IIM Shillong - a mockery in the name of 'IIM'
- Rashmi Bansal
Can a person without academic credentials or a PhD be appointed as director of an IIM?
Can administrative staff attend faculty meetings and interfere in academic matters?
Can faculty be denied their allowances and even the contributory provident fund (CPF) due by law?
All this and much more constitutes the shocking state of affairs at IIM Shillong - the newest IIM which started functioning from July 2008. Every process, from the appointment of faculty members to the purchase of equipment, has been subverted, resulting in an institute which is only an IIM in name.
No less than 7 of the 13 full time faculty members who joined IIM Shillong in 2008 left in less than a year, leaving a demoralised student body and questions about how an institute by the name of 'IIM' can get by without following any prescribed norms.
At the core of the issue is the appointment of Ashoke Kumar Datta as director of IIM Shillong. Dutta's profile includes 40 years of erratic corporate experience and does not list any academic credentials. Directors and faculty at IIMs are generally required to have a PhD in their subject.
Mr Dutta's biodata lists his qualification as PGDM from IIM Calcutta and 2 years on the doctoral program of Case Western University between 1971-73 (he left without receiving the degree).
At the time of his appointment Mr Ashoke Dutta was already past the age of 60, a fact which should have disqualified him from what is meant to be a 5 year term.
A source who was closely involved with IIM Shillong at inception stage says, "Mr Dutta's appointment was not cleared by the PMO and earlier by the Dept of Personnel for a full three/four months after selection. I understand there was a problem of Security Clearance and a question of age besides the PHD which kept them from clearing the appointment. It took the intervention of the then MHRD Minister through a letter to the Prime Minister to obtain the clearance".
The appointment of a number of faculty members did not follow due process as well. A former professor at IIM Shillong, recounts the horrific way in which rules were flouted to accomodate some faculty members.
"A prospective faculty member is generally required to present a paper before the students and existing faculty, before being invited for interview. In the case of at least one faculty member, there was neither a presentation nor an interview."
Another shocking case was that of a candidate who was rejected by the interview board and yet appointed as a 'faculty associate'. Three months this person was promoted to the post of assistant professor.
Another professor was recruited to teach a subject, despite having no experience or background in this subject. These and many more decisions related to academics were taken by the director unilaterally, without consulting the Dean and other faculty colleagues.
The collegial system of governance, the Director's complete lack of powers in appointments and his accountability to the Faculty Council are at the heart of the IIM model of merit and excellence.
Apart from these processes not being followed, major issues with the organisational culture soon became obvious. Some of the strange practices at IIM Shillong included:
a) Daily faculty meeting for 1 hour between 9 and 10 am with no specific agenda
b) Administrative staff being invited to attend faculty meetings where they have no locus standi
c) Administrative staff interrupting lectures on minor pretexts.
d) Officer on Special Duty (Finance) sending emails questioning professors on issues related to CAT interview selections
e) Professors being humiliated in faculty meetings, intimidated verbally and through memos; and being told by the director "you are welcome to leave" if they raised their voice on any issue, including issues like CPF (contributory provident fund) not being provided by IIM Shillong, as per prevailing laws of the land.
A former IIM Shillong professor who spoke to me recalls, "I realised there was a problem when on 5th July 2008, when the director tried to force a faculty member to teach the accounting paper. The faculty member had refused citing lack of experience in teaching that subject".
"The Director insisted the faculty should teach accounting or resign. The person in question did resign but was later asked to stay on."
But this faculty member was not the only one to suffer thus.
Another such person was an eminent professor of Economics, who relocated to India from the US, where he taught at reputed schools including NYU. His wife, a professional with 20 years experience at leading American banks and financial institutions (and a visiting professor at schools like Northwestern university) also joined IIM Shillong as faculty member.
This professor objected to several of the goings on, including a faculty member being appointed in the economics area without his knowledge.
In less than 15 days, the economics professor became persona non grata. The director found an excuse to withdraw the offer made to his wife and he did so in the most callous manner - by serving a discharge letter while she was in the midst of taking a class.
Both professors left the very same day and subsequently joined another IIM.
IIM Shillong also failed to provide the basic support required by professors to do their jobs smoothly.
"I have spent substantial amount along with the student co ordinators for the winter placement activity. The money spent on STD calls, faxes, couriers and so on was not provided by IIM Shillong." says the former IIM Shillong professor.
Matters came to a head when in a faculty meeting he requested Mr Dutta to release money due to the faculty under CPF (Contributory Provident Fund). Since the probation period for faculty had been extended from 1 year to 2 years, various allowances such as relocation allowance and foreign travel grant were also not being provided.
"In fact I was not reimbursed for the travel cost incurred in my recruitment interview. The Faculty Development Allowance of Rs 36,000 per year which is provided to professors to subscribe to academic journals and magazines was also withheld, despite being specifically mentioned in my appointment letter," he says.
Ultimately, the director terminated the services of the professor who raised his voice - without citing any reason.
The former professor adds,"I had a very high rating from students, the highest for any faculty member. I was relieved because I am not a yes man and because I asked questions about the improper functioning of IIM Shillong." These questions included financial irregularities.
These include the following:
* Mr Dutta happens to be the chairman of a company from Kolkata, the All India Technologies, which is appointed as the webmaster of IIM Shillong for designing and maintenance of the institute’s website.
* Another related party transaction is the procurement of a web conferencing solution from Intellisys ltd, a company in which Mr Dutta occupies the position of a director.
Sources also allege that Mr Dutta is hardly present on the campus, with innumerable foreign and domestic tours taking him away for Shillong for 15-20 days in a month. Mr Dutta was to take the Business Communication course last year but only took 2 lectures. The rest of the course was handled by other faculty members.
The two areas where IIM Shillong has maintained sanctity are the course curriculum and the intake of students. In both cases external advisors are involved. Prof Paul Srivastava of Bucknell university has helped to design the PGP course curriculum.
Former director of IIM Ahmedabad Jahar Saha was the Chairman of the Admissions Committee of IIM Shillong and with the help of former IIMA and IIMC professors, conducted the interviews of shortlisted students. This process was smooth in both 2008 and 2009.
"The Ministry of Human Resources and Board of Governors of IIM Shillong is fully aware of what is going on, but not taking any action," says the former IIM S professor who spoke to me.
The biggest losers in all this are the students, who have no option but to graduate from IIM Shillong, making the best of a bad situation. They are silent, for fear of repercussions and harassment, as well as adverse impact on their placements.
(It is interesting to note that IIM Shillong had trouble filling up seats this year with scanty acceptances from the first and second list released by the institute. A third, fourth and fifth list was released before all seats could be filled).
In response to an email and fax questionnaire on all of the above issues, Mr Dutta stated that, "Most of the points raised by you pertain to jurisdiction outside the purview of the director."
Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) acknowledged they have received my questionnaire but would not commit on a timeframe in which they would answer.
All in all it is a very sorry state of affairs. With four more 'IIMs' slated to come up over next two years, it raises important issues of academic standards, governance and accountability of new institutions toward their stakeholders. And the IIM brand name.