Just another day at the office…

Tuesday 11th May 2010

Hello hello!

Well, since the last time I wrote SOOOOOO much has happened I barely know where to begin! The complex politics at work? Dead body found on campus last week? Students attacked and beaten by faculty members? Or perhaps something more cheery such as my AMAZING weekend away in Gandhi Sagar National Park?

Frankly, there is so much to tell, I am torn between splitting it into two emails, or attempting to shorthand it (which we all know I’m incapable of – I do so love to embellish!). I couldn’t possibly leave anything out after that tantalising taster, so I guess I’ll have to just start writing and see where I get to….

I guess work first, let’s get all that out of the way. Since I sent the last email a couple of weeks ago, things got progressively more strained. I had (another) huge row with my head of department, and we haven’t spoken since (which has frankly been a bit of a blessing!). I managed to get permission from the Vice-Chancellor to carry on with my job regardless, and to circumvent A whenever necessary, so since then our programmes are actually getting going again.

We are almost ready to start the vaccination programme, and the NGO programme is all going well – I’ve secured 21 amazing internship placements with 7 great NGOs – there’s the small issue that no students have actually applied yet, but we’ll cross that bridge later on! A almost managed to scupper the whole programme at one point – I spent an entire week ironing out problems and glitches, and then she went all “dog in the manger” and decided she wasn’t happy about these NGOs at all – she was unforgivably rude to them, and made them all feel very uncomfortable when they came to give presentations at our information day.

However several of them commented on it to me afterwards, and were shocked that I manage to continue working in such a hostile environment. Two of them said that A was completely out of line and treated me really badly in front of them – which made me feel much better about all the drama! (I was starting to think maybe it was me, and maybe I was at fault, but all of them agreed that I was doing really well under the circumstances).

Anyhoo, let’s see, then I met with the Pro-Chancellor, who told me that the University would only pay for 25% of the funding we were asking for to buy mosquito nets for the labour colony – we have to raise the rest from student and staff donations. Furthermore he is only willing to commit a total of 1 lakh rupees (100,000 INR – about 1,500 quid) to CSR activities per year. That means in practical terms that although they have hired me to do CSR here, they aren’t at all committed to implementing it, and don’t want to waste any money on it. So once the NGO programme and vaccinations are done (the only programmes which are free), there’s essentially nothing else I can implement and my job becomes almost completely meaningless. Ironically, if I were to leave, they could put my salary into CSR activities, and that would fund most of it, but they wouldn’t have anyone to actually implement it. Vicious cycle.

Then last week, a student came to see me, a lovely kid called B, who was extremely upset and needed some help. He was beaten up badly by some students, hospitalised, and then when he was released the hostel warden (halls of residence supervisor) said that he was responsible (for starting it), so he had to leave campus immediately. He packed his bags, and while waiting for his friend to pick him up, the warden and co-warden came along and beat him up. He ended up spending the night on the floor of the guard’s room by the gate, and was beaten up again in the morning by the warden before leaving campus. The warden and the co-warden are both faculty members who teach in the Engineering and Technology school.

On investigation, it seems that he has been bullied and attacked by students at least 4 or 5 times during the year. Once he was hung out of a fourth floor window by his feet, and once his roomate locked him inside their room and came at him with a knife. All of his teachers agree that he’s a very bright student, top of his class, perfect attendance etc. He always wears his uniform, and studies hard, and refused to go on strike with the other students. Basically, a bit of a geek, but very sweet and hardworking. He comes from a village in Bihar, about 1500km away, and I suspect isn’t nearly as well-off as most other students here, so getting a good education is probably extremely important to his family, and possibly also why he keeps getting picked on.

Anyway, he has complained about the bullying several times and no-one has done anything about it. This time round he brought it to our attention (the foreign faculty), so we’re doing our best to help him. Most of the staff are on the warden’s side, and several people have told me that “he’s been attacked 4 times, so he must have done something wrong. He must be the one who starts it, always causing trouble, otherwise why would they beat him?”

One of the attacks lasted for over 30 minutes, and lots of students saw it happen, but are too afraid to report it in case they get thrown out too, like B. D and I were searching on Youtube to see if anyone had recorded the beating, but instead discovered that a dead body had been found on campus! You’d think someone might have mentioned it!

It was the driver of one of the students, who had apparently gone out and gotten very drunk, fallen asleep in his car, and was found dead in the car the next morning. They still don’t know how he died, but most likely he drank some home-made moonshine that killed him (hundreds of people die in India each year from dodgy home-brew – same thing happened in Nepal too while I was there).

So, alongside finding out that the Uni aren’t willing to fund any of our programmes, and that they turn a blind eye to student abuse, there are dead bodies popping up and a minefield of internal politics to navigate through!
Just another typical week at the office…

S is currently leading an offcial investigation into the beating, and I am attempting to write a report/list of recommendations to prevent these things from happening again. Such as….. we’re a University, so we really ought to have some sort of disciplinary procedure and/or policy for staff and student misconduct – don’t you think? And maybe have some kind of professional counsellor available for students being bullied or threatened or assaulted? And perhaps try to investigate these things more often? And maybe make sure that students aren’t automatically ejected from campus and abandoned on the streets when they report abuse? In fact, maybe we should have a committee, sort of like a disciplinary committee, like most other Universities have? And so on….

To be honest, all of this drama is dragging my moral compass all over the shop. Firstly, it seems that they are not willing to fund any of the programmes I have been planning and writing proposals for, so as soon as the vaccination and NGO programmes are over (assuming I can drum up some student interest!), there won’t be much else here for me to do except twiddle my thumbs. Secondly, I don’t know how much longer I want to work for an organisation that allows and condones blatant abuses of power and physical attacks upon students (and then claims it’s their fault and they must have done something to deserve it!). I sense that if nothing comes of this investigation, and the warden is allowed to carry on with his own personal brand of ‘pastoral care’, then I may have to rebel a little bit. (The warden incidentally has not been suspended pending an investigation, he is still teaching and running the student hostel).

How can they expect me to instill a sense of ethics and social responsibility into an institution that is so outrageously unethical and immoral?

Ah well, regardless of all that, there have been some positive and unexpected twists! When I met with the Pro-Chancellor, he praised all my good work so far, especially with the UGC visit, (right before announcing that there’s no money for CSR!). The Vice-Chancellor recently approved a list of foreign faculty to have their contracts renewed. He wrote next to everyone’s name “extend contract for 1 year” and mine was the only name where he wrote “extend for 3 years”. So he must like me and the work that I’m doing at least!

Furthermore, after A’s little outburst in front of the NGOs, one of the organisation reps suggested outright that I apply for a job with her organisation, which I have done, (and I have just today received an email asking me to come in for an interview) and two of the other organisations also said that they would inform me of any openings and positions as soon as they are available, so my networking appears to be helping!

Overall, I’m not keen to leave this job right away – it’s only been 3 and a half months, which won’t look great on my CV, plus I hate quitting at the first hurdle – I’d much rather stick it out and try to get some things done in spite of all the problems, but nevertheless it’s nice to have options….

Well, that was a predictably long email, so I’ll have to write another one about my fabulous weekend in Gandhi Sagar National Park.
Stay tuned for part two……

tons of love
mildly outraged, yet oddly unsurprised Maya

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