Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Open Letter to the Honourable HRD Minister from the IIT Kanpur Faculty Forum

Mr. Kapil Sibal,
Honourable Minister of Human Resources and Development
Government of India
Dear Mr. Sibal,

The revised notification from MHRD dated 16/09/09 succeeds in removing a glaring anomaly with regards to the pay fixation for Assistant Professors, and we thank you for that. However, it is disappointing to note that it did not address other fundamental concerns – in fact it introduces more restrictive clauses – which will have serious, long-term ramifications on the ethos and culture of excellence of the IIT system.

A mere re-designation of the post of “lecturer-cum-post doctoral fellows” to “Assistant Professor, to be recruited on contractual basis” will not attract bright fresh PhDs to the IIT system. Should we expect that highly qualified faculty aspirants with PhDs from IITs, IISc, MIT, Stanford, Cornell, Caltech, etc., will line up to join the IIT system for a salaryof about Rs. 30,000/- p.m.? Compare this with offers on their tables from institutes and corporations world-wide, including MNCs and the soon to be established foreign university campuses in India. The choice is of course clear. Your great visions of bringing about a reverse brain drain, and infusing the rapidly expanding IIT system with that much needed influx of highly qualified faculty would grind to a complete halt!

Further, the clarity of MHRD’s vision is indeed baffling when it specifies that IITs, IISc, IIMs, etc. can recruit someone as a Professor only if he/she has spent at least 4 years as Associate Professor within those institutes only. In this era of globalization, with the paradigms of inter-disciplinary research and academia-industry interaction taking root, does it make sense to prevent all possibilities of migration of highly qualified scientists from research laboratories and industries toinstitutes of excellence? And for those who might want to come back to Indian academia, after having already established themselves in premier institutions across the world, wouldn’t it be an insult to be forced to join as Associate Professors? In addition, is it fair to outright deny bright faculty in other institutes within the country an opportunity to migrate to the IIT system to further their academic aspirations and opportunities?

The concept of a flexible cadre has been the hallmark of the IIT system and has played a vital role in creating a system of sustained excellence. Why then this cap of 40 % for Professors to move to the next academic grade pay (AGP)? IITs already have an open selection policy in place where every promotion is based on stringent academic criteria in terms ofteaching effectiveness, research publications, sponsored/consultancy projects undertaken and corporate responsibilities. Thus it does not really matter whether 10 % or 80 % of the candidates qualify for the next level. If the introduction of a new AGP and the associated 40% cap is motivated by the perception that Professors at IITs do not have adequate incentives to continue giving their best, we feel that this entire paradigm needs a serious re-think. All it is accomplishing, in essence, is an introduction of yet another hierarchy in an academic system which thrives on open discussions and debates. In fact, even from a monetary point of view, it is not flattering to think of a mere increase of Rs. 1500/- per month as a motivational incentive!

The provisions in the MHRD notifications have created an apprehension in the minds of the faculty that MHRD is trying to micromanage the academic governance, and is hence impinging on the autonomy of the IITs. Are not pay commissions primarily about pay matters and only pay matters? Should not autonomous institutions have the flexibility to relax the minimum criteria for exceptional candidates, as has been the practice? The whole exercise leaves the feeling that being a doctor of philosophy, after all, is trivial and meaningless – what will these studious types ever know about how to run an educational institution.

We sincerely wish that the MHRD appreciates those who have built these institutes into what they are today…world class institutes within 62 years of independence. Literally burning the midnight lamp, a whole lifetime spent in academic isolation, eyes firmly turned away from worldly lures, willing to face every single challenge thrown by the winds of change…from scratch to excellence…idea by idea, brick by brick, lecture by lecture, student by student, research publication by research publication. It is imperative that we preserve, at all costs, the inherent strengths thathave made our institutes names to reckon with.

We invite you to visit our institute, interact with our faculty, students and staff, tour the research laboratories, and hence experience first hand, the academic environment that makes IITs symbols of national pride.

Thanking you,
Yours Sincerely
Faculty Forum – IIT Kanpur.

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