Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Letter by IITK faculty

If you havn't seen it already, check it out here.
Apparently, 125 members of the faculty have signed this letter. The blog post I have linked to does not provide us with the names of the faculty who have signed it.
I have no problems with faculty being against reservations. But what I have a problem is with this letter. It is quite simply a no-brainer. I will try to pick this letter apart.

The undergraduate students of IIT Kanpur do not usually, or even often, come from wealthy and privileged backgrounds. The vast majority come from the smaller metropolises like Kanpur, Patna and Allahabad, or cities like Bareilly, and the moffasil towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A typical example is the late Satyendra K Dubey, an IITK alumnus, whose murder in 2003 while working on the National Highway project got national media attention. He came from a small village in Bihar.
Uh? This is quite frankly bad information, at worst, a lie. Most of the students who get into IITs are from the metros. Many go through a year of two of intensive coaching at coaching centres in cities/towns like Delhi, Kanpur, Patna, Kota, etc, etc. In fact, the coaching centres has played on the minds of the setters of JEE for a long time. Read this article by a prof who points out some of the debates that surround JEE. JEE was purposefully made easier to defeat the unquestionable influence of the coaching centres and to make it easier for people who did not go through coaching to get into IITs. Are none of the "125" members of the faculty who signed this letter not aware of this? Unless, they just ignored to mention this as it would harm their argument about how it is "dedication and talent" that gets people into IIT and not "wealth, privilege or birth".
Based on this premise, the article goes on to say -
Into such an environment the introduction of privileges accruing only to members
of particular castes would be a travesty.
But it is only the privileged (in terms of having the money to pay for coaching centres or living in the cities) or the geniuses (who are a few people for whom coaching is not required) that gets people into IITs!
Further, with no objective criteria yet laid down for defining backwardness,
such privileges will seemingly be granted in perpetuity.
What? Are they not aware of the 11 guidelines that Mandal commission recommended to define backwardness? Even if you consider those guidelines to be contentious, this statement does not make any sense to me.
Backwardness is not determined by caste alone. It is clear for all to see that
other factors like poverty, region and gender have greater adverse impact on the
chances of a person becoming an engineer or a doctor. It therefore seems to us
that, except in electoral terms, purely caste-based reservations make no
rational sense.
Agreed. Does this mean that you are ready to welcome reservation policy that would incorporate all these factors? If so, how would this fit in your crib about merit?
Rather it is to argue that the best institutions in India should be the
preserves of excellence, with proven performance as their only selection
Translation: IITs are an elitist institute where we don't want the scum of India to populate.
Proven performance, indeed! There is only parameter that is used to determine this proven performance and it is JEE. Performance in one exam [equals to] proven performance.
Rather it is a necessary strategy for ensuring that developing India soon
catches up with the developed nations of the world, so that, in the long run the
IITs are instrumental to raising the standard of life of all Indians, and shine
forth as exemplars of development and emancipation in an environment of extreme
Lol! IITians have mostly contributed to the development of the mahan Silicon Valley of the US of A. I really wonder what the contribution of IITians is to the technological advancement of this country. Don't point to the IT industry.

Even if Government insists on affirmative action programs for IITs...

ie, if push comes to shove...
we are sure that the IITs can be trusted to evolve and implement such programs by themselves.
Why havn't they done that so far? Why does the government come up with a draconian measure before they come out saying, "don't worry, we can do this ourselves. You don't have to force us to."
After all, IIT Kanpur has had an exemplary record of implementing the SC/ST
reservation in a supportive and pro-active way that became a model for all IITs

Yeah, they really have been a model of creating a very wonderful atmosphere for SC/ST students.
It would be most disastrous to impose a 27.5% quota on the IITs in an ostensibly
"fair way" by increasing the number of seats. This would mean rapidly increasing
the seats substantially.
Yes, that is true. IITs would have to increase their seats if the government goes ahead with its proposed compromise.
In recent years we have doubled our intake.
This is news to me. As far as I know, the intake of students has increased by about 100-150 per IIT. That is like an increase of 35% at the most. Not sure about the medacity of this statement.
So the IITs are already short of faculty, as few applicants meet our exacting
standards of academic excellence.
So, if the IITs are already short of faculty, why did they increase their intake two-fold. Of course, their arms could have been twisted by the government. Interestingly, they did not raise any voice against the proposed scheme to create 11 new IITs. If they cannot find faculty for the current IITs, how are they going to create those institutes with quality faculty? And wouldn't increasing seats and increasing the number of IITs dilute the quality and image of the IIT brand, much like the water mixed with milk by the doodhwallahs? Why didn't they raise a hue and cry over that?
If a sudden increase of faculty is imposed on us by a drastic increase of seats, the entire academic standing of the IITs will be compromised, and they will go the way of so many universities before them.
True. The logistics of increasing seats to appease the striking medicos does not make sense to me. But is this an argument against reservations?

