Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Selection of IIT Directors

Before we plunge in: This issue is not just restricted to TIFR or the IITs. It turns out that the process of selecting leaders at many other S&T institutions has been muddied. See this IE editorial -- A leadership vacuum -- for a sense of the utter badness of it all. Here's a short quote from the editorial: "Such a leadership vacuum, resulting from indifference or political interference, should be seen to be unacceptable for national institutions that have contributed enormously both in terms of research and high-quality manpower generation."

Let's now turn to the main post.

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In a better world, the process of selecting the director at each of the IITs at Bhubaneswar, Patna and Ropar would have been a straight-forward affair. In the real world, it has turned into a deeply controversial affair.

At first, everything appeared to be moving smoothly until, of course, it unraveled rather fast about a month ago. HRD Minister Smriti Irani junked the list of candidates selected by the committee constituted for this purpose.

[Unlike the TIFR case, I don't know of any procedural problems with the way those candidates were selected, and the HRD Ministry does not appear to have given any reason for scrapping the results of that process.]

In any case, a fresh round of interviews were held two days ago for some 35 candidates; it's not clear how many showed up.

But four days before these interviews, there was some drama: Dr. Anil Kakodkar resigned his position as the chair of IIT-B's governing council. Since he was a standing member of the committee to select IIT directors, his resignation was thought to be a fallout of the way the work of that committee was junked so unceremoniously.

Within a day of media playing up this news, HRD Minister Smriti Irani was reported to have convinced him to withdraw his resignation; again, the implication was that he would continue to serve in the selection committee, and more importantly, that he would participate in the fresh round of interviews on the 22nd of March.

It turns out that he didn't. Neither did three others on the committee -- M.S. Ananth, Lila Poonawalla and H. M. Nerurkar.

A day later, Kakodkar talks to Yogita Rao of ToI:

"It is too casual a process for the appointment of directors of IITs," said nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar in his first remarks on record after his run-in with the HRD ministry over the appointment of directors of the IITs at Patna, Ropar and Bhubaneshwar. Union minister Smriti Irani had called for a fresh process to interview 36 candidates in a single day. "What was done before was okay. Looking at all 36 candidates in one day is not right. There is a fundamental difficulty with the process. How do you ensure that you make the correct selection?" he asked, while speaking to TOI on Monday.

"IITs are far too important to the country to have such a casual process for the appointment of its directors. It has to be dealt with seriously. How can one be party to such a process?" he said.


  1. Dheeraj Sanghi said...

    A process in which the political leadership is involved has to be casual by definition. Most companies, even small ones, would select their CEOs after a lot of interaction with the potential candidates. But Directors of IITs (and everything else for that matter) get selected on the basis of 10 minute interaction. 36 candidates in 6 hours. I am aware of another university where the VC was selected even without an interview, just by looking at all the applications in a brief meeting.

    But unfortunately, we are too afraid to empower the respective boards to do a more thorough process.