Interview with Prof. Thenmozhi and Dr. Jain: The Faculty Strike


interviewThe current Professor’s strike may not seem to directly affect any of us apart from the occasional day off, but after an interview with Prof. Thenmozhi, the President of the AIITFF, and Dr. Mahaveer Kumar Jain , Secretary of the Faculty Association, IIT-M, there was a more lucid understanding of this serious issue and the implications it would have on us as students of IITs.

TFE: What are the demands of the AIITFF?
Prof. Thenmozhi and Dr. Jain (T and J): It started with the Mehta Committee Report, produced in February of this year. The report recommended that the pay for the UGC faculty be the same as that of IIT faculty. This came as a shock, considering we have more qualifications, greater depth of research and more expectations to fulfill than the average UGC employee. The 6th Pay Commission came as a further disappointment, as the pay scale for the IIT faculty was lowered further as compared to the pay scales for the UGC faculty; lower than even what was suggested by the Mehta Committee Report. The new pay scales notified by the UGC for assistant professors in universities boost their salaries into a higher pay range after three years of teaching, but the notified new regime for IITs and IIMs does not thrust assistant professor salaries to a higher pay range. Thus, a university assistant professor could be earning more than an IIT or IIM assistant professor after teaching for three years.
We have made three defined demands: First was to demand for parity between the salaries of the UGC faculty and that of IIT faculty; assistant professors at the IITs should also be shifted to the higher pay band after three years. Second was a request for a special allowance that would distinguish an IIT professor from any other professor, called ‘Scholastic Allowance’. Third was to increase the entry-level salary as this would attract talent and retain the established faculty in order to make up for the high opportunity cost of qualifying as an IIT professor.
In the UGC system, even a BE can become an associate professor. However, for a lecturer position in IIT, one needs to have at least a PhD. In addition to this, the note along with the Pay Commission report states that in order for an associate professor to become a professor, 3 years of experience as associate professor are required. Thus, even a top level scientist from NASA who wants to teach in IIT would have to start at the level of associate professor! This is completely ridiculous and we are protesting against it.

TFE: What was your immediate reaction to the 6th Pay Commission Report?
T and J: Our initial response was in the form of a mild protest: we wore black badges and took classes. Sadly, this proved ineffective.

TFE: What prompted the mass casual leave on the 18th of August? Did it have any results?
T and J: On the 16th of August, the authorities rejected our demands. As a reaction to this, we declared a mass casual leave on the 18th, two days later. And yes, it proved very effective in the sense that it drew the attention of the press, which was enough to get the Government listening to us!

TFE: Govardhen Mehta, author of the Mehta Report, made a comment that going on strike was not the way professors should express their anger. How would you react to this statement?
T and J: Well, we don’t want to strike but the system leaves us no other choice. Sibal and his committee are not at all forthcoming. We have tried cooperating as much with the authorities, going as far as to even accept the ‘lecturer on contract’ condition. Ironically though, Mehta was the one who mandated that the IIT faculty shouldn’t get more than that of the UGCs.
It should be made clear that the motivation for this is not purely monetary; it is our pride and dignity that have been hurt. We are also trying to prevent a brand dilution of the IIT name. As it is, with the greater intake of students due to reservation, research and better caliber of teaching expected from IIT professors, we have a lot on our plates. With the lower pay scales and the unnecessary red tape brought in by the government, there is no incentive for bright and deserving people to join IITs as faculty, and they can be easily lured away by the corporates, foreign universities and even UGC colleges. This would be detrimental to the IIT name in the long run. Passion for teaching alone will not continue to attract the best talent unless other incentives are provided.

TFE: What was the government’s reaction? Kapil Sibal had promised to address these grievances positively. Has he done so?
T and J: Not quite. Sibal has only conditioned the 6th Pay Commission Report further. He has reaffirmed that the IIT professors shall earn around Rs. 30, 000 while professors of other institutes will be making around RS. 70, 000. Also, the Flexible Cadre System that allows professors to move up the ladder has been altered so that now, professors can make up only 40% of the teaching staff, This would lead to a situation where a promotion from associate professor to professor can only be made if there are vacancies; this again serves as another disincentive for professors to retain their post or for interested persons to join the IIT system. To add to this, fresh PhD.s’ are given contractual postions, bringing in the question of job security.

TFE: What of the situation now? Will the student population be affected?
T and J: For now, everything has come to a halt due to Sibal’s refusal to cooperate with us. There was a General Board Meeting held here and in Guwahati and Kharagpur on the 18th of this month. Most of the IITs have reached a consensus where in all of us have rejected the 6th Sept. Report, the contents of which have been described to the previous question. So, fortunately, as of now, all the IITs are putting up a united front.
We definitely do not want the student population or academics to be affected. In many IITs, the professors took mass casual leave but still continued to take classes. However, if our demands are not met, we will be compelled to take more drastic measures.

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