Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Amerikka Desi - My Tamil Novel

Amerikka Desi (அமெரிக்க தேசி) is my first Tamil novel (yes, you read that right; no spelling mistakes from my end either) published by Tamizhini.

The release function is on Jan 4th, 2015, Sunday, 10 AM, at Raga Sudha hall in Luz, Mylapore, Chennai. Drop in.

Further reading: details about the novel in my Tamil blog; an interview related to the novel and literature in general (and here, in Tamil).

Briefly: The novel is about 700 pages. It is about the expectations, experiences, exultations and possible enlightenment of a Tamil graduate venturing as a research student to the USA. It is also a love story in absentia, on music, on philosophies and so on...

If you choose to miss the release function, the novel should be available in Tamizhini stall, in the Chennai Book Fair from Jan 9th, 2015. For international readers, online sales should begin in a month. Shall update.

BTW, a(nother) science book of mine in Tamil - Ulage un Uruvam Enna, a collection of science essays - is also getting released on the same day. Details about the past efforts are here.

Irony alert! In response to a query from MHRD, DoPT says IITs are autonomous and "not bound" by government rules

Basant Kumar Mohanty of The Telegraph makes an excellent catch!

The HRD ministry had sought the DoPT's views after the tech school cited a Government of India rule to ask Swamy to disclose what he had earned while teaching at Harvard University after the IIT had sacked him in December 1972.

The department, the regulating authority for central employees, yesterday wrote to the ministry, saying the tech schools were "autonomous" organisations "not bound" by central government rules.

Shevgaonkar's Resignation: Update #2

  1. Two important constituencies back Shevgaonkar: IIT-D faculty and IIT-D alumni.

  2. In an effort to debunk all kinds of allegations emanating from the government, IIT-D released a statement reiterating that it had all the necessary approvals for the Mauritius initiative. [See also this India Today story]

  3. In the face of all this evidence, three unnamed MHRD officials continue to push the "there's something fishy about the Mauritius initiative" line. [See also the stories from this Telegraph and The Indian Express].

  4. Lots of high level meetings have happened: The Chairman of IIT-D Board of Governors met the President, as well as the HRD Minister, who also met the President.

  5. Shevgaonkar's resignation has not been accepted so far. It is not clear where exactly it is stuck, but the long chain ends at the President's desk.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Shevgaonkar's Resignation: An Update

Three things.

First, via The Telegraph, we get some details on how Prof. Shevgaonkar was being pressured into settling the Subramanian Swamy case:

In 2008, he wrote to Prime Minister Singh but then human resource development minister Kapil Sibal, to whom the matter was forwarded, decided against granting extraordinary leave. The matter is before the high court.

The new NDA government wanted to settle the matter. Irani's ministry has sought the opinions of the department of personnel and training and the finance ministry. No advice has yet come.

Irani called Shevgaonkar and Swamy to a meeting about two months ago and again summoned the director two weeks ago, both times suggesting an out-of-court settlement, ministry and IIT Delhi sources said.

Swamy, on the other hand, has been insinuating that Shevgaonkar resigned because his actions regarding IIT-D's initiative in Mauritius are being inquired into. The government has also unleashed its "top HRD ministry sources" to run with this story [see also this story in The Financial Express].

The possible reason for the resignation of IIT-Delhi director RK Shevgaonkar could be his alleged involvement in illegally setting up an off-shore campus of the institute in Mauritius, top HRD ministry sources claimed on Sunday.

A top HRD official insisted Shevgaonkar was cornered on the Mauritius issue. "We were asking him questions to which no satisfactory reply was forthcoming," he said. According to him, Shevgaonkar had taken the proposal of IIT-D campus in Mauritius to IIT Council which told him that the Institutes of Technology Act that governs IITs do not enable creation of offshore campuses. However, he said, Shevgaonkar went ahead and had Memorandum of Understanding with Tertiary Education Commission of Mauritius. The proposed institute was to be called International Institute of Technology Research Academy.

In an attempt to squelch this twisted story, IIT-D has responded by clarifying that the Mauritius initiative had the full backing of the HRD ministry all along. As Anubhuti Vishnoi reports in India Today:

Hitting back at the Smriti Irani-led Union Human Resource Development ministry which was blaming IIT Director Prof R Shivgaonker's sudden resignation on possible irregularities related to its Mauritius MoU, the IIT on Monday said that all due clearances and approvals were taken and approved by the HRD ministry.

