Saturday, September 26, 2009

On IIX faculty salaries ...

Watch this NDTV episode which I presume was aired on the day of the historic hunger strike by IIT faculty members (24 September 2009). What follows is a bunch of assorted observations, triggered by this show.

* * *

Prof. Thenmozhi, who has championed this protest movement at the IITs, is one of the guests. She does a competent job of getting across the views of the protesters; ultimately, I found her unconvincing, but that's probably because I don't share those views, and certainly because I think the hunger strike was based on a set of imagined grievances whose financial implications were just an additional 2% hike in salaries. I also think that the 'autonomy' plank is a fake.

[BTW, I admire Prof. Thenmozhi for the way she has rallied the IIT faculty to agitate against the pay hike notifications. Here's a profile of this news maker].

* * *

Prof. Dinesh Mohan of IIT-D takes a strong anti-strike stand, and scores some excellent points. About how faculty salaries in other countries are roughly in line with public sector salaries. About how it is wrong to use private sector criteria to judge public sector salaries -- the latter come with job security (and I would have added, many other perks).

To a question about the fat salaries in the US, his answer is wonderfully blunt: Let those who are interested in such salaries stay / go there!

* * *

Mohandas Pai chants the mantra of free market-based pay scale. He seems oblivious of the kinds of things that can be inflicted when economic conditions turn sour.

Frankly, his free-market ideas should scare the wits out of most IIT faculty. Here's why:

A market-based pay works wonders when the economy is doing well. But an economy in recession could have devastating consequences.

In a recessionary economy, the pay hikes stop for those lucky enough to keep their jobs. Talk to anyone in the IT industry -- including Infosys -- about how bad things are. The starting salaries of fresh hires has barely budged in the last couple of years!

In a recessionary economy, it could get worse -- there may be a pay cut! I'm sure you can find examples from Indian industry, but here's an example from one of the most respected public university systems in the US -- The University of California. A severe crunch has forced it to institute faculty furloughs of 4 to 10 percent.

Heck, in a recessionary economy, people could lose jobs! Ask all those who got the pink slip from Infosys in the last one year.

[Isn't it ironic that we are talking about pay hikes in the public sector at a time when the private sector is bleeding?]

Tell the IIT faculty about the possibility of a pay freeze, a pay cut, or, gulp, job loss -- the miserable things that accompany the wonders of free markets. Then wait and watch how many of them choose to protest against the "indignity inflicted by the government" on October 1, the new ultimatum from the faculty federations.

Tell the IIT faculty about the brutal differentials in faculty salaries in the US system, in which the average salary of a full professor in philosophy, sociology or physics could be far smaller than that of an assistant professor in computer science. And then see how many of them show up for the protests.

[In the NDTV show, Prof. Thenmozhi wisely avoids getting into these uncomfortable aspects of the 'autonomy'].

* * *

Kapil Sibal comes in at the end, comes on strong, and comes out swinging. His basic point: The hunger strike is not at all about autonomy, and it's entirely about money. In his view, it is a blatant and unfair attempt to take a larger share of the (public sector) resources.

He reiterates his stand (which I think is largely true) that the IIT faculty have actually got a better than anyone else has. He went further by offering interesting arguments -- in a combative tone! If you think the new salaries are too low to attract new faculty, he pointed out that the IITs have attracted tons of people over the last decade when the salaries were about 40 percent lower! And the the attrition rate at the IITs has been "next to nil!" [He could have taken a dig at Mohandas Pai by saying that it's far, far lower than the attrition rate at Infosys ;-)]. IITians can also make extra money through consulting.

None of these arguments is new. It's a pity that these things had to be spelled out by none other than the minister himself.

* * *

Sibal also waxes eloquent about the new position created by MHRD: on-contract assistant professorship (OCAP). It's not at all clear who advised him on this one, but he is totally, completely wrong on the merits of this move. I have a post on why I think OCAP is an utterly horrible deal; if you have anything to add, please comment there.

I hope Mr. Sibal will go back, take a hard look at it, and scrap the OCAP scheme.

* * *

Similarly, I hope the IIT faculty associations would dump their dishonest use of 'autonomy' to get their senior professors piffling extras -- that extra 2 percent over the 75 percent pay hike is just not worth it.

And I hope the IIT faculty associations will stop using on-contract assistant professors as human shields in promoting what is essentially a senior faculty agenda.


  1. harish said...

    Hello Abi,

    While you caught CNNIBN show on Thursday night, I caught this one on NDTV. And unlike your analysis, I thought this was a pathetic excuse of a debate.

    The last one first... Mr Sibal came out swinging, knowing very well that he can lie and there would be no one to refute. After all, only Prof Dinesh Mohan would be asked anything after Sibal's pyrotechnics and he was on the side of the Ministry. Mr Sibal and Abi are advised to take a look at put up by the ministry to attract talent to 14 national universities. Well, just about everything said here is rolled back in the case of IITs. I wonder why?

