No person or agency outside the academic institution should have a say on the merits of a dissertation or the award of a PhD. Indian govt. is exerting pressure on Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad to review the contents of a PhD dissertation on electoral democracy, as it contained references to the BJP and the BSP as “ethnically-constituted parties’’ and another mention of the BJP as “a pro-Hindu upper caste party.’’
By Nazarul Islam
The recent controversy over a PhD dissertation by a scholar at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad, India has highlighted once more, issues relating to the autonomy of institutions of higher learning and the academic freedom afforded to students and faculty. There is a law that gives autonomy to the business schools but attempts at interference and control keep coming up.
The latest that has come into the public realm is a move by the government to persuade the director of IIM-A to review the contents of a PhD dissertation on electoral democracy. The director, Errol D’Souza, resisted the pressure and stood his ground, though it is not known if the last word has yet been said in the matter.
Now, the BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had written to the education ministry last year that a thesis submitted to IIM and approved by it contained references to the BJP and the BSP as “ethnically-constituted parties’’ and another mention of the BJP as “a pro-Hindu upper caste party.’’
He wanted the dissertation to be re-examined by “independent professors.’’ The ministry demanded from the IIM a copy of the dissertation, but the director refused to send it because the ministry has no right to sit in judgement over a PhD thesis. He also said that any matter relating to the content of the thesis should be raised with IIM’s Thesis Advisory and Examination Committee.
However, the ministry has sent him a reminder on the matter. It is unfortunate that the ministry did not pay heed to basic academic norms and practices. A PhD thesis does not represent the views of the institution that awards the degree. It only shows that the scholar has studied a topic and formed some well-argued and tenable conclusions about it. Examiners approve dissertations even when they disagree with their content.
The important point is that no person or agency outside the academic institution should have a say on the merits of a dissertation or the award of a PhD. That is why the IIM director’s stand is right and worthy of praise. Recently, the Ministry of Education had made a move to give itself powers to dismiss the board of governors of an IIM if it is found acting in contravention of the IIM Act.
This was done after disagreement over the IIM’s decision to start a one-year management course. But the law ministry vetoed it. The government also withdrew another directive requiring prior permission for virtual seminars, which would have affected all institutions, not just the IIMs. The IIM Act grants the business schools a fair amount of autonomy.
But incidents and attempts keep coming up that endanger that ‘autonomy’, that was not gifted but automatically reaches us through the clauses contained in Constitution. Other institutions have become even more vulnerable, in this respect.
Will the institutions of higher learning be denied the privileges, to suit the wishes and ambitions of the political party in power?
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