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Thursday, May 19, 2011

IIT Kharagpur Suspends a Professor

As per this ToI news item, IIT Kharagpur has finally decided to suspend Professor Rajeev Kumar. It was coming. IIT Kharagpur has been in the news for the last five years for all the wrong reasons. And generally government organizations tend to believe that we must shoot the messenger, rather than take care of basic problems that are being raised. The leadership is very unlikely to question itself. And the service rules for government officers are such that if Government wants, it can find ways to harass any employee. So, given this power equation, we were just waiting for this event to happen.

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.


Prashb said...

I have taken 2 courses taught by Prof. Rajeev Kumar . I wish to point out, that he was an extremely transparent grader. He would always display the individual scores, components etc which a student managed to score in the course - for every test, assigment , project : and the student could always figure out how exactly he got a particular grade . I did not appreciate this extra information at that time, but in hindsight he was a very transparent prof . This was extremely unusual at KGP where profs would normally hand out grades without and break up, justification or reasoning . This is just a small little thing, but for some reason I feel more inclined to believe him than others . To be honest , even his mass copying allegation isn't exactly false though he might have made it sound more serious than it actually is . This happened in certain departments ( Circuit Branches mostly ) since there were approx 200 students in many of these courses and many students took these courses for a Minor as well .

WebMiner said...

"Any potential student or faculty should think ... 10 times before joining [IIT Kharagpur]." --- Oh get real, Dheeraj. Beggars cannot be choosers. Like two people trying to escape from a tiger, IITs need not set up any absolute standard of quality, they just need to be epsilon ahead of NITs and RECs. Coming back to the current case, Prof. Kumar certainly behaved like he wanted to become a martyr. I mean, probably half the senior profs in any IIT can tell you stories about deans and directors in compromised situations. What's so special here? There are so many ways to get even that would cast not the slightest suspicion on him and still get the job done!

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Webminer, I have no doubt that KGP will be able to fill its seats. Despite everything, it will remain better than all NITs. But if IIT Kharagpur does not get even one student from top 500, it will be send out a signal. I am hoping that alumni of IIT Kharagpur will take this decline seriously and ask tough questions.

A few years ago, they were worried that hardly anyone from top 100 is joining them. They even had a scheme where anyone in top 100 joining Kharagpur would get a free laptop, and if the things continue in the same way, they will have to offer a laptop or more to JEE candidates in top 1000.

I am personally convinced that if I had a son/daughter with a decent JEE rank, I would encourage them to consider Guwahaty, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, etc. over Kharagpur.

Hari said...

I am not sure about the conclusions you have drawn about IIT KGP. What about IITK administration itself? They too are not acting on some wrong things going on in campus namely, plagiarism (about which you have written), workers rights (about which alumni wrote several times to director)?, suicides etc. Victimizing whistle blowers is certainly more serious issue than inaction on problems. But such things are there in all places, I feel.

ps: Apart form BSBE, there is another case of plagiarism related to Padma Vankar, I guess in IITK

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Hari, You are absolutely right about IIT Kanpur. But as you also said there are some issues or the other with all organizations. I do believe that as of now, the issues are most serious in Kharagpur, and hence this direct note. But if you read my annual JEE Counseling advice note (which I hope to publish soon), the points you have made would have affected my recommendations.

By the way Dr. Padma Vankar copied my wife's paper. And hence my sensitivity towards plagiarism in IITs. And, of course, no action was taken.

Anonymous said...

While I was at KGP, I remember wondering why my professors were mediocre compared to my school teachers. They would get together to launch journals and then publish their papers in them to game the system. All this can be attributed to a general lack of accountability. Hopefully this will be solved as a new crop of private universities come up to challenge the domination of IITs.

VJ said...

Great post!

Is there a plausible way for academicians outside IIT-KGP to put pressure on IIT-KGP faculty to actively oppose their administration? Say by boycotting them in research grants/meetings etc.? Or do you think we equally lack the required integrity to do something of that sort?

I suppose people from industry could only do something through the students but that would be total injustice to the young minds.

Hari said...

I heard about the IIT Teachers forum when 6th pay commission recommendations were in discussion. Apart from salary bargain, I have not heard about them doing anything- especially something about the organizations they work for!

BTW, every IIT faculty is a member of it by default or one needs to take membership?

