IIM Ahmedabad Continues to Ignore Reservation in its PhD Programme: Researchers

The invitation for PhD applications released last week does not mention reservations for SC, ST and OBC students.

New Delhi: Last week, when Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad invited applications for its PhD programme, the advertisement didn’t mention anything about reservation for SC, ST and OBC students.

This has invited flak from a section of IIM alumni and staff, who have condemned the institution for violating the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006  – according to which all central educational institutions must reserve seats for each course and branch of study. The non-implementation of reservation, they allege, also goes against the IIM Act, 2017.

“The IIM Act clearly states that all IIMs (including of course, IIMA) are ‘Central Educational Institution for the purposes of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006’ [vide Section 8 of the 2017 IIMA Act]. Section 3 of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006, requires all Central Educational Institutions (which now clearly includes IIMA) to reserve seats in admissions in each branch of study for historically marginalized social groups,” said Siddharth Joshi, a fellow at IIM Bangalore, who wrote an open letter to the director of IIM Ahmedabad along with Deepak Malghan, associate professor at IIM Bangalore.

SC, ST faculty at IIMs

Over the past few years, Joshi and Malghan have been highlighting the minuscule percentage of faculty at IIMs who come from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. In 2017 and subsequently in 2018, they published papers using information accessed through the Right to Information Act.

“..Of the 512 IIM faculty members where data is available, only two belong to the SC group, and IIMs currently do not have anybody from the ST group on their faculty. Further, with only 13 OBC representations among the remaining 510 faculty members, IIMs are an exclusive preserve of faculty members from the upper echelons of India’s hierarchical society,” said the second round of their study released in September 2017.

As soon as the data went public, the Global Network of Alumni  – a group of people across the world who have graduated from various branches of the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) – started writing to the board of directors to take appropriate measures to address the lack of representation in IIM’s PhD programme, said a press release issued by the alumni.

However, IIM Ahmedabad went ahead and issued a notice for PhD Admission for the session 2018-19 neglecting the reservations mandated by the constitution.

In September 2017, the alumni hence urged IIM Ahmedabad’s director to implement the reservation policy and later wrote to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the president and the prime minister when they didn’t get a positive response from the director.

Also read | Implement SC/ST Quota in Postgraduate Programme: Alumni to IIM Ahmedabad Director

Since then, according to the press release, various IIMs – including IIM Bangalore, IIM Lucknow and IIM Indore – started providing quotas in PhD admissions. IIM Ahmedabad still did not and is yet to do so.

As a result, the alumni, in January 2018,  filed a petition against IIM Ahmedabad at the Gujarat high court alleging that the institute has failed to follow the constitutionally-mandated reservation policy in its doctoral programme.

Meanwhile, Joshi and Malghan published another set of data in January 2018, revealing a picture more bleak than before. Out of 642 faculty members covered by the data, only two were from SC group, one from the ST group and 13 from OBC.

“In this sequel, we chronicle over four decades of omissions and commissions including wilful (and often skilful) skirting of constitutional and statutory provisions that have contributed to what we term as the “missing scholars” phenomenon,” said the authors.

In January this year, the alumni of IIM Ahmedabad yet again petitioned the director of the institute, urging him to implement affirmative action in its PhD programme. They also highlighted how other IIMs have already implemented it.

‘Null matrix argument’

According to the open letter written by Joshi and Malghan a few days ago, IIM Ahmedabad has been skirting the issue by giving a “null matrix argument” under which an institution cannot provide reservation in a programme that doesn’t have a fixed number of seats.

“The argument that IIMA’s doctoral programme is a super-speciality program is just as fallacious. Ph.d. programmes at sister IIMs that are at least as rigorous as the one at IIMA (and some of them arguably more research intensive than IIMA) have implemented reservations in their respective doctoral programmes,” said the letter.

At the time of releasing the first set of data in March 2017, Joshi and Malghan had also brought to light another set of responses from the IIMs they had contacted. The IIMs, according to them, traced the lack of diversity to the inadequate number of qualified candidates who applied for PhD programmes – a claim that Joshi and Malghan denied.

“This is at best a duplicitous argument, as nearly a third of all faculty members currently working at IIMs were trained by these very institutes. We collated data on educational background for all permanent (tenure track) faculty members working at IIMs. This data shows that across 13 IIMs, 31% of all faculty members obtained their highest credentials at an IIM,” they said in 2017.

While talking to The Wire, Joshi also pointed out the central government’s “double standards” when it comes to reservations for Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and those for students who come from SC, ST and OBC category.

According to him, most of the IIMs implemented the EWS reservation within 2-3 months for MBA courses but they have been neglecting the constitutional reservation for SC, ST and OBC students for several decades.

“In case of EWS reservations, MHRD pushed the IIMs to implement them before elections, but when it comes to SC, ST, OBC reservations, suddenly MHRD acts helpless saying that IIMs are autonomous,” Joshi said. 

Backlash from the institution

Ever since the data came to light, Joshi and Malghan have allegedly faced censure from IIM Bangalore, an institution they are a part of.

Earlier, when the two filed various RTI requests to understand the decision-making process at the institution, they were allegedly “stonewalled” and given an unsatisfactory response. As they wrote in The Wire:

“IIMA has been stonewalling our multiple RTI requests on questions of diversity and inclusion over the last several months.  However, their response to our latest request for minutes of their board meetings was shocking even by their own standards. Their response (reproduced in full below, except for Joshi’s home address that has been masked) essentially amounted to a formal secession as a public institution – IIMA claimed that “[i]information sought by [us] has no relationship to any public activity or interest and hence cannot be provided.”

Furthermore, Joshi also alleged that IIM Bangalore has been targeting Malghan for consistently raising concerns over various policies at the institution. Currently, he has received a censure order from IIM Bangalore and therefore cannot interact with the media.“Prof Deepak Malghan is being harassed and victimised for being vocal about various questionable practices and policies at IIM Bangalore,” said Joshi.

According to the service rules  – implemented a few years ago  – of the institution:

“No employee, shall in any Radio/TV broadcast, Social Media, Electronic Media, Print media or in any document published anonymously, pseudonymously or in his/her own name or in the name of any other person, on any communication to the press, in any public utterance, make any statement of fact or opinion:

 (a)Which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the Institute; or

 (b)Which is capable of embarrassing the relations between the Institute and the Central Government, any State Government, any other Institute, Organisation, members of the public. Provided that nothing in this paragraph shall apply to any statements made or views expressed by an employee in his/her official capacity or in the due performance of the duties assigned to him/her.”

It was under these rules, Joshi says, which are quite “unbecoming of an academic institution and a public university at that”, Malghan was not allowed to talk to the media.

This is not the first of its kind censure order against Malghan.

According to a report by Sreya Roy Choudhary for Scroll, the director of IIM Bangalore, on October 17, 2018, had asked Malghan to retract his email where he had appealed the institution’s placement committee and environment club to “disinvite” Hindustan Unilever (HUL) from the job placements for students. In 2001, HUL had reportedly dumped toxic mercury at Kodaikanal, a popular tourist spot.

The note sent to Malghan said that he must “develop greater sensitivity” towards colleagues and “institutional stakeholders both internal and external.” Malghan did retract his letter on November but “under protest.” Nevertheless, he along with Joshi continue to call spade a spade.

In the present open letter, the two urge IIM Ahmedabad to “immediately reissue” the PhD admissions advertisement in compliance with the constitutional mandates.