The IIT hit back clarifying that International Institute of Technology Research Academy in Mauritius is not an extension campus of IIT Delhi, that the IIT's role was simple advisory in nature and no financial commitment was incurred on its part. It has also brought home the point that the final MoU was approved by the HRD ministrt and signed in the presence of then HRD minister Pallam Raju.

IIT Delhi on Monday shot off a communication to the Smriti Irani-led HRD ministry with a detailed sequence of events supported with ten annexures on the Mauritius MoU to clarify its stand on the issue. The IIT also released a press statement saying the same.

We now have a PR battle between an HRD minister and an IIT director. Right now, my bets are on Shevgaonkar. That Subramanian Swamy is on the other side is one of my strongest reasons. [Here's yet another example of his unhinged imagination: Who financed the PK film? According to my sources it is traceable to Dubai and ISI. DRI must investigate.]

* * *

Update: Among the political parties, AAP does the right thing [Update (3 Jan 2015): AAP's Press Release] by bringing the debate back to the basic question of autonomy.

AAP said that BJP's "unjustified political interference" is trampling the autonomy of the top institutions for professional and technical education.

"The Aam Aadmi Party challenges the human resources development minister to answer the following two questions. Is it not a fact that she had recently summoned the IIT Delhi director ?

"Is it not a fact that impolite language was used against such a senior professor and is it also not fact that he was humiliated in that meeting?" the party said in a statement.

The party alleged that the BJP was hell bent on imposing its "dangerous agenda" on the nation.

This debate in NDTV is revealing for all the non-arguments from the highly agitated BJP spokesman. Arguing for the other side, Yogendra Yadav is absolutely flawless!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Shocking: Prof. Shevgaonkar has resigned?

Shocking, if true:

IIT Delhi director Raghunath K Shevgaonkar has quit more than two years before the end of his term. A senior IIT official confirmed the news on Saturday though human resource development ministry officials claimed they were unaware of it.

Shevgaonkar has been under tremendous pressure from the ministry to accede to two of its demands, IIT sources said. He was reportedly asked to provide the IIT ground for a cricket academy Sachin Tendulkar wanted to open and also pay nearly Rs 70 lakh to former IIT D faculty and now BJP functionary Subramanian Swamy as his "salary dues" between 1972 and 1991.

Shevgaonkar was opposed to both the demands, the sources said. [...]

[Source: Akshaya Mukul's report in the Times of India]

I knew about the Swamy case, and I can see why he might be angling for support from the present government led by his party. But the other issue -- involving Sachin Tendulkar -- appears totally bizarre. Especially since Tendulkar has clarified that he neither has a cricket academy nor has he any designs on IIT-D land!

Other journalists (whose work I respect) have been tweeting that Prof. Shevgaonkar has indeed resigned, and the Swamy case is certainly one of the reasons. [I would rate Mukul's reporting also as solid; so, I expect some clarification from him / ToI on their mistake about Tendulkar's involvement]

* * *

Sure enough, ToI has issued the following clarification [in a rather personal-blog-like language] at the end of the news story. Oops, indeed.

Oops. A clarification:-

IIT sources had told TOI that there was pressure on the director to give land for SachinTendulkar's cricket academy. However, Tendulkar has strongly denied that this is the case. In fact, he has said he has no plans for a cricket academy. We are sorry to have carried the news on the basis of sources which have been reliable in the past and didn't check with Tendulkar. We are sorry for this. We are also removing all mentions of this from the story.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

University Assessments in the US and the UK

This month saw two significant events in higher ed elsewhere.

The first was in the US, where the Department of Education released a "draft framework" outlining a set of parameters which can form the basis for rating colleges and universities. The report is open for public discussion and debate, before the rating policy is finalized. See the NYTimes story on the report, and Kevin Carey's commentary on it. The ratings are meant to help aspiring undergraduate students in choosing the right colleges to apply to.

The second was the much awaited announcement of the results of an extensive assessment exercise called REF (Research Excellence Framework). As the name suggests, this exercise is only about the research conducted at the UK universities, and its results have a strong impact on universities as well as on individual departments. See The Guardian story: REF 2014: why is it such a big deal?.

