Madras Institute of Development Studies ignores its long serving Professors
As of academic's connectivity to public interest, hummm here is a piece from the Asian Tribune, which I remember I posted earlier.
Prof P Radhakrishnan
For the first time, long serving professors of the Madras Institute of Development Studies were completely ignored in its decision of January 31, 2009, on a new Director. It is usual in any academic institution of standing that it first exhausts internal potential before scouting outside, so that the institution is able to function smoothly, and maintain continuity.
Several million rupees tax payers' money have gone into the making of MIDS since 1977. But in just about a decade since its founder - and chairman till his death in 1994 passed away, MIDS, till then a premier social science research institute of international repute, began to decline.
As this decline is not in public and academic interest, the MIDS activities should be under public scanner.
Dr. Malcolm S. Adiseshiah after retirement as Deputy Director General of UNESCO founded the Madras Institute of Development Studies. In 1976 the Government of India through the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), New Delhi, sent a mission to study the possibility of developing MIDS into a national institute of social science research. On the recommendations of the mission the Institute was reconstituted as a National Institute in March 1977 under the joint sponsorship of the Government of India through the ICSSR and the Government of Tamil Nadu. The state imprimatur on and the public nature of the institute were only too obvious from this reconstitution.
To ensure that the reconstituted institute was of national character in its scope, sweep and functioning, in 1978 Dr. Adiseshiah made extensive changes to the MIDS Deed of Trust. This amended Deed governed MIDS till 2003.
In fact, it was mainly the liberal academic atmosphere which Adiseshiah brought with him, that made MIDS an international institute. Adiseshiah's successor Professor S. Gopal, an eminent historian, upheld this tradition for three years when he was chairman of the MIDS Governing Council.
After Gopal's term ended MIDS began to turn foul. That was when Professor CT Kurien, a close associate of Adiseshiah, and his protégé, and MIDS Director for two terms of five years each, assumed charge as the third Chairman. Kurien, who continued as Chairman for six years, could have taken the Institute towards its founder's vision. But after the first two years he also began to turn foul.
The first instance of Kurien's tragedy of errors was appointment of Mr. V.K. Natraj, a little known economics teacher, shortly after his superannuation from Mysore University. Kurien's mandate as Chairman of the Governing Council as approved by its members, which all Professors of MIDS endorsed, was to appoint only a pro-tem Director for two years, and to scout for a regular Director after co-opting the pro-tem Director to the search committee. In the GC meeting convened to ratify the appointment in early 2000, one member, a friend of the pro-tem Director to be appointed gave a letter to Kurien stating that the candidate has all the qualifications for being a regular Director [notwithstanding the fact that the retirement age of Professors (and by implication Director) then was 65!].
As some of the MIDS Professors were not on the GC then there was no debate on the issue and the pro-tem Director was appointed as a full-term Director for five years. This was not revealed to the MIDS faculty or administration as no notice about the appointment of the new person was put up or circulated. It was only 18 months after the appointment, when one of the Professors mentioned to Kurien that the search committee for the new Director had not met even once, that he gave in writing that a regular Director was appointed by the GC and with that the search committee's work was over.
Who - whether Kurien or Natraj or both manipulated the search committee's recommendation for appointing Natraj as pro-tem Director, to identify whom the search committee, with Kurien as Chairman, all MIDS Professors and two external members, was constituted, is a mystery. How the Governing Council changed its own mandate in one sitting is more so; as the scope of a search committee for a pro-tem Director and a regular Director is qualitatively different; and if the search was for a regular Director some of the MIDS Professors would have been better candidates.
Shortly after becoming Director, Natraj consolidated his position and tried to concentrate all powers in him, throwing to the wind the liberal ethos and work culture of the Institute. Whether Kurien had yielded to the manoeuvres of Natraj, or was being vindictive to some of his senior colleagues who were upfront is difficult to say. But he placed before the MIDS Governing Council an amendment to the Trust Deed and got it approved. The amendment was mainly the handiwork of Natraj whose greed knew no bounds and who wanted to continue as MIDS Director for life. This amendment, registered in 2003, has been the bone of contention between the MIDS Trust of which Kurien is Chairman and the MIDS Governing Council.
