Saturday, April 04, 2009

Memories of another pay commission

Alternate title: The citation super-classic you never heard about

It was 10 years ago that the Fifth Pay Commission's recommendations hit us, the faculty members at IISc and the IITs. Just like the Goverdhan Mehta Committee this time, it was the U.R. Rao Committee that went into the details of how the FPC recommendations would be implemented at these institutions. And just like the Mehta Committee recommendations this time, the Rao Committee recommendations too caused some serious tremors.

The main difference between the Mehta and Rao Committees appears to be in who gets affected by the tremors: in 2009, it's the senior faculty, while in 1999, it was the assistant professors.

My memories of the exact nature of those problems are quite hazy, but I remember vividly the kind of heartburn it caused among us -- the assistant professors at that time. These problems were a hot topic of discussion online forums.

The junior faculty who populated such a forum at IISc called themselves -- er, ourselves -- Birbals. I reproduce below (after a few editorial touches) the contents of a "news report" that I sent to this forum at that time.

[If you are wondering why it deserves to be on this blog, I can only point to what Joel Achenbach said not too long ago: "[My] blog originated ... as a catch basin for mental detritus, for the kind of stuff not good enough for print, but too good to waste on casual conversation or, worse, mere thinking."]

You have been warned. Proceed at your own risk.

Here, then, is the mail I sent to the Birbals on 13 March 1999:

* * *

Date: Sat, 13 Mar 1999 13:41:12 ...
From: T.A. Abinandanan [...]
To: Birbal [...]
Subject: Some useless stuff; press that "D" button now!

Warning :

The following is a long and pointless article which offers absolutely NOTHING (not even mulligatawny soup) to the wounded souls of Assistant Professors. This is the time to press the "D" button!


Usual disclaimers (not intending to offend anyone, etc) apply. ...


reprinted without permission from

Thiruvidaimarudhoor Aaravamudhan Ananthapadmanabhan

Bangalore, March 13, 1999: U.R. Rao, an Indian author, has the rare distinction of having authored the world's only "citation super classic" (i.e., an article/report with more than a million citations).

This conclusion emerged from a recent study conducted by Prof. Robert (Bob) Woodward, Professor of Unconventional Citology at the University of Maryland, alleged to be the best university in Milky Way1. His study is an in-depth analysis of citations in both conventional spaces (journal articles), and unconventional, modern and post-modern spaces (newspapers, television and the internet). The results of this study were announced here yesterday.

Ken Starr2, long considered as the only potential contender for scaling this "Citation Everest", has managed only 300,000 citations so far. In this intensely competitive scenario, U.R. Rao has proved to be the dark horse. While he managed less than 40,000 references till a week ago, he surged past Starr and others in just one week to reach this pinnacle.

Observers opine that an underground group in IISc has been responsible for this sudden surge in the number of references to U.R. Rao.

Prof. Woodward's study analyzed the Internet traffic over the last two years, and he says he has never seen anything like what he saw in the last week. "Till about a week ago, U.R. Rao was not even on our radar screen", he said, adding that his surge past Starr was truly phenomenal. "Keeping in mind that no one seems to have seen the Rao Report, this intense citation activity in the last week is all the more impressive", he said. As far as he can recall, this is the only unpublished work to ever become a citation classic. "That it became a super-classic is absolutely mind-boggling", he observed.

Prof. Woodward's study also shows that while there were many un-encrypted messages with references to U.R.Rao two years ago, most of the recent citations are in encrypted messages. When asked if this trend reversal could possibly be because recent messages about the Rao Report may be using unsavoury/harsh/pained language, Prof. Woodward said, "No comments". [...]

J.J. Moshi, the Minister for Human Resource Destruction, congratulated U.R. Rao on this rare achievement. When the role of an IISc mailing list was pointed out to him, he thanked its members for their wonderful service to the cause of Indian Science. He also offered an advice to its moderator to re-name it to Chanakya or Tenali Ram.

From our special correspondents from Chennai and Guwahati :

T. Ram, an expert in Citology in Frontline University, has alleged that U.R. Rao never wrote this report. In a press conference at Chennai, he said, "In fact, the Rao Report was never written. While a large number of people believe that the Starr Report, its only competitor, contains a lot of fiction, the Rao Report's existence itself is a fiction". The Rao Report has been cited by many, but sighted by none, he quipped.

In a press meet at Varanasi, Arputharaj Yamaguchi, Professor of Eastern Religions at Guwahati University, had this to say : "U.R. Rao is the author of the world's only super-classic report which was never written. This is a matter of deep appreciation for practitioners of Zen".

* * *

Okay, there were certain time-specific references in there. Here's a quick explanation of a couple of them.

  1. Around 1998-99, there was a "study" that purported to rank the world's universities based on certain "objective" criteria. It was given wide publicity in Indian media because it had IISc at No. 17. It also ranked the University of Maryland at No. 1.
  2. You do remember the Starr report, don't you? If not, this might help.


  1. Giri@iisc said...

    "The main difference between the Mehta and Rao Committees appears to be in who gets affected by the tremors: in 2009, it's the senior faculty, while in 1999, it was the assistant professors."

    Is this because assistant professors in 1999 are now the senior faculty?