    Attrition rate is "next to nil" -- well, even Prof Dinesh Mohan (who bats on the same side as Sibal) declares that a lot of young people have left -- for what reasons, he was not allowed to expand on, by Burkha Dutt. I am sure if he was allowed to expand, he would have made a complete ass of himself, but that was not to be...

    There is a high attrition rate in IITs and most of them are severely understaffed, thanks to the Ministry's overdrive on adding more seats in the UG programs and reckless opening of new IITs.

    Abi was more hopeful in an earlier post when this IIT faculty pay thingy started, about Asst Profs getting 38K (see the blog on Sept 1, 2009). I guess time (just a month, mind you) has tempered his expectations as his blog on OCAP (Sept 26, 2009) and the part about OCAP in this blog, sounds like a pathetic plea... I guess, you have begun realizing the kind of dictator that Mr Sibal is. Though your admiration for the man would not let you critisize him... Fair enough...

    About the other speakers, well Mohandas Pai chants his free-market ideas which he expands on

    I agree with Abi that Prof Thenmozhi did a competent job, but unlike Abi, I agree with her completely. The autonomy plank is not a fake -- Mr Sibal realizes it and therefore shouts that the protest is all about pay only... Abi, Mr Sibal is playing to the gallery and you are being led down the path...

    Lastly, that excuse of a debater, Prof Dinesh Mohan. He scores brownie points with people sitting on the sidelines with a pre-disposed bias towards IITs. For example, let us look at the only point (well, there were none really) that Abi takes from Prof Mohan in this blog here -- can you please tell me where the IIT faculty have demanded that they be given private sector salaries.. In fact, Abi's blog where he rants against IIM-A has the following: "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." So sorry, Prof Dinesh Mohan was nothing but a bag of hot air, placed there by the powers that be... And Abi's blog is indeed evidence of how successful that game was...

  2. Anonymous said...

    Abi writes in this post what he agrees with. Which is what Mr. Sibal says. eg: the rant that IIT faculty should "think" about market based pay and the risk associated with it, and then the (self directed) assertion that they (IIT profs) will NOT agree to it (meaning that Abi does not agree to it) is a very nice example of what is known as hasty generalization. Abi, have you discussed with IIT profs what you think IIT profs think? Why do you assert they will not accept market based pay (and inequity in pay) if need be? What is the data? (The question and the reasoning are both hypothetical, so you cannot argue against the proposition as is, ok!) . Kapil Sibal's data on attrition at IIT is just a big joke. And Abi proudly repeats it. What is the data? Have you cared to check? Attrition rate at IIT cannot be compared to Infosys, until IIT gives market based pay. Sibal has no data, no experience of IIT system, and hazy ideas about faculty life and academic policies in US univs. And all this comes out "Strong and Swinging". hey hey, very nice.

  3. Anonymous said...

    On the 40% prof.s getting 12000 AGP:
    This would not hurt the autonomy if there was an exit clause. Every recipient of the 12000 AGP should be
    evaluated triennially and those not performing better than the best in
    the 10,500 AGP should be demoted back to the 10,500 AGP grade. This will open up place for stagnated high performers in the 10500 AGP grade. This evaluation should be transparent and the whole professor (10500 + 12000 AGPs) body should anonymously review and
    in border line cases external reviews should be sought.
    This will prevent nepotism and
    keep the 12000-ers on their toes. We may even see some premature deaths with the stress on the 50+ crowd and that would open up new positions.

  4. Anonymous said...

    Triennial evaluation is good. However, the 12000 AGP should not be called 'senior' grade. The words promoted and demoted are not good, psychologically speaking. Properly renaming it should resolve the issue.

  5. Anonymous said...

    Evaluating once every three years introduces discretization problem. Instead, evaluate every year the performance of the past three years. Then others wont be looking for retirement and premature deaths of capped profs :-)

  6. Anonymous said...

    Another suggestion is, completely remove this senior grade and introduce special chairs. Evaluate each prof for the past specified no. of years and offer a special chair professorship for about three years. Make a rule that one who was enjoyed the chair for three years cannot apply for special chair for, say, two years. In this way, more number of profs get benefited.

  7. Anonymous said...

    and of course, additional pay for the special chair holder!

  8. Anonymous said...

    A conspired episode, Why?

    a.Thenmozhi was not given chance after Sibal spoke
    b.Minister contradicted himself while uttering that an AP can become P in 6 years (notifications clear say that 3 years at AP to become AsP and 4 years again at AsP to become P-total 7 years, at least)
    c. His knowledge about tenure track in US univ is questionable -it's possible that questions and answers were also supplied by eminent scientists in IISc and a couple of IITs.
    d.Dinesh mohan's father was a congress MP