Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Half-truths and Harvard comparisons: The Curious Arguments in IIM-A pay hike demands

The memorandum submitted by the IIM-A faculty council irritated the hell out of me. It doesn't take much effort to conclude -- and to show -- that the document is filled with extravagant claims, "supported" by bald assertions, shady arguments, half-truths, and even lies.

So, the natural question is this: How can faculty members -- with a stake in protecting their academic reputation -- deem this document fit to be submitted to the government -- and, by implication, the people of India?

In short, what happened to their own judgement?

I reproduce below something that I wrote over a week ago as a possible opinion piece. While waiting for it to find a home in some MSM outlet, I noticed some chatter from IIM-A folks, and decided not to wait any longer. I'm posting it here.

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Half-truths and Harvard Comparisons: The Memorandum from IIM-A Faculty Council

Imagine this scenario: A manager has just got a 75 percent raise, but thinks he deserves a better deal. He goes to his boss and says, "You know, similar positions in other companies pay 300 to 400 percent of what I make -- after this 75% raise."

After that impressive build-up, if I tell you that he demanded a hike of 22%, how would you react?

Did I hear you say, "What an idiot!"? Exactly.

Here's how that scenario played out in real life: In a memorandum submitted to MHRD, the faculty council at IIM-Ahmedabad first compared assistant professors' salary after the pay hike (Rs. 38,000 per month) with that at Harvard Business School (Rs. 1.91 lakhs per month, after a PPP adjustment) and Indian School of Business (Rs. 1.66 lakhs). It capped this analysis by demanding a 22% hike, from Rs. 38,000 to Rs. 46,400 per month.

Frankly, I have nothing against these pay hike demands. Heck, I'll be among the beneficiaries if they are accepted! But the demands must have a certain legitimacy, and the supporting arguments must follow rules of what Amartya Sen calls public reasoning.

Take, for example, the modest demands made by IIT faculty associations. They invoke comparisons with other public sector institutions, and limit themselves to getting IIT faculty the benefits that are already available to their cousins in universities and government R&D labs. While he government has contested these demands, it has done so without questioning the legitimacy of the arguments advanced to support them.

In contrast, the IIM-A faculty representatives have made extravagant demands that are way beyond the Sixth Pay Commission norms. Worse, in their zeal to argue their case forcefully, they have filled their memorandum with illegitimate arguments, half-truths and even lies.

Here's a sample: "the present notification by making the IIM [assistant professors'] scale equal to the UGC scale is tantamount to downgrading of the IIM pay scale as compared to the previous scale."

Never mind the 'scale' of confusion in that muddled sentence. It packs within it a half-truth and a lie!

First, the half-truth. With a huge difference in the salaries of assistant professors in both IIMs and UGC institutions -- Rs. 38,000 at IIMs against Rs. 21,600 in universities -- isn't it misleading to suggest that their salaries belong to the same 'scale'?

Now, the lie. In the part that says, "... it's tantamount to downgrading of IIM pay scale," the comparison is between IIM assistant professors and university readers. In the old regime, they had the same starting basic salary of Rs. 12,000. In the new regime, their starting salaries are Rs. 38,000 and Rs. 30,320, with the IIMs being privileged over the universities.

If anything, it is the readers in UGC institutions who should be protesting against the 'downgrading'!

I don't know how some of our finest minds ended up making these disingenuous assertions and ridicule-worthy arguments.

But what I do know is that as salaried employees, bureaucrats and faculty are fundamentally different. Unlike bureaucrats, faculty members can augment their salaries through quite a few remunerative activities -- all legal! Consulting is a popular activity, and so is teaching short courses, aka executive development programmes.

What I do know is that cash-rich institutions can use their government-given autonomy to offer their faculty more money; IIT-B and IIT-D, for example, give their junior faculty extra cash during their early years.

What I do know is that IIM-A is pretty cash-rich; it says on its website that it hasn't availed any government grant for several years now. So, in principle, nothing comes in the way of IIM-A making its faculty as rich as their Harvard counterparts.

In response to that last point, IIM-A faculty council may argue that their demands are not just for IIM-A, but for the IIM system as a whole. Okay, but it still makes us wonder which IIM they were comparing Harvard with. The one in Shillong?

In normal language, the IIM-A faculty council's memorandum is best described as a train-wreck. Internet offers a pithy alternative: Fail!

