IIT Jodhpur’s Predicament

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protest pic

While the IIT Bombay student community was enjoying a small reprieve from the rigors of their everyday life thanks to a 4 day long weekend, their peers in IIT Jodhpur were out on the streets, protesting for their rights and against the alleged injustices being inflicted on them since the past one and a half years. All this, following the appointment of Dr. C V R Murty as the Director of IIT Jodhpur on 11th September 2013 for a term of five years.

According to student reports, since his appointment, Dr Murty’s behaviour has been “dictatorial”, with any dissent being quelled with force and basic rights being taken away from the students on campus, including the right to protest. A petition sent to the HRD Ministry and the Board of Governors of the IITs reads, “We feel that our Institute is in a very bad condition and we are facing various serious issues all due to one person – the Director. Over the past one-and-half years, there have been many instances of dictatorship, autocracy and favouritism due to which many faculty and staff have been terminated senselessly and many have left the Institute bearing pressure due to non-conducive environment”. The students have organised peaceful protests against the current administration, demanding a resignation from Dr Murty and a rollback on his policies.

“We feel that our Institute is in a very bad condition and we are facing various serious issues all due to one person – the Director.”

Since the appointment of Dr. Murthy, 6 professors have been terminated from service and 8 have resigned, citing non-conducive working environment as the reason. This is amid a severe shortage of faculty at the institute, with the faculty-student ratio being 1:18 as in contrast with the 1:8 standard that is supposed to be maintained at all IITs.* When asked about this, Amardeep Sharma, IITJ’s Public Relations Officer said,“The performance of the concerned faculty members was reviewed by the Board of Governors and based on their recommendation, their services were terminated.” The sacking of Dr.Ganesh Bagler, assistant professor of the Biology department, was particularly shocking with him having an excellent track record as a researcher and being continually rated among the very best by the students in faculty reviews. On 29th March 2015, Dr.Bagler received a termination letter from the Director’s office following the recommendations from a “review panel”, the members of which, the students allege, were selected by the Director himself and never revealed. This incited widespread protests in the institute with professors pitching in, by boycotting lectures. Dr. Bagler has moved the Rajasthan High Court in relation to this termination and the matter is now sub judice.

The sacking of Dr.Ganesh Bagler, assistant professor of the Biology department, was particularly shocking with him having an excellent track record as a researcher and being continually rated among the very best by the students in faculty reviews.

The mass-terminations have hit the PhD candidates especially hard, with many having to change their research areas, due to non-availability of mentors in their ongoing research, laying to waste their year-long efforts. Prof. Ravindra Arora, another senior faculty who resigned following differences with Dr.Murty and apparently being humiliated by him was quoted as saying “I strongly feel he is having a psychological problem, which has made him to be a sadist. A person with such problems does not deserve to be Director of an Institute of national importance.” In his resignation letter he added “I can assure you that the competent and good people would think twice to work in this institute under the prevailing conditions.”

The reports claim that the Director has been continually disbanding student bodies and bringing down democratic structures since his instatement, which is being seen as a bid to exercise absolute control over the workings of the institute. The powers of the elected councils have been diluted to such an extent that even the smallest of issues require his direct approval. For example, even something like arranging transportation for a guest speaker invited for a club lecture needs his written consent.

The students of IIT Jodhpur are subject to a “code of conduct” devised by the Director, which has come under fire with students labelling it as ‘draconian’. According to this code, students are forbidden from

a. interacting with the media
b. posting anything related to the Institute on social media,
c. being associated with any political party
d. peacefully protesting on campus

After the protests started, social networking sites including Facebook have been blocked, with students having to resort to VPN services to access these.

Social networking sites including Facebook have been blocked, with students having to resort to VPN services to access these.

When Insight talked to the PRO regarding the code of conduct, he said,”It was approved by the Senate and not made just by the Director. You can’t use educational infrastructure to malign the institute. If any statute violates freedom of speech, it will be reviewed and changed if deemed necessary.” Reports state that even professors are not exempt from his alleged despotism, with promotions of faculty members being reportedly withheld for reasons like “not following Prof Murty’s instruction to wear white shirts.”

In a recent incident, the Innovation and Incubation centre, set up with a budget of around 10 crore rupees, was closed down by him, with the reason rumoured to be his clash with a particular professor, then in-charge of it. Moreover, the money spent on the companies being incubated here was reportedly recovered from the salaries of the staff responsible for setting it up. The National Instruments Lab and the System on Chip Lab that were set up after a lot of efforts also suffered a similar fate.