Vikram said...

VJ, I think we should atleast get a petition going demanding that IIT Kharagpur either provide a credible explanation for Dr. Kumar's suspension or reinstate him and tender an apology.

This kind of victimization of any member of academic fraternity should be unacceptable and we should make this known to the IITKGP administration.

I can prepare a petition at if other people here think its a good idea.

Narinder Pal said...

you have beautifully analyzed the state of affair at IIT Kgp. I will not be surprised if IIT KGP either take leagle action against you for defaming IITKGP's Brand name or impress upon your director to suspend you just like it was done for Prof Rajeev Kumar. So ....

Hari said...

Kanpur has a different way of working (similar to Indian Congress),if IIT KGP lodges a complaint there will not be any action, mostly! If there is a some sort of shouting from people, Prof. Dhande will form a committee who will not submit a report still people forget the issue and when the report is submitted, it will not be accessible to people till someone uses RTI ! So, our host need not worry!!

VJ said...

Vikram, I don't support a passive-aggressive reaction in the form of a petition. (But I could be wrong.)

Perhaps the only thing I can do is next time someone ask for my advice/input while applying for faculty position at specific IITs, I will bring up this discussion of IIT KGP.

Arjun said...

From the TOI report referred here it seems that IIT Kharagpur took the nod of Supreme Court before acting in the matter. The eminent lawyer, Mr Prashant Bhushan was engaged by Prof. Rajeev Kumar to defend him and the hearing was held for several days. It seems that the argument against victimization and harrasment did not hold in Supreme Court. The laptop and copying issues appear have much more to it than is projected to the public by Prof. Rajeev Kumar. Otherwise Supreme Court would have clearly prevented it.

Bashing IIT Kharagpur vis-a-vis others like IIT Kanpur is easy this way. But is it true(Prof Sanghi may surely correct me) that IIT Kanpur CS Department did not even call Prof. Rajeev Kumar for interview when he applied for a faculty position there recently?

I am sure that there is much more than meets the eye in both sides, but since the argument / feelings were in only one direction, I thought it better to put up the other picture too.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Arjun, The ToI report only says that IIT Kharagpur moved SC just three days earlier that it wanted to take action against Prof. Kumar. It does not say that there were any detailed arguments. In any case, my note also says that Prof. Kumar was wrong in both copying and laptop purchase cases, and IIT Kharagpur can take action against him. I don't know whether SC had disposed of IITKGP's plea or not, that is not clear from ToI report, I am assuming that IIT Kharagpur would have taken legal opinion before initiating this action.

The point is not legality. The point is that on a relatively minor case, the full force of law is being used. World class institutes will tolerate much more than this. And it is apparent that IIT Kharagpur is not willing to tolerate Prof. Kumar because of the history of other cases, primarily JEE 2006 related issues.

It is like a case I remember in IIT Kanpur long time ago, where a professor was issued a show cause notice for not being found in office during office hours. (He was supporting some laborers at that time.) IIT Kanpur was within its legal rights to issue such a notice, but it was clear from the circumstances that he was being harassed because he was supporting labor, and thus that action was strongly criticized by a lot of faculty members.

Whether IIT Kanpur would offer a job to Prof. Kumar or not is irrelevant to the whole issue. But I will find out.

It would be nice, when you make your points, you identify yourself.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Arjun, I have found out from sources whom I can trust that SC has not delivered a judgment on Kharagpur's petition seeking permission to take disciplinary action against Prof. Kumar.

So much for your argument.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

I have been receiving many threats and many mails which have clearly false information. From now onwards, I will allow only comments from people whom I can provably identify. All other comments/emails will be deleted.

Arjun said...

Dear Prof. Sanghi,

You seem to have taken my comments in a wrong way. In my earlier (and only) comment I definitely did not threaten in any way. Maybe other people did so. I argued based on available information and what you wrote and placed an alternative view, which you possibly did not like.