The entire mail contains little, if any, arguments against the reservation policy. Apart from cribbing about 'merit', there is no substance. And it is full of grandeur and impassionate pleas to not 'hurt' the IITs that are almost melodramatic. Sample this -

It will have devastating consequences to the culture of excellence cultivated
over half-a-century by generations of dedicated and knowledgeable teachers and
tens of thousands of brilliant students of all castes, creeds and linguistic and
ethnic groups.


because the admission is blind to caste and indeed to every other criterion except ability


Rather it is to argue that the best institutions in India should be the preserves of excellence, with proven performance as their only selection criterion. Such institutions serve to develop the “seed-corn” of the nation which can then be planted elsewhere to make the whole nation grow in strength and prosperity. Therefore think not of IIT students in terms of their castes, but of them only as India’s best hope, as the future leaders of India who have been nurtured in an environment where only excellence matters, not caste, creed or ethnic origin.


ensuring that developing India soon catches up with the developed nations of the world, so that, in the long run the IITs are instrumental to raising the standard of life of all Indians, and shine forth as exemplars of development and emancipation in an environment of extreme challenges.


only very few other than the IITs can train students in the highly specialised engineering and scientific skills required in India if it is to become a developed country


At this moment, when the entire nation is on the verge of take-off to becoming a major economic power, when multinational companies are shifting their research and development centres to India because of the vast technical manpower here, let us not play with these great institutions and cripple them in the hour of their greatest utility.


do everything you can to preserve the IITs for the future generations of India and, indeed, for the very future of our country


So let them remain free to flourish as the standard bearers of Indian science and technology which was, and should remain, their primary purpose.


IIT professors are quite intelligent folks; they are probably the very best in India. So, this letter really comes to me as a great surprise. I expected it to contain some reasoning as to why they are opposed to the proposed reservations but instead I find nothing but wild statements and unrealistic (and untruthful) harping on merit. In essence, this letter is an insult to intelligence and I wonder who are these professors who have signed this letter.

I suspect the hand of the one man who is capable of all this melodramatic and impassionate words. To IITKians, that man's performance in Hall 4 would be quite fresh in memory.

My alma matter disappoints me. Now, I will go out and cry. :`(

Hat tip -- Abi

PS. Badri also has criticised this letter.

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Anonymous said...

I would agree that most people in IIT's do come from `big' cities but I don't see how does it follow that they are from well-off families leave alone the question of being from `upper' caste. In large no. of cases I am aware of either of the two following (mutually exclusive) things happen:

1) Student is from small town /rural place. His (low to average income) parents spend all their savings for his/her JEE-coaching and the student gets to IIT by his (-->redundant?) hard-work. The major factor is awareness of the parents which is generally wealth/caste independent and is mostly random.

2)The student is already living in big city so naturally is aware of JEE-hoopla looking at all the ads of coachings and stuff. He don't do any coaching but his/her atmosphere-induced JEE-mania takes him to JEE.

Overall I am just saying that most people are from big cities at IIT's simply becuase anyone living in such cities is more aware and desperate to get to IIT's independent of his caste and wealth.

ankan said...

"this is a lie"

I will just say that it is not a very good way to start an article. I am not from a metropolis although I went to IITKGP. Very few people in our batch were from metropolices, most being from small towns in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bengal.

Papoo said...

Your basic premise is basically this:
"IIT-JEE is an imperfect exam,so the anti-reservationists are a bunch of frauds,leading to the conclusion that reservations are the way forward".


MadHat said...

@anon: That is too simplistic an analysis. The caste system perpetuated for such a long time (over 3000 years) does create a huge difference between economic statuses of the upper caste and lower caste even in cities. I know most people that caste does not matter. In our society, there are quite strong community linkages. People get united and form organisation along caste lines. The NSSO '99 data that everybody is holding up does show differences between the educational and employment status of the lower and upper castes. There is no other way to explain that disparity other than to attribute it to historical discrimination.