Kurien, as Chairman of the MIDS Trust, appointed Dr. M. Ananthakrishnan, a former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University, Chennai, as his successor Chairman of MIDS. Given his lack of exposure to liberal institutions like MIDS, his condescending bureaucratic style, his hand-in-glove equation with Natraj, and the animus between Natraj and some of the senior faculty, initially Ananthakrishnan was a persona-non-grata to MIDS senior faculty.
In fact, Ananthakrishnan's proximity to the DMK party had driven him to the AIADMK doghouse during Jayalalithaa's regime. So, Kurien's offer to him of MIDS Chairmanship was godsend.
Ananthakrishnan's concern was for protecting and making use of his sinecure as MIDS Chairman plush room, chauffeur-driven car for personal and official use alike, and other facilities which his predecessors did not have or did not care to have.
Ananthakrishnan even tried to offer Natraj another five years' as MIDS Director, that is from age 65 to 70, which was stopped at the instance of Professor Andre Beteille, Chairman of the ICSSR, Delhi. Hoping that an evaluation of MIDS by an external committee would help Natraj get another term, he managed to get this decision approved by the Governing Council and spent a hefty sum. Little did he realise that the evaluation would bring egg on his face instead of an extension letter to his hand and put an end to his term in MIDS!
With an adverse report from the external review panel with Andre Beteille as Chairman, which among other things indicated the dangers of having a non-social scientist (Ananthakrishnan) as Chairman of the MIDS Governing Council, after the departure of Natraj it would have been difficult for Ananthakrishnan to continue. Realising this, he appointed Dr Padmini Swaminathan, one of the four senior Professors of the Institute, as Director, with a large additional monthly allowance equal to about one-fifth of her salary and other perks, out of turn nomination of two Professors to the Governing Council, and so on, thereby bringing them on his side.
But the coterie surrounding Swaminathan lost no time in fostering her tunnel-vision and working on her fall. Among other things, Swaminathan was prompted to take up the 2003 amendment to the Trust Deed, though she was a member of the Governing Council when the draft amendment was discussed and approved. The amendment, no doubt, went against the vision of the MIDS founder, as, among other things, it took away the role of the Governing Council in the appointment of the Chairman and changed his tenure from three years to five years. It would have been easy for correcting these and related distortions by convincing the Trustees, in particular Kurien.
But the remedy tried was worst than the disease. On the pretext of democratising the Governing Council, the proposal for restructuring the Governing Council gave unlimited scope for mischief to the Chairman and Director, and to have their own people on the Governing Council and other statutory bodies of the Institute. At one stroke the proposal also tried to banish for ever the four MIDS Trustees from the Governing Council of about 18 members, and thus sever the umbilical cord between MIDS and its founder.
Seeing the dark forebodings and the crisis looming large before MIDS, Kurien, who had left MIDS after appointing Ananthakrishnan as Chairman and settled down in Bangalore, returned to the Governing Council as Chairman of the MIDS Board of Trustees.
For the first time in its history of nearly three decades, on January 17, 2006, MIDS had the bitterest meeting of its Governing Council. Instead of requesting the Vice-Chancellors of the southern universities to nominate social scientists to the Governing Council as was the practice ever since MIDS became a national institute, Ananthakrishnan managed to get the Vice-Chancellors themselves on the Governing Council, in addition to some others personally close to him. The mischief was clear to Kurien which he raised in the meeting.
Though on the advice of the Governing Council Ananthakrishnan obtained legal opinion from a retired High Court judge, Justice Kanakaraj, on the MIDS Trust-GC controversy, he refused to have it circulated for the meeting of the Governing Council on January 17, 2006. Some members objected to having this important item placed as a mere table item.