After your response regarding the issue of judgement, I initially did not want to react or respond to unduly drag this matter further. But then thought that it would mean that either you or I were being misinformed, or both. I therefore hunted the (obvious place) Eklavya JEE site for the possible case number, checked the Supreme Court site and found that there is indeed an order dated 11th May 2011 on the applications made by IIT Kharagpur for impleadment and office report (which I presume is the nod sought). There is no other related matter and therefore TOI must have referred to this - you may check with your trusted sources. The order agrees to the impleadment and does not say anything about the other part, which means that, as of now, it does not restrain IIT Kharagpur from taking the action on the office report for which it sought the nod. I am sure that if Supreme Court would have disagreed, Prof Rajeev Kumar would have got it stayed in no time. He has not. (Is the court closed?) I guess, otherwise it would have been flashed all over by now. After all, he has Mr Prashant Bhushan as his lawyer and cannot be said to be ill-defended. This is my argument. It does have a basis, maybe not in line with yours, but not something that can be swept aside easily.

I am an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur. Its your choice to publish or not. At least you will have read my view and known that I am not an unreasonable person, who bears no personal ill-will.

Thanks and Best Regards

kingkhan said...

"I am personally convinced that if I had a son/daughter with a decent JEE rank, I would encourage them to consider Guwahaty, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, etc. over Kharagpur."
I strongly disagree with u.
1. In our time(CSE 09 Dual), I didnot see or know of any instances of mass copying. There were few rare discrete cases(none in CS), where individual students were found cheating and actions(DC) were taken against them.
2. Most of our faculty are quite good, some are excellent and world-class and more over almost all of them were really nice human beings.
3. Look at our highest(70 lacs) and average(10+ lacs) placement stats, our recent alumni(in research, entrepreneurship or technical jobs). Dont you consider alumni and current students before selecting a college? Do u really think Gandhinagar has better academic facilities and better peers?
4. Whatever happened was unfortunate and I am sorry to see such a respected professor is being treated like this. I dont know the real story, but talking to media, really tarnishes the image of KGP. personally I feel there should have been a better way of settling RK's concern instead of talking to media repetitively.
5. U compared with the allegations about Kashmir. Dont u know these allegations about army can have quite serious impact(like start a riot) and everyone doesnot take this as a joke.. Similarly, aspiring students or their parents donot know about KGP. If they see these kind of allegations in the newspaper(whether it is true or false) they will have a bad image about KGP. They might suspect it to be true as it was told by a professor.
6. Tranparency of JEE is common to all IITs. Why only KGP is being blamed?
7. SC is a much better judge than u and me. If RK is right, he will get justice.

kstbh said...

This post is good. I am in no position to judge/discuss the subject of the post but use of punctuation marks, especially of comma(s), make it a delight to read. I have discussed the subject of this post with my friends but few minutes into reading, I was more interested in punctuation marks. Elements of style?

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Arjun, When I get threats of legal action, and when my colleagues at IIT Kanpur get emails asking them to advise me, "otherwise", .., I need to be sure that I am only talking to people I know, or the matter is absolutely safe to discuss. Hence I am deleting some emails. I am too much ingrained with the "freedom of speech" ideal from my US days that I won't "censor" an opinion that I don't like. And hence I have allowed opinions on these blogs which have not liked my blog. And not just this one, but you can check other articles as well.

Coming to your information about SC, yes, I knew about that impleadment, and that is in another case, not in the case where KGP has asked for permission to take action. Come to think of it, impleadment means that someone is asking to be made a party to the case, and requesting the court to not issue an order without hearing them out. In the case that Kharagpur has filed for permission to take action against Prof. Kumar, they are already a party. They don't need to request the court to become a party to the case that they themselves have filed.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

Hi Kaustubh, Thanks. I do have a copy of "Elements of Style" which I go through every few months, and also ask my students to read.

Nurali Virani said...

Using your freedom of speech to tarnish the image of other IIT isn't a wise thing to do unless you are a believer that, your actions do not have consequences.

1) IITKGP is certainly a very good institute, it has its shortcomings (like other institutes) and one guy who tries to expose it, which fortunately your IIT doesn't.

2) Professors are really helpful, encouraging in most scenarios which is what I have experienced in my 5 years stay at KGP.

3) As far as JEE ranks are considered, who cares!!!! We have seen instances where people from top 100 AIRs come to IIT and pass-out taking a placement in an IT company, cz their performance in IIT was not upto the mark. Its better to have lesser rank ppl who still fight to be better than what they were before IITJEE.

4)As far as Prof.RK is concerned, it is said "if you wish to improve the system, you must be a part of the system". But, if you are a part of system and u take help from external factors like media to get attention and point out faults rather than improve it, then, whats the use of being in the system. He has not been left aside, he chose to be so, I think!