@ankan: I did not say that it is an outright lie. The implication of the writer of the letter was that JEE is able to distinguish the meritorious students, even if they do not come from metros which is being taken as a sign of affluence. My point is that this is 'bad information' because most of the students benefit from coaching centres and only few make it without that extra coaching that is targeted specifically for JEE. The letter says that students from small metros like Kanpur. Now, Kanpur is the _biggest_ city in UP and you cannot travel a kilometer in Kanpur without seeing a advert for JEE coaching.
Very few people make it without coaching. So, IIT becomes an institute filled with students who have _access_ to that kind of coaching.

@papoo: *sigh* read my other posts on the reservation topic.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean that what I wrote was true in general (hence 'in large no of cases'). Overall, I would like to put it this way (I *don't* have hard data. If you find my points worth something or atleast `not obviously wrong', you are free to explore them further):

1) True that *most* selected people do join coaching.

2) True that there is significant correlation between economic wellness of a family and its caste in large sectors all over India.

Still it doesn't follow that

3) Coaching play any significant role in someone getting selected becuase an enormously large no. of people who do coaching don't get selected as well (seats are limited afterall). So one can neglect this `constant background' of coaching to first approx.

If 3) is correct in some rough sense, it undermines the importance of economic wellness as a factor in someone getting selected. Talking about educational qualification of parents (which certainly is important noting that my earlier argument revolves around `awareness'), I think you have a point to an extent. But this is an issue that I don't think can't be quantified very well for the following reason. Unless your parents are really into some profession directly related to science (say science teacher, scientist, doctor), the kind of awareness that percolates down to you from your parents is minimal. Most people don't get such parents and therfore in most cases, it generally boils down again to your own excitement about engineering/science or your `desperation' about your career which leads back to my original point.


ps and unrelated: I am neither `pro' or `anti'. Overall, I think it is a very tough question whether any reservation based on caste/economic status would be for good or worse. What I am sure about is that increasing no of seats abruptly so as to keep general category seats same as before would be idiotic as it would certainly cripple the whole system.

MadHat said...

@anon: In response to your comments...

1. No arguments there.

2. Hmm... Coaching is definitely not a sure shot way of getting into JEE. I never disputed the fact that intelligence levels vary amongst people. The Geniuses do not really need coaching to get into IIT. It somehow comes naturally to them.
Coaching gives you that added legup that makes the difference between getting a rank of 1000 and not getting a rank at all. It is like Schumi and Alonso. Alonso has the faster car while Schumi has to make do with a slightly slower car and crappy tires. The result, Alonso wins but Schumi still is the best :) If Schumi had a similar car as Alonso, he would be winning all the time!

Awareness comes not just from your parents but also from teachers, mentors and peers. So, yes, awareness does make a difference. Even in cities, it depends on where you are. Most school kids are not usually aware of all the career chocies that are available. If they have a habit of reading newspapers (which really has become uncommon), they might be aware of the IITs because of all the hype. Most kids are not desperate about their careers. Come on, they are school children. They are more worried about which movie is being released this week rather than what they want to be doing 10 years from now, as they should be.

So, it finally boils down to their parents/mentors/teachers.

It is nice to see another person who buys into the dichotomy of pro and anti. I do not believe in that either. I think this issue is pretty complex and there are a diversity of views that exist on this topic. So, it is really asinine to categorise people as pro and anti.

abhaya said...

Just so that you have your facts right: MHRD gave a notification to all the IITS few years ago (A copy was available on one of the Dean's site when I was in IIT) that in order to make up for the acute shortage of faculty in the country, they have to increase there MTech and PhD output, double that to be precise. I think some funding was also linked to that. One really have to keep his eyes tightly closed to not see all the expansion that IITK underwent in the 4 years when we were there, 3 new hostels, new LHC, New CSE building (which allowed for expansion of CC), other buildings and the expansion of Lib was just under considerations. And now you know why they did it, because govt asked them to.
If you really want to know the names of 125 profs, I can send you the list.

MadHat said...

@abhaya: tut, tut! I did say that I am 'not sure about the mendacity of this statement', ie, that I am not sure if the statement that IIT has doubled its intake is false. And yes, I do know that they did receive such a directive (it is a quite well known fact) but receiving a directive and actually doubling the intake is two different things. So, again, I am not sure if the intake has actually doubled.

If you really want to know the names of 125 profs, I can send you the list.

If I didn't, I wouldn't have asked.

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