When Ananthakrishnan insisted that he will go ahead with the amendment of the Trust Deed, Kurien insisted that he will contest any decision and action by the Governing Council to override the Trust. It is common sense that only the Trust can amend the Trust Deed, which the retired judge had also mentioned in his Opinion
In Dr. Adiseshiah's Will he had bequeathed his estate to MIDS, and wanted another trust, Malcolm and Elizabeth Adiseshiah Trust, to be formed with his remaining wealth, to supplement the activities of MIDS. Ever since it was formed in 2003, in deference to Adiseshiah's Will this Trust was supplementing the activities of MIDS. But the suicidal animosity of Ananthakrishnan and cronies scuttled these activities, and drove the M & EA Trust out of the MIDS premises.
The M & EA Trust has been offering grants to MIDS faculty for research, meeting the expenses of Ph D scholars for four years at a time (the scholars are recruited every year), meeting the cost of the MIDS Founder's Day lecture every year, meeting the cost of the annual Malcolm Adiseshiah Award and related endowment lecture, and so on. At one stroke, Swaminathan rejected the benefits of most of these to MIDS to the detriment of its academic and social interests, an act which no other development institution would have even thought of. The matter even attracted headlines in The Hindu on 17/11/2006:
Trust criticises MIDS for "departure"
It takes exception to "unilateral" decision to present Malcolm Adiseshiah Award
CHENNAI: The Malcolm and Elizabeth Adiseshiah (M & E A) Trust has taken exception to the manner in which the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) has decided to present the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for Development Studies this year.
(Sharmila Rege, sociologist and professor in the University of Pune, has been chosen for the 2006 award. She will receive the award at a function to be held at the MIDS on November 21.) According to the Trust's executive trustee H.B.N. Shetty, it is the Trust that instituted the award in 2000.
A unanimous resolution, adopted at the meeting of the Trust on Tuesday, said: "The Board of Trustees of the Malcolm & Elizabeth Adiseshiah Trust notes that in a major departure from the precedents of the past five years, the Madras Institute of Development Studies has decided to present on its own the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award 2006 for distinguished contributions to Development Studies on November 21. The Institute had unilaterally dissociated the M&EA Trust from the process of selection of the Jury and now the presentation ceremony also. This is a gross violation of the norms agreed upon by the Trust and MIDS for the selection of the awardee and the presentation of the Award.
The Award, instituted by the M & E A Trust, was jointly administered by the two organisations from 2001 to 2005.
"We register our protest to the chairperson and the Director of MIDS and with regret and reluctance, bring it to the notice of the academic community. We hold the awardee, Dr. Sharmila Rege, in the highest esteem and consider this turn of events unfortunate," said the resolution.
C.T. Kurien is the chairman of the Trust while V.K. Natraj, A. Vaidyanathan, U. Sankar and Sashi Kumar are the Trustees. According to Mr. Shetty, the MIDS Director is also a Trustee in the ex-officio capacity. Except the Director, the meeting was attended by all the members of the Trust.
Mr. Shetty added that the Trust did not want to come in the way of holding the function.
Padmini Swaminathan, MIDS Director, now in Vishakhapatnam, told The Hindu over the phone that the resolution of the Trust was not binding on the Institute as it was not adopted by the MIDS' Governing Council. There was lack of clarity on the Institute's role vis-à-vis the award scheme of the Trust. "We do not want to be reduced to a secretarial status. We want a comprehensive MoU as to how to run the award scheme," Prof. Swaminathan said.
As the internecine warfare was building up, the MIDS staff lived in a state of insecurity. In a worst-case scenario ICSSR would have stopped grants to MIDS, Tamil Nadu government would have refused to release any grant as what it provides is only a matching grant to what the ICSSR releases, and Ananthakrishnan and cronies would have met their nemesis at the cost of the hapless staff of MIDS, which is one of the dangers of petty power play when power is in weak hands with an ignorant coterie calling the shots.
When Padmini Swaminathan advertised for the posts of Professor, Associate Professor, and Assistant Professor, it was brazen mendacity. The contents were arbitrary, and contrary to the qualification and experience requirements of the MIDS Recruitment Rules. In an email Kurien himself mentioned:
The period from September 2005 till July 2008 was the lowest point in the rather short history of MIDS with the attempt of a small group to "take over". There were minor attempts of this kind earlier. But what was clear during this period was a total lack of transparency in the administration and the ease with which administrative procedures and rules were dispensed with.
