A Matter of Honour – The Faculty Stir

(For pictures, quotes and a more comprehensive insight, download a pdf of our issue here)

As our faculty moans about the seemingly insulting pay scales, who really stands to lose?
Is it our teachers, who can always leave for greener pastures?
Or the MHRD coffers?
Or much worse, a system called IIT?

He is a B.Tech in Computer Science from IIT Madras, obtained a doctorate from the University of Maryland, and is presently an Associate professor at IIT Kanpur. With several years of teaching experience, quality research publications in prestigious journals like Euro physics and a book to his credit, Dr Mahendra Verma’s resume seemingly boasts of an impeccable record. Well, apparently the Government of India seems to think otherwise.

As waves of protest across elite educational institutions gather force and momentum, with IIM Kolkata being the latest addition in the series of IITs and IIMs to join the bandwagon, concerns are rife regarding their immediate future. So what is this brouhaha all about? Why, all of a sudden, are we staring at a direct standoff between these institutes and the government, an unprecedented confrontation in the institutes’ five decade history and one which is getting stronger, uglier and murkier with every passing day? First of all, this is not a bolt from the blue. The undercurrents of discontent and vexation had been brewing for the past one year. However, recent events have accelerated the growing feeling of resentment and brought the war out into the open.

The root cause of the present situation is the recommendation of the 6th pay commission (a body which reviews the pay of public sector bodies every 10 years) for the faculty of IITs and IIMs. ”IITs have been long regarded as pillars of excellence in higher education. Instead of giving recognition to this fact, the Government has offered a pay package that is not helpful in filling the shortfall of faculty in IITs. We fear it may even lead existing faculty to consider other options, resulting in a dilution of the high standard that the IITs are maintaining today. The Government has even ignored the recommendation given by the IIT Directors.” says Dr B Seth, President of the Faculty Forum at IIT Bombay. This vocalization garners unanimous support in every IIT. The final recommendations cleared by the cabinet stops way short of their demands. The faculty argues that since every professor spends a considerable time in getting a doctorate while others like those in IAS start earning early, they should receive some sort of compensation in the form of scholastic pay for their relatively higher qualifications (compared to the IAS officials). In addition to completely ignoring this fact, the recommendations have added salt to the injury by setting their pay scales at the same level as that of the NITs and in some cases even with the UGC scales. The pay bands have even been reversed in some unique circumstances; an IIT teacher’s pay becomes significantly lesser than the scientists in DRDO and ISRO (due to their perks) while the opposite was the case before the 6th Pay Commission era. More importantly, the Cabinet has undermined the recommendations of the Govardhan Mehta Committee which was already a diluted version of the original demand list.

“They say there is no great research at IIT. I agree we could have done better, but at least acknowledge the good work! It is not about a few thousand rupees, it is about the recognition that comes, a kind of medal given for good work” says Dr Sandeep Sen, who heads the Computer Science department at IIT Delhi. Dr Sen, an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, earned his PhD from Duke University, USA. He rejected many lucrative offers to settle down in his home country and fortunately, or in light of present circumstances, unfortunately, is not alone.

The issue is possibly best summarized in this quote by Professor Kanchan Chowdhury (President, IIT Kharagpur Teachers Association)

“Many private institutions have come up with large investments. Foreign Universities (not necessarily the best ones) would be allowed to set up their campuses on Indian soil very soon. How would they get competent faculty? Therefore, it has become absolutely necessary to frustrate the existing and future IIT faculty, particularly the younger teachers, by giving them a raw deal in salary and perks so that they finally decide to switch to systems that can serve the rich and the influential”

Should This Standoff Concern Us?

Yes, as a matter of fact it should and it does. Already, across IITs, thousands of students had to miss classes due to an emblematic yet unparalleled strike. Not many cribbed as an unprecedented cozy Friday afternoon snooze did not really hurt. However, there are fears in certain sections of the student community, and rightly so, that this token protest could easily snowball into a major controversy adversely impacting them.
The education sector here does not seem lucrative. It never was. For decades, India has been a mute, helpless witness to the mass exodus of brilliant mind (a.k.a brain drain) to developed nations in search for better research opportunities, fat pay packages and a higher standard of living. In spite of this, IITs managed to sustain and even raise its brand image leaving their mark across the globe. However, the scenario now seems to be changing and changing fast.  The cabinet has repeatedly reiterated the need to recruit and retain quality talent in these elite institutions but paradoxically its actions of late have done nothing to illustrate the seriousness of its claim. Kapil Sibal, Union Minister (MHRD), opines that the image of IITs is not due to the faculty but due to the excellent, high quality intake of students. But what he fails to realize is the fact that substandard compensations will drive away a large chunk of good teachers which, in turn, would lead to a dilution of faculty quality. An alarming spike in the intake of students and increased reservations also do nothing to safeguard the “excellent, high quality intake”. Given the irrational, unplanned mushrooming of new IITs and the massive attrition expected as renowned foreign universities set up their Indian campuses come 2010, the brand IIT is facing a threat like never before. Add to this the recommendations of the Yash Pal committee which talks of upgrading the institute to a typical Indian university and the ongoing plans to integrate JEE and other entrance exams, the HRD ministry this time has clearly got it all wrong.

In a meeting with the IIT directors on the 2nd of September, Mr Sibal seems to have reconciled some of the demands of our faculty. However, as the promises remain on paper and concrete actions awaited, a lot hangs at stake for the faculty and students as we stand at this critical juncture.

The writing will soon be on the wall, as it was back in 1956, but will you care to read it this time?

2 Comments

  1. Nishant Chakravorty says:

    I request all the students of this prestigious institute to support our teachers for this fair and just cause and show our solidarity

  2. Anikh says:

    For once, even for a personal gain, they spoke up ! I recount so many instances when they could have done the same, and made a difference !

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