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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 2, New Delhi, December 26 2020

Match Fixing in Academic Institutions | K N Ninan

Saturday 26 December 2020

by K N Ninan

Match-fixing is a malady associated with sporting events such as cricket and football. But what is not known is that this is also true of the academic world especially in the appointment of faculty, administrative staff, Vice-Chancellors, and Directors. Though academic institutions are supposed to be temples of knowledge and excellence the manipulations and power games that take place within these sacred portals will shame everyone. Take the case of social science research institutions in India. Many, if not most, are effectively run by caste oligarchies or academic mafias and some even as private family enterprises funded by the public exchequer. Selection Committees are not to select meritorious candidates but a cover to give a legal stamp to select those favoured by the authorities. These appointments are ‘managed’ through tailor-made advertisements, manipulating eligibility requirements and rooster system and including pliable experts on selection committees. The following examples will bear this out.

In one institution for a Professor vacancy, an applicant with a second-class degree and no books published was selecting overriding another candidate with first-class and rank, published books and foreign publications. A classic illustration of ‘merit’ based selection. For an Assistant Professor’s vacancy, the outside experts found none of the candidates interviewed to be suitable. But the Institution’s Director had his way and got their consent for selecting his student with poor academic credentials. For another post for which PhD degree was an essential requirement an acquaintance of the Institution’s head pursuing PhD course in a foreign country was appointed without even attending the interview and then granted an unprecedented leave with pay for several months to go back and complete the PhD violating even leave rules whereby only permanent faculty are eligible for paid leave. But those who manipulate know how to bend rules to favour their blue-eyed ones.

In another instance, a government official with a PhD degree was identified for a Professor’s post. A tailor-made advertisement was issued whereby “experience in central or state government” was prescribed as a desirable qualification Although the official didn’t have the essential qualification of ten years research or teaching experience for a Professor’s post as stipulated by the UGC, the official was selected as Professor. When the post was advertised again the qualifications were tampered again whereby “experience in government” was dropped and “experience in natural resources management” was substituted as a desirable qualification. While the UGC stipulated that experience in guiding PhD students is an essential qualification for a Professor’s post, to suit a candidate who was not even a recognised PhD guide the rule was modified and “ability to guide PhD students” was inserted as a desirable qualification. Be it appointments or promotions all sorts of unethical practices have crept into our academic institutions. Hiring ghostwriters to write research reports, papers, and PhD theses, publishing in predatory journals, indulging in plagiarism, awarding honorary doctorates to undeserving people (often due to political pressure) are not uncommon in our academic institutions.

The influence of academic mafias and coteries can be all pervasive and make or mar careers. Criteria and goalposts for selections will change depending upon whom you want to select or exclude. If an applicant has no book to his/her credit, then this is cited as a reason for non-selection. But if you have books to your credit then lack of a book published by foreign publishers is the new reason cited for non-selection. One may have the required research experience but may still not make it since you are accused that your research is desk-based and not field-based research. One institution even amended the recruitment rules and dropped the subject requirement for a master’s degree since a favoured candidate didn’t have the subject specialisation for the said post. A Professor who fell out with a dominant group confided that some supporters who were elevated as Professors were given the questions before the interview and their selections went through due to the group’s nexus with outside experts who were regularly invited for faculty recruitments. Frauds and rigging selections are conspicuous in our academic institutions.

Patronage system thrives in Indian academic institutions where sycophancy and mediocrity are recognised. If one is shrewd and hitches one’s wagon to a dominant group one can rise fast. In one university, an instructor jumped several tiers to become a Professor using his nexus with influential people. Vice-Chancellors and Directors are often selected based on considerations other than merit such as their caste tag, their pliability and skill in greasing the palms of powerful people and academic dons cum operators. These posts are often auctioned to the highest bidder. Using these some candidates have pipped meritorious candidates to become Directors or Vice Chancellors. In one institute the Search Committee did not even bother to interview the shortlisted applicants for a Directors’ post and selected a Professor who had done his PhD under the Search Chair. The Director was forced to resign several months later after getting embroiled in financial irregularities. In another instance, shortlisted candidates for a Director’s post were interviewed by the Search panel consisting of eminent people. However, prior to the interview, some friends divulged that the post was intended for a candidate who was working in the same department and university of a member of the search panel. The interview result proved this to be true. Selections should not only be fair but also appear to be fair! This being the state of affairs why bemoan if most Indian academic institutions do not figure in the top 200 institutions in the world. Our academic institutions are a chessboard of politics where one must be skilled in making the right moves and counter moves if one has to survive and move forward.

(The writer is an economist)

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