Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ravi Mathai on academic governance

Ravi Mathai, the legendary founder-director of IIMA, is widely credited with having created proceses and mechanisms that enabled IIMA to attain a position of eminence very quickly. One of the things for which he is remembered is the egalitarian culture he created at IIMA where the director was no more than the first among equals and initiatives and decisions emanated from the faculty body (although some people would say this has changed since). For instance, at IIMA, a professor's house does not change when the professor becomes director . This could mean that the director occupies a smaller house than some of the senior professors.

But Mathai seems to have had second thoughts about the efficacy of some of the things he did. I came across this priceless gem in an article published in Business Line in 2004:

Then, (Verghese) Kurien went on to build IRMA, the Institute of Rural Management Anand, with inputs from his cousin Ravi Mathai, who was the Director in IIM, Ahmedabad.

Avoid mistakes that happened in IIM, Mathai instructed: "So cousin, when you build IRMA, please build a bigger house for the director than for the professors so that they will know that there is a boss."

Next, don't give too much powers to professors; this is not Harvard. For this, Kurien recounts Mathai told him: "I told a professor whom I had appointed, `You are free to go ahead and fill all the lower posts in your department.' That person went to his village, brought all his relations and appointed them. That was a terrible mistake which I made."

And, there's one more: "The third point cousin, is that you should cut down on the number of people you employ. We have so many people, and therefore, labour union problems, courts, and so on. I am tired of it all. You are a dictator, so run it as a dictator. If anyone steps out of line, sack him. I can't do that; I am not made that way.'"

Now, this is Kurienspeak: "I said, `Ravi Mathai, neither you nor any of your professors have ever managed anything."

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