But it is sad. IIT Kharagpur was the first IIT, and has been the harbinger of quality engineering education. With such an illustrious history, it has to stoop to the level that it has gone to, is really sad and reflective of the quality of leadership that it has had in the last decade or so.
Let us look at the charges against Prof. Kumar, as reported. He had alleged that there is mass copying in IIT Kharagpur, could not prove it, and this tarnished the image of the faculty and students, and lowered their morale. Similarly, he made allegations about some wrongdoing in the laptop purchase process of the Institute.
How can an allegation of mass copying lower the morale of the faculty. Suppose I were to allege that Indian Army has killed 1 crore civilians in Jammu and Kashmir. This would tarnish the image and lower the morale ONLY IF people believe it. Otherwise, it would be treated as a stupid joke, and I cannot be punished for stupid jokes. On the other hand, if what I say is largely true, then I cannot be punished for just making a statement of fact. The only time I can be punished for tarnishing image is when what I say is wrong, but still believable. I am sure that IIT Kharagpur faculty (and academicians and other interested persons elsewhere) did not take his charge seriously. (And if several faculty members of IIT Kharagpur faculty did take the charge seriously, and actually got demoralized by it, students must avoid going to IIT Kharagpur to be taught by persons of such fragile egos. They will mistreat you also.)
There is a bit more problem with the laptop purchase in the sense that the model that IIT Kharagpur was planning to buy and the model that Prof. Kumar was planning to buy were not identical. They were very similar in specifications, and there could have been a confusion in the beginning. But as soon as it was pointed out that they were not identical, he should have apologized and closed the chapter. But think about it. This charge has stuck a bit more compared to the previous charge, because there is an element of truth in it. The way IIT Kharagpur treated his request, and tried to malign him on account of his asking his son to get an additional quotation, was not worthy of a world class institution. They made some statements and then retracted. They were not fully transparent either. Later, MHRD had to intervene and asked them to stop purchases of those laptops. Is this matter so serious and so one-sided that a Professor be suspended. Sorry, that is too draconian a step by IIT Kharagpur.
It is true that IIT Kharagpur reputation has been going down consistently since 2006, when Prof. Rajeev Kumar exposed the serious problems in the way IIT Kharagpur conducted JEE that year. In my earlier blog, Trends in JEE Counseling, I had mentioned that IIT Kharagpur has seen the sharpest decline of closing ranks of various programs amongst the oldest five IITs in the last five years, and my conjecture is that it is at least partly due to the bad press that IIT Kharagpur has received in this period.
IIT Kharagpur has received bad press on several counts. The issue of fake institute, which was apparently not just run by some faculty members of the IIT, but even alleged to have received some official support in the past. The issue of poor health facilities on campus, leading to death of a student, which resulted in Prof. Damodar Acharya submitting his resignation (which was promptly rejected after there was calm on campus). Director of IIT Kharagpur has been made an accused in AICTE Scam as per this ToI report. It may be noted that Prof. Acharya was AICTE Chairman before assuming the role of Director, IIT Kharagpur.
These issues have been far more serious, far more demoralizing, and tarnished the image far more than the laptop issue or the mass copying issue. But IIT Kharagpur is certainly not happy with the JEE 2006 case, which Professor Kumar has been pursuing for the last five years, and which has resulted in significant (but still not sufficient) improvement in transparency of JEE. So, they have now found relatively minor cases, which they can use to punish Prof. Kumar.
By the way, in the issue of Director being made a co-accused by CBI, which should demoralize the faculty a lot more, there is no move to make him resign, not just in IIT Kharagpur, but even outside. It is because, by and large, the academicians understand that an accusation is not the same as a proof of involvement or culpability. Everyone has to be presumed innocent, till proven guilty. But under the leadership of the same Director, IIT Kharagpur is now interested in silencing a prominent critic.
Educational institutions should not be seen as government departments. They must have value systems which are far more liberal than what may be permitted in other government departments. And, I am, of course, referring to the freedom of speech. Someone should read and understand what all is accepted by administrators of top universities in the world. The tolerance on IIT Kharagpur campus is really low at this time.
If IIT Kharagpur administration wants to consider itself as a Government Department, and therefore, charge-sheet a professor for talking to media, then it shows the vision of its leadership. Any potential student or faculty should think not just twice, but 10 times, before joining such an institute, which is agreeing through its actions that it cannot be a world class institute. Other IITs are at least trying.
There is another charge against Professor Kumar. He apparently threatened the Dean once. And as a proof, they have shown him a copy of the email that he sent. The email essentially says that because of the Dean's involvement in other cases, he should not be a member of the committee to investigate Prof. Kumar's letters, and urged him to recuse himself from the committee. Now, Prof. Kumar has mis-spelt the word and said rescue , which apparently is a threat word. You rescue yourself if you can, I will kill you, sort of thing. Can anything be more laughable, and does one still need proof that IIT Kharagpur is hell bent on destroying a career, because of the past genuine exposures of that professor.
What is the solution, now. I think it is clear that Prof. Kumar has gone overboard in some of his recent allegations. Also, there is too much negative feelings between him and a lot of people at IIT Kharagpur. This is not the environment where he can continue to live peacefully, and carry out his teaching and research. He and IIT Kharagpur administration should come to a settlement, which may include withdrawal of all charges and suspension against him, and he should immediately start looking for a job. With his credentials, he should not have any difficulty in joining one of the several other IITs. He could take VRS from IIT Kharagpur, so that he can get both a pension and a salary, which will be financially beneficial to him. IIT Kharagpur can then work towards finding other scapegoats for its problems.
But while all this play itself out, my message to JEE 2011 candidates: Avoid an institute where a significant part of time and energy of its leadership is spent on ensuring that its problems are not visible to the outside world.