Monday, August 31, 2009

How not to ask for a pay hike: "We are the people behind the JEE!"

The Nature India column -- Pay commission will 'degrade' IIT faculty [free registration required] -- by Aditya Mittal, an associate professor in IIT-D's School of Biological Sciences, is so bad in so many ways that I don't know where to begin.

His beginning is a good place to begin, I guess:

... Many feel that the IITs are not great because of their faculty, but because of the system that chooses students for India's scientific Oxbridge — the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).

But who is behind these JEEs? From setting the question paper to conducting the exam and compiling the results to admitting the best students through comprehensive counseling procedures, it is an out and out 'show' of the IIT faculty. In fact, it would be difficult to find a single faculty member in the IITs who hasn't ever been involved in a JEE.

This is a curious way to begin a pitch for a higher pay (or, special treatment). Mittal has successfully framed the IITs as JEE organizing machines which just happen to cost the government, oh, over a thousand crore rupees. Research and other such things seem secondary!

Here's the next "argument":

The government can never pay what an IIT faculty deserves. In fact, one can't expect the government to pay what an IIT faculty deserves. It is considered a privilege to teach and do research at the IITs. Not for the money but for the work ethos created and maintained by its faculty - present and past. People come to work at an IIT because of the dignity associated with the hallowed institution. And they work tirelessly at the IITs believing it is a place that nurtures the mantra of 'being the best at whatever you do, no matter what you do.' This is evident in the success of its alumni, as well as in the success of the faculty in competing with the most specialised research laboratories across the globe despite the time and resource crunch it is always faced with.

Notice his framing of *all* IIT faculty -- not "some" but an undifferentiated "the" -- as embodying excellence in not just organizing the JEE, but also in their "success ... in competing with the most specialized laboratories".

Further, how on earth can it be "considered a privilege to teach and do research at the IITs" when all you get is a time crunch and a resource crunch? Also, the privilege is so special that "... one can't expect the government to pay what an IIT faculty deserves." Got it? Me neither.

I wonder what the government will do after reading this piece: I hope it won't make the resource crunch bigger so IIT faculty can feel more privileged ...

Next comes this:

... the sixth pay commission's treatment to the IITs simply reflects a sorry state of affairs of the Indian system. It demonstrates the failure of a country to deal with excellence. The commission has brought pay-packets of entry level IIT faculty at par with (or below) bureaucratic positions. It has also clubbed them with groups of recruits in other systems who most often do not qualify to enter the IIT system as PhD students. This simply reflects the poor mindset of our society that is unable to give excellence its due.

The arrogance is appalling. It's one thing to claim that *all* your colleagues are excellent, but it takes a certain insensitivity to diss a whole lot of folks in universities ("recruits ... who most often do not qualify to enter the IIT system as PhD students").

His problem seems to be that the IIT assistant professors are in the same Pay Band with such "recruits". The fact that they earn considerably more doesn't matter; Mittal is upset that the great assistant professors at IIT-D share the same Pay Band as those "recruits" in "other systems."

What's this -- some new kind of untouchability?

But you know what the clincher is? This:

In giving its verdict, the Union Human Resource Development ministry has ignored the recommendations of the Goverdhan Mehta committee report which had recommended a hike in pay scale of apex technical educational institutions.

What's wrong with this? The difference between the Mehta committee and ministry recommendations are actually quite small: probably 2 or 3 percent. Except, of course, for the serious anomaly that prevents assistant professors from going to Pay Band 4 after three years.

The small difference doesn't mean IIT faculty should accept it without a fight. They are doing the right thing by pointing out the anomalies and seeking a remedy. If their pleas fall on deaf ears, they would also be right to go on strike.

But to take this small difference as a basis for an unreasoned, unreasonable (and arrogant) rant?


  1. Shamsheer said...

    You mean Aditya Mittal, not Aditya Nigam.

  2. Abi said...

    @Shamsheer: Yes, indeed. Thanks for the catch! I have corrected it now.

  3. Pratik Ray said...

    yeah, it is appalling. The statement about faculty in other universities as "not even good enough to join IIT as PhD students" is a two way diss.

    Not only does that diss the professors at other institutes, it also brings out a very common attitude of *some* people, that research students in IITs are sort of the benchmark of the lowest standards in that institute (hence "not even good enough to join IIT for PhD").

    An institute that touts conducting the entrance exam as a major accomplishment and speaks this way of its research scholars isnt likely to get much done in terms of research, is it?

    Thankfully, for every few faculty in IITs who think this way, there are still a large number of very good professors whose mindset is quite different from the tone in this article, and are a credit to the institution. Which is why, given its resources, IITs continue to do well.

  4. Ashish said...

    Certainly it's not the right way to express your "difference of opinion" in such a platform, you need to support your IIT counterparts, I can understand you don't consider IIT to be at par with IISC's research facility or you might have some kind of bias for research and consider IITs as commercial centers of technology... however, I feel India's USP is IIT

  5. Anonymous said...

    Go to the best engineering colleges in India like NIT. No faculty works for more than 2-3 hours a day and the only papers that they read are the newspapers. They have not published in any journal for years and are unlikely to get employment anywhere.


    "They are often only a couple of years out of college (with a Bachelor’s degree, often from the same college) themselves. Their motivations for becoming faculty vary, but the most common reason they end up there is because they could not find an alternative job. This can be verified by looking at the age and backgrounds of faculty in the popular engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu. No doubt many of them are dedicated to their students, but that would still not make them expert in the complex subject matters they are asked to teach their students."

    IITs may be slightly better. But many IIT faculty would not have got admitted there as a student. When I studied in IIT-Bombay, we have a quotation,

    "If you can not become a B.Tech student, then become a M.Tech student; If you are not able to become a M.Tech student, then become a Ph.D student; If you are not able to even become a Ph.D student, become a faculty; Worse, if you are unable to become a faculty, then become the director"

    For a long time, the director of IIT-B was not from the faculty of IIT-B.

  6. Pratik Ray said...

    @ Anon: A blanket statement like that is not 100% correct, and is down right insulting to the few people who actually work in the NITs, Jadavpur, etc, despite all the constraints.

  7. Abi said...

    @Pratik: Thanks for your comment on Mittal's appalling attitude about university teachers.

    It's a pity you bothered to respond to Anon, above (I wouldn't have responded). I'm leaving Anon's comment here simply because it betrays the insensitive and disdainful streak among a few IITians. As you rightly pointed out, the number that suffers from this streak is small.

  8. Anonymous said...

    Nice Nice. I have always found that People who have not cleared the JEE do not leave any chance to belittle it.

  9. Abi said...

    @Anon (the most recent one): It's clear that this post is about JEE. Thanks for not getting the point.

  10. Dr. D.R.Kaushal said...

    I have just posted software to calculate the revised salary of existing faculty members in IIX on my homepage:

    Suggestions are welcome.