A second term for IIM-L director will be against the IIM culture

livemint.com | Premchand Palety

The Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (IIM-L) has been caught in unseemly politics over the post of director for the past few months. The search-cum-selection committee shortlisted a few names, including that of Devi Singh, who was director of the institute until a few months ago. The controversial director wants a second term and is likely to get it. This is a deviation from the culture of IIMs, one important aspect of which is that the director should not seek a second term.

If the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) could emerge as one of the most powerful brands of India, one of the principal reasons is the culture cultivated by Ravi Mathai, arguably the best director IIMs ever had. He established important practices for governing a management institute that valued the freedom and respect given to the faculty. IIM-A became a truly faculty-driven institution, in that all important decisions were taken by the faculty. One practice that has been religiously followed by the institute is that of a single term for the director. When Mathai decided to step down as director and again become professor, he set an example. There was great pressure on him from the faculty and the governing board to continue for at least another term. He did not agree, though he had credentials and age on his side.

He had valid reasons for doing so. Besides giving others an opportunity to administer the institute, he also did not want to give hierarchal primacy to the director’s post over the faculty. He wanted that the professor who became a director should again work as a faculty member without loss of pride or without taking it as a demotion. Perhaps he also thought this would restrain directors from using the office to cultivate governing board members and politicians to advance their careers.

Over the years, all IIMs have been following this practice, though of late there has been one deviation in the selection of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, or IIM-C, director Shekhar Chaudhuri, who was granted another term last year. Now, this trend seems to be catching on, with Devi Singh also aspiring for a second term. The bad part is that political pressure is being used in the selection process, overriding the faculty’s will. For the first time, even the Prime Minister’s office has got involved in the selection.

Such political interference began in 2002 during Murli Manohar Joshi’s tenure as human resource development (HRD) minister. The search committee’s composition was changed in favour of government nominees. Earlier, the HRD ministry would get the list of shortlisted names and one of the names would be approved by it. Since 2002, the ministry, in a way, also had the power to shortlist names.

It is believed that the appointment of Devi Singh was a result of political interference. There was great resentment among the faculty at the time. As many as 30 faculty members left IIM-L during Devi Singh’s tenure.

Setting standards: A file photo of IIM-A. Many of the important practices for governing a management institute were established here. Madhu Kapparath / Mint

The way he recruited faculty to fill this shortage has also drawn much criticism as some of them did not have the requisite academic credentials and work experience. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, there have also been allegations of financial irregularities against Singh, including favouring some board members.

Premchand Palety is director of Centre for Forecasting & Research (C-fore) in New Delhi, from where he keeps a close eye on India’s business schools.