The Guardian's coverage is a good place to start, but you can get all the data at the REF site.

See also: Five reasons why the REF is not fit for purpose‬‬‬.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Umpiring Bias

A neat study by Ian Gregory-Smith, David Paton, Abhinav Sacheti -- Not really cricket: Home bias in officiating -- confirms what many fans "know":

... This column investigates this problem using new data from cricket matches. The authors find that neutral umpires decrease the bias against away teams, making neutral officials very important for a fair contest.

* * *

Merry Good Governance Day, everyone!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Wonderful Educational Module

Vi Hart and Nicki Case have created a web page with very instructive browser-based and visually attractive simulations: Parable of the Polygons: A Playable Post on the Shape of Society. It's also a practical and playful introduction to the 1971 classic, Dynamic Models of Segregation, by Thomas Schelling; the model itself is an interesting variation of the Ising model.

* * *

Hat tip to: Joshua Gans at Digitopoly.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Japanese First at Hosei University

Miki Tanikawa of NYTimes profiles Prof. Yoko Tanaka, the first woman to lead a "major Japanese University":

The traditional, mild-mannered appearance of Yuko Tanaka, clad in a kimono and geta sandals, belies the unbending determination of the woman who has become the first female president of one of Japan’s oldest and largest universities.

With the curious mixture of quiet Japanese elegance and the gravitas that comes with holding the top seat at Hosei University, a 130-year-old institution with about 30,000 students and 1,500 faculty and staff, Professor Tanaka, 62, makes regular appearances on a Sunday morning talk show aired on the Tokyo Broadcasting System, where she is known for her tirades against the right-leaning government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The appointment a year ago of Professor Tanaka, the first woman to be named president of a major Japanese university, could not have come at a more relevant or ripe moment. A long, sleepy era for Japanese universities ended in the 1990s when a demographic shift occurred: A sharp decline in the number of young people put academic institutions in the position of having to compete for new students. [Bold emphasis added]

Ranking Tail and Institutional Dogs

Ranking of universities in the US has thrown up several cases of fraudulent reporting by places like George Washington and Claremont McKenna. Others have taken a more strategic route by re-prioritizing their spending to target higher scores in the metrics that matter. I just linked to a Boston Magazine story on Northeastern's efforts to align its priorities with those of US News.

We now have a BBC story about the French government taking this strategic route, which will cost "only" 7.5 billion euros:

As part of a huge government-driven academic and economic project, there will be a new university called Paris-Saclay, with a campus south of the French capital. The project has initial funding of 7.5bn euros (£5.9bn) for an endowment, buildings and transport links.

The French government is bringing together 19 institutions into a single structure, with the aim of building a university of a size and scale that can compete with global giants like Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Dominique Vernay, the president of this new university, says that within a decade he wants Paris-Saclay to be among the top ranking world universities.

"My goal is to be a top 10 institution," he says. In Europe, he wants Paris-Saclay to be in the "top two or three".

* * *

Sometime ago, we also saw a study that looked at how much it would cost Rochester -- "consistently ranked in the mid-thirties" -- to break into the top 20 in the US News list. It arrived at a figure of 112 million dollars to take care of just two of the metrics -- faculty salary and resources provided to students.

Friday, December 12, 2014


  1. Cat Ferguson, Adam Marcus, and Ivan Oransky in Nature: Publishing: The peer-review scam. "When a handful of authors were caught reviewing their own papers, it exposed weaknesses in modern publishing systems. Editors are trying to plug the holes."

  2. Matt Kutner in Boston Magazine: How to Game the College Rankings. "Northeastern University executed one of the most dramatic turnarounds in higher education. Its recipe for success? A single-minded focus on just one list."

  3. S. Rukmini in The Hindu: 40 % faculty posts vacant in Central varsities. "Faculty vacancy in the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) was 40 per cent as of July this year, most acute in Varanasi, Roorkee (above 50 per cent), Kharagur and Delhi. Vacancies were highest for OBC faculty. ...In the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), faculty vacancies stood at over 20 per cent, highest in Indore (52 per cent) and Ranchi (48 per cent)."

