Sunday, August 28, 2011

(Some) IIMs Want a More Diverse Set of Students

And they are willing to take appropriate steps [via Dheeraj Sanghi] to get more women and more non-engineers in the next incoming cohort:

For years, every class at the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) was boringly uniform. Students were mostly boys, with only a sprinkling of the other sex. In class, these young men thought similarly, used identical logic and took decisions that were alike, for they were all hardwired to behave in a certain fashion at the engineering campuses they came from.

In a strange correction to break the monotony of these two singularly large constituencies that cornered seats for years at the IIMs, the management schools have decided to award special marks to girls and non-engineering students.

All the six new IIMs and the ones at Lucknow and Kozhikode feel it`s time to rebalance the gender scales in office spaces. So while IIM-Rohtak will give 20 marks to each girl and another 20 to a non-engineer, IIM-Raipur will add 30 marks to the overall scores of each girl-non-engineer. IIM-Lucknow has decided to grant five marks to each girl and two to non-engineers. [Source: this ToI story by Hemali Chhapia]

The bit about non-engineers is interesting, but I'll restrict my observations to the issue of gender disparity in our top institutions:

  1. This is a great move by these eight IIMs, and I can't think of a better application of their autonomy. After articulating the need to promote gender diversity, they have done well to tailor their admissions policy towards that goal. It looks like the older IIMs (and, of course, the IITs) will be flaunting their studly smugness for some more time.

  2. This real, meaningful attempt by (some) IIMs to promote diversity should be contrasted with the recent announcement from the IITs that they have abolished the JEE application fee for women [Update: link, link].

  3. Leaders of our leading institutions keep talking about their desire for greater diversity; but they plead helplessness by pointing to their system of entrance exams -- as if that procedure is so sacrosanct that even thinking about changing it is a crime against the Constitution.

  4. Note also how Hemali Chhapia's ToI article tries so hard to de-legitimize (some) IIMs' steps to ensure a more diverse cohort: the headline talks about "Grace Marks for Girls" and the text talks about "a strange correction" by awarding "special marks." I guess we should be grateful that Chhapia refrained from use of the word 'crutch' ...

  5. It's not funny at all to see some people blame Big Bad Society (and its lousy attitudes) for the under-representation of women in the IITs; they urge parents to shed their gender bias (!) and send their daughters to the best cram schools -- even if it means the said daughters should spend endless weeks and months ruining their adolescence at Kota.

    What these guys (and it's almost always guys) are saying, essentially, is this: "Our institutions are perfect, and so are our entrance exams! Now if only the stupid people can be goaded into doing the right things, ..." I think a good response would be this [said in a different context]:

    ... [A} system that for good outcomes requires that people act in ways people do not do is not a good system — and to blame the people rather than the system is to commit a major intellectual error.
    -- Brad DeLong [via Cosma Shalizi]


  1. Rainbow Scientist said...

    it is essentially a right step in right give edge to underrepresenting group. This has potential to replace reservation in the long run. Performance in one exam is not the indication of long term success for any body so why rule out a group who for socio economic reason or for any other reason is at disadvantge in the exam.

    I understand people who are opposing it. It took me long time to accept subjective evaluation in tenure track hiring in US. There are two types of people I guess; one who managed to get in there inspite of all the competition so they don't want to dilute their success and another who have seen so much corruption at every level, that they can not belive in any subjective admission procedure with fear that it will essentially mean bad things.

    Its sure is transition period for India.

  2. Vijay said...

    I remember reading, many years ago, C. Northcote Parkinson of the eponymous law on how the Brits chose leaders to run its empire in India. Given that the applicants would, naturally, have no experience in empire-running, choosing people who would succeed at doing do was a huge challenge. After agonizing a bit, the idea to test people in Classics and horse-riding came about (the latter because someone who could handle a horse was obviously a decent bloke). The later Indian Civil Service (ICS) exams were born of a similar logic. Parkinson, if I remember right, goes on to say that they we may as well add tightrope walking to the list of exam subjects (he was mocking the MBA, then new). Incidentally, the Civil Service exams used to have the interviews as a substantial fraction of the qualifying marks, and here, I do see that hugely reducing this and the role of English has increased diversity.

    The IIT and similar entrance exams ostensibly make for objectivity. These exams have some merit, albeit highly debatable, but the near complete absence of human intervention in decision making, post-exam, is rather strange. Subjective and pro-active intervention can be reasonable, as Rainbow Scientist points out! When this is done we can truly get more interesting and diverse people into the undergraduate community instead of the dominance of the Kota Klone Kult. Caution: When metrics are well-defined, even subjective ones, such as essays and extracurricular roles, Kota monsters will spring up to fix the system. So, its a constant battle.