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.