Finally, a bit of dark humour in the IIM-A memorandum. Immediately after the comparison with Harvard, it insists that, without that 22% pay hike, the government "runs the very real risk of ... loosing [sic] the faculty it already has in [its] premier technical institutions." Doesn't this risk assessment insult IIM-A's senior faculty? Isn't it equivalent to asking them, "If you are so smart, why are you (still) at IIM-A?"

I have never seen a more spectacular self-goal.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Dude, what do you expect from business school profs?

    Academic institutions like IIT and IISc, no matter what quality of faculty they have, should be ashamed to be mentioned in the same breath as management institutes (ponytail-less or ponytailed).

  2. Anonymous said...

    > Isn't it equivalent to asking them, "If you are so smart, why are you (still) at IIM-A?"

    Actually, no. Apart from pay, aren't there other reasons one might want to work in an academic environment (at home, as opposed to being abroad)? Beyond a point, however, this leaning towards stay in academia might be overshadowed by the fact that ones pay is fairly meager. And if one really does want to stay in academia, are there many (well-paying) options available in India?

    I think some of your points are reasonable, but you've heavily overstated the 'own goal' bit. Quite ironic, perhaps, considering the argument you're trying to make :)

  3. Dada said...

    Mr Sibal can do all the tough talking but being a famous lawyer by profession in south Delhi he would have earned sufficient money that he could feed his next 10 generation ka sibals. Its very easy for him to jump idealistic ship. We dont want so much money but definitely I would want to earn more than what my B Tech student earns as his first pay cheque. Dr. Abhi is that not sensible? Under what formula does a B Tech guy deserve more salary than a Ph.D. I appeal to everyone to stop moaning about the number of publications etc their quality and comparisions with the us universities. Just look around you unless excellence is well rewarded in our society all the above factors can be easily overcome. one example, a student who passed out of an US university with a BS degree will be earning about 60k - 70k per annum on an average where as an entry level prof earns about 80k in a decent university. Is aspiring for this is wrong? Imagine a student who spends 5 - 6 years of his life abt 9% of his lifetime not just that they are his most exciting years of his life i mean early 20s to late 20s for a meagre stipend what does he get? He is asked to live in this bubble forever. Mr Sibal can do all the talking and the IIMs can turn cowards unless this situation changes our country will remain a third world in terms of research and quality papers

  4. புருனோ Bruno said...

    பட்டையை கிளப்புறீங்க பாஸ் !!

  5. Anonymous said...

    I can say that not only your understanding of basic issue is incorrect but you are also prejudices against IIMs.

    (i) The comparison with Harvard and other schools is to convey a point that universally teachers are given good recognition. No where in the document salaries of Harvard have been demanded. If your build your opinions on newspaper reports which are half truth this is how you would title your comment.

  6. Anonymous said...

    (ii) It has always has been the case that Assistant Professors at IIMs/IITs are equivalent to Readers/Assoc. Profs in Universities. So there is nothing wrong is pointing out this. In fact now the difference is so reduced that an Assistant Prof. in IIM/IIT gets less than Reader in UGC, so so is the case with Assoc Profs in IIM/IIT vs. Prof. in UGC.

  7. Anonymous said...

    If one assumes that IITs have not produced Nobel prize winners but they are not on blot of the country either. Have they in anyways harm the image of the country.

    There will always be few people who are good in Universities and few people not so good in IITs, but should one compare best of Universities with worst of IITs.

  8. Anonymous said...

    Only when Teachers ask for more money they look greedy. When administrative cadre is given scale of 67000 and above why no questions are asked.

    Is austerity only to be practiced by IIT/IIM Teachers.

    When people work with same dedication but do not eat food, is it a strike in true sense. Did they stop work as people in many other places would do. I think one should appreciate the fact that classes continued as usual.

  9. Anonymous said...

    comparing Assistant Prof. of University with Assistant Prof. of IIM would be a mistake. A significant chunk of management teachers in colleges/universities are non-PhDs.

    In IIMs 99% of them are PhDs, rest are either CAs or have some other professional qualifications. To get into IIMs one has to complete 2 years experience after Post Graduation then do Phd (not in parallel with Job) which takes 5 yrs. then gain 2-3 years experience. Almost all of the faculty joining IIMs would have at least one international paper.