at least potentially substantiable
to justify suspension. The UGC code as
adopted by DU could now be regarded as
describing the grounds which the VC can
cite to justify suspending a teacher for
misconduct pending investigation.
The move of adopting the UGC Code
thus in DU has taken place at a fraught
juncture in that institution. A series of
unpopular restructurings especially
the shift from a three to four year undergraduate programme structure has
been in the news for a considerable period,
with evidence of unrest among both
students and teachers. Understandably,
the adoption of the code was immediately
seen as a measure by DU management to
shackle teachers at this juncture.
My interest here is in the broader
ideological contours of the code itself,
and the broader ideological implications
of adopting it in the manner of DU in
terms of the wider principles and rationales at stake which are of consequence to
academics in all contexts. My interest is
also in the fact that the issues described
above set a precedent for understanding
the relationship between higher education
may 17, 2014

institutional management and academic


work in a general way.
From that perspective, it is difficult to
come to any other conclusion other than
that the UGC code itself, and its mode of
adoption as a set of institutional rules in
DU, militate against the dignity of the
profession of university/college teachers wherever academic work is pursued
and taken seriously. It not only compromises the principles and rationales of
academic work in the broad sense, it also
seeks in a malevolent manner to fix those
who disseminate academic knowledge
university/college teachers as weak
and untrustworthy moral agents.
Notes
1

University Grants Commission (UGC) (1989):


Report of the Task Force on Code of Professional
Ethics for University and College Teachers (New
Delhi: UGC); available at: http://www.ugc.
ac.in/oldpdf/pub/report/5.pdf
Delhi University, Rules, Policies and Ordinances
http://www.du.ac.in/index.php?id=28

References
Nuland, Shirley van and B P Khandelwal, ed.
(2006): Ethics in Education: The Role of Teacher
Codes, Canada and South Asia (Paris: International Institute of Education Planning/
UNESCO); available at: http://www.iiep.
unesco.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Research_
Highlights_Corruption/pdf/teachercodes.pdf
Rao, I V Subba and M V Shantaram (1999): Ethics
and Values in Higher Education Indian
Thought and Current Scenario, paper presented in the International Conference of University Presidents at Kyung Hee University, Seoul,
Korea, 10-13 October; available at: http://
krishikosh.egranth.ac.in/bitstream/1/2025213/
1/G16667.pdf
Singh, Amrik (2003): Academic Standards in
Indian Universities: Ravages of Affiliation,
Economic & Political Weekly, 26 July, 38:30,
pp 3200-08.
The Statesman (2014): EC Okays Second Term for
VC, The Statesman, 7 March; available at:
http://www.thestatesman.net/news/43108-ecokays-second-term-for-vc.html
UGC (2010): UGC Regulations on Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and Other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges
and Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education, The Gazette of India,
18 September, http://www.ugc.ac.in/oldpdf/
regulations/englishgazette.pdf; http://www.
ugc.ac.in/oldpdf/regulations/revised_final
ugcregulationfinal10.pdf

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