Auctioning of Jim Watson's Nobel Medal

There are just too many bizarre twists in this sequence: James Watson auctioned off his 1962 Nobel Medal; the highest bidder, a Russian multi-billionaire, bought it and returned it to Watson. Read more about Watson's peevish motivations here, and about the aftermath of the auction here.

Fallen Hero

This was really sad to read about an academic superstar [see this NYTimes profile] with millions of student fans across the globe:

MIT indefinitely removes online physics lectures and courses by Walter Lewin
"MIT policy on sexual harassment was found to be violated."

MIT is indefinitely removing retired physics faculty member Walter Lewin’s online lectures from MIT OpenCourseWare and online MITx courses from edX, the online learning platform co-founded by MIT, following a determination that Dr. Lewin engaged in online sexual harassment in violation of MIT policies.

MIT’s action comes in response to a complaint it received in October from a woman, who is an online MITx learner, claiming online sexual harassment by Lewin. She provided information about Lewin’s interactions with her, which began when she was a learner in one of his MITx courses, as well as information about interactions between Lewin and other women online learners.

MIT immediately began an investigation, and as a precaution instructed Lewin not to contact any MIT students or online learners, either current or former.

The investigation followed MIT protocol for complaints of sexual harassment. The head of the physics department, Professor Peter Fisher, ensured an objective and timely review, which included a review of detailed materials provided by the complainant and interviews of her and Lewin.

Based on its investigation, MIT has determined that Lewin’s behavior toward the complainant violated the Institute’s policy on sexual harassment.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

When a HBS Faculty Met a Chinese Restaurant Owner

The tale of a professor of negotiation tangling with a mom-and-pop restaurant owner over 4 dollars is, like, totally awesome ...

What ails Indian science: Two views

Here are a couple of links if you are in the mood for a rant about Indian science establishment:

  1. Free Science from Oligarchy by A. Jayakrishnan.

  2. What is Wrong with Science in India? by B.M. Hegde, and

Jayakrishnan is a former VC of the University of Kerala and CUSAT; Hegde is a former VC of Manipal University.

Hegde also cites this (unpublished) study of mine, but that cannot be the reason for my link to his article, right? Right?

The Myth of STEM Shortage

Robert Charette sets the record straight in this IEEE Spectrum piece. It *is* US-centric, but I think there's something in it for folks elsewhere too.

* * *
See also Noah Smith: What Tech-Worker Shortage?

The situation is so dismal that governments everywhere are now pouring billions of dollars each year into myriad efforts designed to boost the ranks of STEM workers. President Obama has called for government and industry to train 10 000 new U.S. engineers every year as well as 100 000 additional STEM teachers by 2020. And until those new recruits enter the workforce, tech companies like Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft are lobbying to boost the number of H-1B visas—temporary immigration permits for skilled workers—from 65 000 per year to as many as 180 000. The European Union is similarly introducing the new Blue Card visa to bring in skilled workers from outside the EU. The government of India has said it needs to add 800 new universities, in part to avoid a shortfall of 1.6 million university-educated engineers by the end of the decade.

And yet, alongside such dire projections, you’ll also find reports suggesting just the opposite—that there are more STEM workers than suitable jobs. One study found, for example, that wages for U.S. workers in computer and math fields have largely stagnated since 2000. Even as the Great Recession slowly recedes, STEM workers at every stage of the career pipeline, from freshly minted grads to mid- and late-career Ph.D.s, still struggle to find employment as many companies, including Boeing, IBM, and Symantec, continue to lay off thousands of STEM workers.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Adventures in Publishing

Just a bunch of links:

  1. Will Oremus in Slate: This Is What Happens When No One Proofreads an Academic Paper. "Should we cite that crappy Gabor paper?"

  2. This link is from Oremus's piece. Meredith Carpenter and Lillian Fritz-Laylin in Slate: The Snarky, Clever Comments Hidden in the "Acknowledgments" of Academic Papers. “This work was ostensibly supported by the Italian Ministry of University and Research. … The Ministry however has not paid its dues and it is not known whether it will ever do.”

  3. Jeffrey Beall: Bogus Journal Accepts Profanity-Laced Anti-Spam Paper. “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List.” [Via Inside Higher Ed].