India's Green Min slams hallowed faculty

In this photograph taken on March 6, 2011, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh shares a comment with journalists on unseen left-party members of parliament demonstrating against the 2011-2012 national budget in front of parliament house in New Delhi. India's maverick environment minister Jairam Ramesh is more than a little smug that at one time or another he has raised the hackles of big business, cabinet colleagues and environmentalists.

Courting controversy yet again, India's environment minister borrowed the hat of his counterpart in the education ministry to deliver a withering assessment of the faculty at India's most prestigious institutes of higher education. The upshot? Neither the professors at the hallowed Indian Institutes of Technology nor those at the Indian Institutes of Management are truly "world class."  They just happen to have phenomenal students.

"There is hardly any worthwhile research from our IITs. The faculty in the IIT is not world class. It is the students in IITs who are world class. So the IITs and IIMs are excellent because of the quality of students not because of quality of research or faculty," said Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who is himself an alumni of IIT Mumbai, according to the Economic Times.

The only way he could have hit further below the belt would have been to call the Hindu god Ram a sissy, or Mahatma Gandhi a closet homosexual (but of course that's old hat).  But his assessment is more than a little unfair to the professors at India's premier institutions.

While it's true that research output is pathetic at all Indian universities, and the IITs and IIMs are no exceptions, the reason is not necessarily that the professors aren't world class (although they sure don't get world class salaries).  Instead of hopping on planes to take lucrative jobs in the States or getting rich in India's fast growing private sector, these guys are doing a great public service for India -- even though a lot of their students will head to foreign shores after taking their highly subsidized degree.  Where tenured professors in top research universities in the US may teach only one class -- or perhaps only oversee a handful of grad students working on their theses -- these supposedly sub-world class professors are teaching as many classes as any three or four US academics combined. By and large they grade their own exams -- no teaching assistants -- and they muck in as bursars, registrars, plumbers, electricians and whatever else is required to keep the "elite" institutions running.   

That's world class at getting it done, as my old football coach would say.