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The missing PhDs

By not extending the benefits of affirmative action to doctoral candidates, India's premier management institute is failing to uphold critical constitutional values

IIM-A has issued 378 doctorates so far
IIM-A has issued 378 doctorates so far

Last month, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) invited students to apply for doctoral programmes in 11 fields: business policy, economics, finance & accounting, food & agri-business, human resource management, information systems, innovation and management in education, marketing, organizational behaviour, production and quantitative methods, and public systems.

The call stated the institute was looking for applicants with a strong academic background and intellectual curiosity, and those who would be highly motivated to conduct original research. It advised students that the curriculum takes “a little over four years", with two years of rigorous coursework. Students then have to pass the “Area Comprehensive Examination to demonstrate that they have reached a level of proficiency in the Area of high levels of specialization". IIM-A has issued 378 doctorates so far.

Of these 378, how many were from constitutionally protected categories? We don’t know yet. To get a sense of the answer, you need to take a look at the number of IIM faculty members from Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) groups.

IIM, Bengaluru doctorate alumnus Siddharth Joshi and faculty Deepak Malghan surveyed 13 IIMs with a permanent faculty body. As of January 2018, of the 642 faculty members across the 13 IIMs, four were from the SC and one from the ST categories. This is an abysmal record, particularly since SCs and STs represent a quarter of the country’s population.

Doctoral programmes have the potential to correct this situation. Scholars and faculty are typically trained in doctoral programmes. If qualification were the only concern, no doubt IIMs could find many well-qualified candidates. The absence of a specific mention of the reservation policy is disturbing.

The Indian Institute of Management Act, 2017 makes IIMs “centres of national importance" so that they may “attain standards of global excellence in management, management research and allied areas of knowledge".

One of the important objectives, according to this legislation, is “to support and develop programmes promoting social and gender equity". Additionally, a proviso to Section 8 of the Act makes it clear that the institutes aren’t precluded from making “special provisions for the employment or admission of women, persons with disabilities or for persons belonging to any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and, in particular, for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes".

In an open letter to the director of IIM-A last month, Joshi and Malghan noted: “The IIM Act clearly states that all IIMs (including, of course, IIM-A) are Central Educational Institutions for the purposes of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 (vide Section 8 of the 2017 IIMA Act). Section 3 of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006, requires all Central Educational Institutions (which now clearly includes IIM-A) to reserve seats in admissions in each branch of study for historically marginalised social groups."

Yet, how the institute plans to achieve social and gender equity and admit students from the SC, ST, OBC (Other Backward Class) communities is not clear. Clearly, by excluding the social component of India’s diversity context, the IIMA is committing grave negligence and is accountable under the books.

Research is filled with evidence that wherever diversity is missing, the organization is crippled. Its ethical standards are compromised and its constitutional character is thwarted. Is IIMA afraid of implementing reservation under the guise of merit and promoting its own twice-born offspring?

If merit and talent is of highest importance let’s have a look at the global ranking of meritorious IIM-A. I tried to find but couldn’t succeed then tried again with a microscope and still couldn’t find IIM in any of the top 300 educational institutes. This is the kind of merit these intellectually malnourished institutions are proffering under the loud mouthing penance of promoting mediocre standards devoured in agraharas as merit.

IIM-A aspires to be Harvardesque. The students are sold dreams of becoming top executive and management professionals in the West. The institutions do not adequately invest in sensitizing them to social issues of immediate concern, like their counterparts do in the West.

The Harvard Business School, for example has been at the receiving end of criticism from the faculty and public for undermining the representation of African-American students and faculty in the leadership and curriculum.

In India, the IIMs’ Global Alumni Network has been at loggerheads with the administration on the issue of representation of SC, ST and OBC students and faculty for over two years. In January 2018, the alumni network filed a petition in the Gujarat high court, alleging that IIM-A had neglected the reservation policy mandated by law. IIM-A opposed the petition on the ground that “neither the Constitution of India nor any law envisages reservations for courses/programme at high level of specialisation".

Joshi and Malghan’s open letter has categorically called out the deficiency in this argument. They say: “Phd programmes at sister IIMs that are at least as rigorous as the one at IIMA (and some of them arguably more research intensive than IIMA) have implemented reservations in their respective doctoral programmes."

The leadership of the IIMA needs to demonstrate courage and passion in their love for the country. They cannot be a pariah island surrounded by the legion of law. They’ve to contribute to fill the massive backlog of 130% missing SC, ST scholars from its pool.

It is about time that these loopholes were fixed.

Suraj Yengde is the author of Caste Matters, and a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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