When recruitment rules were flouted and faculty were recruited based on nepotism, flattery, and flunkeyism, two aggrieved persons approached the Madras High Court. But rather than adhering to truth and upholding institutional integrity, Padmini Swaminathan misled the High Court, stating that MIDS has its own its own funding avenue, which it does not have, and ignoring the memorandum of understanding which MIDS and the ICSSR had signed for making MIDS a national institute. As a result, the judge who pronounced the judgment on November 23, 2006, and as through a double whammy, - and no doubt without proper application of mind - reduced MIDS to a mere NGO, not covered by the jurisdiction of Article 226 of the Indian Constitution.
But this is not the first time that MIDS has misled the judiciary. Unlike some other ICSSR institutions (say, ISEC, Bangalore, which has clear rules and regulations, and which is recognised by the Karnataka High Court as a public institution) MIDS has fallen between the stools. In their anxiety to retain a public institution as their "fiefdom" using the fig leaf of a private trust, the MIDS Chairman and Director have repeatedly misled the judiciary in the cases filed against MIDS by some of its faculty. And misleading the judiciary is easy when judges instead of examining verifiable facts on records and if necessary, calling for more verifiable facts on records, go by "versions" of the so-called "learned counsels".
When the MIDS Trust vs. Governing Council reached the Madras High Court, and the court ruled that the Trust is the ultimate authority on MIDS matters, Padmini Swaminathan resigned as Director. Shortly after that Ananthakrishnan's term also ended.
The new Chairman who assumed charge in the middle of 2008, is based in Hyderabad, and knows hardly anything about MIDS. He is more worried about retaining his Chair in MIDS than institutional matters; and is a pawn of CT Kurien and VK Natraj. This is precisely what happens to pseudo-academics as in Arthur Koestler's academic novel The Call Girls; and David Lodge's campus novel, Small World. In his anxiety to fill the post of Director before his term ended Ananthakrishnan did not apply his mind. Using the short-cut he requested the committee appointed by the ICSSR for its decennial evaluation of MIDS, whose report on MIDS was, incidentally, not complimentary, which it accepted. Which committee would not accept an offer of this kind as there is money in it?
The committee advertised for Director's post and in the interview did not find anyone suitable. Though a junior MIDS professor with three years service had applied, he was rejected. The senior professors did not apply as appointment of Director is usually by invitation.
When the new Chairman convened the GC meeting about six months ago, the GC felt that Director's appointment should be by invitation, and the same search committee with himself as Chairman should continue. The search committee did not visit MIDS even once, did not consult any of the senior professors to ascertain if they are inclined to accept the Director's position. At the end of six months, the Chairman convened a GC meeting to ratify the Director's appointment. The three long-serving professors of MIDS (about 26-30 years in MIDS) were of no concern to the Chairman or the GC members.
The officiating Director did raise this issue and circulate an email sent to the Chairman by one of the Professors stating that the usual practice followed is consulting the senior professors informally and individually and that he strongly feels that the search committee should follow this practice. But a partisan GC which had already made up its mind had no time or patience to see reason and fairness. In the result, a person from Colombo, who knows hardly anything about MIDS, and whose counterparts in MIDS are far superior to him in academic standing is thrust upon it. The person has not yet joined the Institute. If he declines the offer, another person, a professor appointed from a university far junior to the MIDS professors in service and standing, and a close associate of VK Natraj, is wait listed, and waiting in his wings to "take over" MIDS.
So what do we to with "private trusts" pretending to be public academic institutions and turning into "private trusts" when confronted legally, gobbling up public money without any accountability and acting whimsically and arbitrarily, with chair-crazy and power-hungry pseudo academics stalking and stifling the institutions and the academic spirit in them; that too in a country where neither the government nor the judiciary is transparent, accountable, or serious about its business? A good issue for global debate.