However, the administration’s stand is that the Innovation and Incubation Centre was never shut down. Initially, 5 companies were selected for incubation through a competition, out of which 3 were shut down after a review. The other two were allowed to continue, but were later bought by a venture capital firm incubated at IIT Bombay. Even though no startups are being incubated currently, the Centre is still running. Having said this, the administration admits that no regulations for the startups were in place initially, and they were made as the startups were being incubated.

Even in the cases of the National Instruments Lab and the System-on-Chip (SoC) Lab, the administration maintains that they were ‘never shut down’. IITJ had procured some NI equipment and it was installed in a room. Due to shortage of space (considering that they are operating on a temporary campus), the equipment has been shifted and is in use in some other lab. SoC was a virtual lab with a few computers installed in a room wherein experiments could be conducted. These computers have been merely moved to another room. Moreover, this lab is not a part of any course at IITJ.

The Director has tried to reach out to the students in such situations in attempts to placate them with promises, that have a history of remaining unfulfilled. Apparently the professors too are frustrated with his diktats. The rate of attrition among professors is alarming, with some departments staring at the possibility of being closed down due to lack of faculty, like the Computer Science department which currently has 2 faculty members.

The rate of attrition among professors is alarming, with some departments staring at the possibility of being closed down due to lack of faculty, like the Computer Science department which currently has 2 faculty members.

Despite this, reports suggest that skewed policies are being adopted in recruitment of faculty with dubious reasons being given for the same. There have been rumours of a candidate with a PhD from MIT being denied appointment, with the reason cited being “weak technical background” Instances of nepotism have also been alleged, with the Director being accused, in one instance, of hiring three people of the same family for his staff, favoring them on account of them being a part of his entourage during his stint at IIT Hyderabad.

The only body that can prevail over the decisions made by the Director, in such cases is the Senate. But members of the Senate have been reportedly fired, whenever they `haven’t seen eye to eye with him. According to the students, with a silent Senate that is virtually under his control, he is left to do as he pleases. They cite the example of the Systems Science and Biologically Inspired Systems Science programs, which were scrapped without any notice to either the students or the concerned faculty. This was amid active opposition by students and professors alike, including the Student Co-ordinator (equivalent to the Dean of Student Affairs in IIT Bombay), who was asked to leave his post following this. However, the PRO says that the 2 UG programs were scrapped following recommendations of an internal and an external review committee, both of which were unanimous in their decision of discontinuing the 2 programs.

If student reports are anything to go by, the control exercised by him is absolute. They allege that he has overruled every other authority during his time in office and resorted to force his personal will on issues, without finding the need to give explanations to the stakeholders.They further claim that his “medieval” policies have resulted in alienation of both students and faculty from the administration. However, the IITJ authorities feel that the protests have been engendered by misinformation in the hands of students. With the whole campus echoing a call for change, student bodies in other IITs too have stepped in to take stock of the situation and have expressed solidarity with the students of IIT Jodhpur.

The IITJ authorities feel that the protests have been engendered by misinformation in the hands of students.

Insight’s view

The fiasco serves as a wake-up call for authorities responsible for the selection of directors for these institutes of national importance. It is a matter of great concern that even after all background checks and a formalized interview process, we still face situations like the one in IITJ. It also brings to the fore the question of where exactly one should draw the line as far as centralisation of power is concerned. With rumours of Dr Anil Kakodkar quitting over a tiff with the HRD ministry over the issue of selection of Directors, the matter at hand raises further questions about where these institutions are headed. And where we, as the stakeholders of these institutions, are headed.

It is sad to see such a sorry state of affairs in an institution which is supposed to be a flag-bearer of our nation’s prestige. If student reports are to be believed– and evidence is strong that they should– there is clearly a problem as far as the Director’s behaviour with the faculty and students is concerned. It’s pertinent to note that even faculty members have made their discontent publicly known. The “code of conduct” for students is a clear deterrent to freedom of expression. We can only hope that the MHRD and the IITJ authorities acknowledge the problem and take prompt action in the best interests of the Institute.

If one were to look for a silver lining however, it is heartening to see that students as well as faculty members have been proactive in addressing the problems and standing up for their rights. To put this into perspective, one only needs to go back a month ago when Research Scholars all over India protested against the delay in stipend hikes. Responsible student activism will only contribute positively to the interests of an institution, and to observe that students are now aware of and protecting what’s theirs is enough to give us reason to smile.

*These figures have been taken from a report made by IITJ students which can be found here