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IIM Calcutta Teachers Write to Govt against Director, Seek Intervention to 'Help Arrest Decline'

File photo of IIM Calcutta.

File photo of IIM Calcutta.

The teachers have expressed disenchantment over serious ‘administrative’ and ‘academic’ lapses under Director Anju Seth, who was appointed in 2018 and have detailed their grievances in a letter to the Secretary of the Ministry of Education.

A large number of faculty members of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta, has sought the government’s intervention to “arrest its decline” and look into the complaints against its director.

The teachers have expressed disenchantment over serious ‘administrative’ and ‘academic’ lapses under Director - Professor Anju Seth, who was appointed in 2018. They have detailed their grievances in a letter to the Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Amit Khare, written on December 2.

Seth recently held the position of Pamplin Professor of Management at Virginia Tech, US. Before that, she was Professor of Business Administration at University of Illinois. However, the IIM C website does not reflect her message as director yet. She is also an alumnus of the institute.

The letter is signed by Ashok Banerjee, secretary of IIM Calcutta Faculty Association, a registered organisation representing more than 75 per cent of the full-time faculty of IIM Calcutta.

Banerjee said, “We have written to ministry and have faith the government will look into the matter.”

However, the secretary of Higher education has not yet reportedly received the representation from the teachers.

According to the letter, a number of concerns have “accumulated over the current Director’s tenure, the result of a style of functioning that is arbitrary, discriminatory, and, having a very narrow vision”.

The teachers said that though they tried several times to reach out to the director and board of governors, their concerns were ignored or brushed aside with narratives of ‘institutional change,’ which is supposedly underway.

The teachers fear there will be restrictions on freedom of expressions. “Further, we have reasons to believe that the Board is also contemplating imposition of restrictions on the freedom of expression of faculty, specifically in the context of raising issues related to larger academic concerns and administrative lapses in the institute,” said the letter.

The signatories allege they were left with no internal recourse, and, hence, compelled to reach out to the MoE seeking, “your urgent intervention to help arrest the decline of IIM Calcutta”. Unless there is an effective intervention from the ministry, “IIM Calcutta will see a drastic decline in its academic capabilities and lose its hard-earned global reputation,” it read.

Content of Letter

According to the faculty members, there is an alarming decline in the academic environment. “There is faculty and staff shortage, and reduction in spending on research,” the letter read. The director, they said, “has sought to run the Institute with complete disregard for extant norms, rules and processes, thereby attempting to erase the legacy of a 60- year-old public institution of higher education of national and international repute”.

‘Fall in Recruitment’

According to the letter, the director being away from the institute for almost 50% of days prior to the Covid-19 lockdown has also contributed to the slowdown.

“Consequently, only one additional faculty member has been recruited in the last two years, despite several resignations and retirements of faculty. The student-teacher ratio at IIM Calcutta has worsened significantly over the last two years. IIMC today has 20-30 full-time faculty members, fewer than IIM Ahmedabad (IIMA) or IIM Bangalore (IIMB). It may be noted that IIMC has more students in its flagship 2-year MBA program, compared to both IIMA and IIMB,” the letter read.

Stating that the “general morale of faculty and staff of the Institute is at an all-time low”, the teachers said, “over the last two years there have been at least eight resignations from among regular and contractual non-teaching staff members, most of whom have not been replaced. This has adversely affected the quality of teaching and research”.

Contrary to existing policies, “the director is unilaterally and arbitrarily shortlisting candidates for faculty positions at IIMC,” and that is giving them reason to believe “not all applications for faculty positions are being forwarded to the concerned academic groups for their consideration.”

The teachers further said research funding has come down drastically and post-doctoral research fellowships have been discontinued. “Internal funding for research projects and international conferences, so important to building and maintaining research networks, are discouraged to augment the annual surplus; externally-funded research projects have often been actively discouraged or their approval arbitrarily delayed,” said the letter.

Regarding the problems they faced during lockdown, the teachers said, “Even minimal teaching support, such as teaching assistants, digital infrastructure for online teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, have been denied to faculty and students of IIMC.”