5) "I would encourage them to consider Guwahaty, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, etc. over Kharagpur." Foolishness! If top administration is playing Table Tennis among themselves, you can either wait and watch, waste your time and whine about it OR go in lab, do research (for which there is ample support in KGP), bring accolades to your alma-mater, to contribute your bit to make it better. Your Choice!!

6) To all JEE 2011 students, irrespective of what this Prof. says (I dont know what triggered him to write this blog....might be angry on something/with someone), IITKGP is definitely "A Great place to Learn... and Live". But, make sure when you come to an IIT don't expect spoon-feeding, put in your efforts to excel, irrespective of how much you slogged to get a decent rank. All the best in Life!

We have one Prof.RK to point out our faults, we do not need another. Thank You, better luck next time!

rahul said...

@ Nurali-- I am a student at IIT Kharagpur, and I openly declare that mass copying allegation is 100 percent true. In my department, 50 percent students cheated in the exams. Even I know people who would have got F grade in every subject if they had not copied. Download the meritlist and see the performance of UG students and compare that with that of 2yr MSc guys. This is a shameful fact that Undergrads still boast of JEE. Extra-curricular activities are overrated, and very few people go for PHD. It's better to join other institutes and come out with good grades rather than listening to seniors in common room, getting brainwashed, giving hall tempo and finally doing one night study before the exam and finally blaming the professors. Science and technology are going down the drain. It is useless to study calculus for JEE if people want to become IAS or managers in future.

mcenley said...

I hope you are following the latest developments on this topic.

Arjun said...

Dear Professor Sanghi,

I hope you have seen the Supreme Court Judgement of 11th October on Professor Rajeev Kumar's Jee2006 SLP. As you would see when you read the details, the court uses very strong words to dismiss each and every of his allegations, including those of calculation errors, giving wrong procedures at various stages, malafide intent to discriminate against his son, etc. In fact the court states that the program for the cut-offs was demonstrated to actually give the cut-offs, vindicating the stand taken by the organizers from day one.

Thanks and Best Regards

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Arjun, can you give us a link. The newspaper reports are very different from what you have said.

Arjun said...

Dear Professor Sanghi,

Please go to Professor Rajeev Kumar's Eklavya Jee 2006 blog site. (type Eklavya Jee 2006 in google and it will be the first link.) I have read the SC Order from there. I have assumed that it is an accurate reprduction, except that the bold fonts may not all be put by the Court. The other option is to go to the Supreme Court Site and get a copy of the Order from there.

Thanks and Best Regards

Arjun said...

The other option I just checked is to go to the Supreme Court Site and check case status for Case Civil Appeals No 8520 of 2011. You will also be able to get a pdf file from there. It is a 30 page file. But the base text seemed to be there in Eklavya Jee 2006 site also.

Thanks and Regards

C. Annamalai said...

IIT Kharagpur - Officiating Registrar Mr. T K Ghosal who appeared for interview on Dec 05. 2012 for the Post of Registrar in IIT Kharagpur does not fulfil the minimum qualification prescribed for recruitment as per UGC / MHRD / Judgement of Supreme Court of India, i.e., 10+2+3+2 / 11+1+3+2 pattern, and has secured less than 50% marks in Master's Degree received by Distance Education.

As per MHRD / UGC norm, the educational qualification for the post of Registrar must be as Under:

"A Master's Degree with at least 55% of Marks or its equivalent grade of 'B' in the UGC Scale 7 point scale."

Members of Screening Committee including this committee chairman Mr. B K Mathur have shortlisted the name of Mr. T K Ghosal without following the above criteria and T K Ghosal's allegations.

Mr.B K Mathur is under CBI scanner because of his involvement in fake institute scam in IIT-Kharagpur. Mr. B K Mathur did not publish any publications and produce single PhD till date and he also is a second class graduate in physics but he is now professor, Dean, Chairman of Information Chell, and Chief Vigilance Officer. Mr. B K Mathur was one of the members of the board of governors of IEE (I) which was the fake institute running by Professors of IIT Kharagpur.

Now Authorities of IIT Kharagpur have appointed Mr. T K Ghosal as Registrar of IIT Kharagpur by ignoring many meritorious candidates.