Complaints About Violations of Due Processes

In violation of well-established norms, the letter said, the director centralised substantial powers in her hands and bypassed or undermined due process. “In this, she seems to have been enabled by the Board’s particularly narrow interpretation of the IIM Act of 2017.”

According to the teachers, the Academic Council (AC) of IIMC, which is the ‘principal academic body’ — recognised in the IIM Act, as one of the ‘three authorities’ (the board and the director, being the other two) — “has been systematically undermined in terms of both its powers and functions”.

“The Director, as the Chairperson of the AC, unilaterally sets the agenda, dictates decisions, and controls the minutes, disregarding the views of the overwhelming majority of the members of the AC. Consequently, minutes take longer to be ratified and do not truly reflect the discussion or decisions in the AC,” said the letter.

“The AC’s remit is being narrowed as AC is bypassed even in matters critical to the academic activities of the Institute, with the excuse that the said matter is not ‘purely’ academic, but has financial, administrative, or technological aspects,” said the letter.

Regulations and Ordinances

Unlike other IIMs, the formulations of ‘First Regulations’ were opaque. “The formulation and adoption of the First Regulations has been an opaque and secretive process. Instead of inviting the AC to take the lead in drafting the regulations, as peer IIMs had done, there was a determined effort to keep it out of the process of formulating them (regulations),” said the letter.

In November 2020, the BoG finally adopted the First Regulations, after inordinate delay. “The entire process was characterised by a general unwillingness to seek genuine engagement with the faculty, as illustrated by the following points,” said the teachers.

“AC members were allowed merely five days to submit their individual views on a draft of the regulations, circulated by the director.” On studying this document, members of the AC found that there was inordinate centralisation of powers in the hands of the Director and the blatant disregard for the sanctity of the AC, “The Director was unable to clearly state the authorship of the document”.

The director refused to acknowledge the AC’s right to offer a collective view on the draft regulations and insisted that faculty members can only submit their views in their individual capacities. The result of this “opaque process is a set of regulations that is a sharp departure both from the existing governance structure as well as that envisaged in the draft regulations of sister institutes like IIMA and IIMB,” said the letter.

IIMC’s First Regulations Encourage Centralisation

The First Regulations of IIM Calcutta are characterised by certain features, which the faculty wrote in the letter, “Allow unprecedented concentration of power in the office of the Director, with the Board not laying down appropriate checks and balances, contrary to the norms for leading Indian public educational institutions.”

It “severely dilutes the role of the AC, in a very unfortunate departure from the spirit of academic autonomy embedded in the IIM Act”.

And “lacks clarity, and smacks of arbitrariness, in the specification of processes and functions pertaining to the various ‘other authorities’ (Deans and academic and administrative committees) of the Institute.”

Harassment and Lack of Redressal Mechanism

Regarding the harassment faculty members, the letter said, “It is deeply troubling that in an Institute of national importance like IIM Calcutta, harassment and victimisation of faculty members has become the order of the day”.

The teachers said in the last two months, two faculty members, including a foreign national, have resigned, “citing harassment by the Director and her vindictive attitude”.

Two deans, and some faculty members holding other administrative positions have sought to be relieved of their administrative responsibilities, the letter added.

“The director has been unwilling to accept resignations and relieve colleagues from their administrative responsibilities, compelling them to work under duress, even when they sought relief on serious medical grounds,” said the letter.

According to the letter, faculty members have formally lodged harassment complaints against the director that are pending for months without any redress. “At the same time, the board seems more interested in imposing a code of conduct on faculty,” it said.

According to the teachers, even routine requests for approval of employees’ entitlements and rights such as casual leave, voluntary retirement and retirement benefits have been denied, delayed or arbitrarily decided upon.

“Basic academic activities such as faculty participation in webinars and other external academic/professional events, which do not involve any financial considerations, have been denied, delayed or arbitrarily decided upon,” said the letter among other issues of overlooking the norms.

An email was sent to the director of IIM Calcutta seeking her response. The copy will be updated as soon as the director responds.

first published:December 08, 2020, 22:51 IST