Today's TOI carries a story about how the ad for the post of director at three IIMs has come as a "shocker" for IIMA faculty.
And, pray, why is it a "shocker"? Because some in the IIM fraternity understood the ad to mean that the process followed hitherto - of setting up a search committee which went through a list of candidates nominated by IIM/IIT directors and some others- was being bypassed. They thought that IIM faculty would no longer be 'consulted' in the matter of appointment of director.
As a clarification provided by the ministry and carried in ET makes evident, these fears are unfounded. The search committee is still there, the board of governors is still represented, it will also be free to go beyond applications received in response to the ad and reach out to eminent academics.
So what are we left with? Well, a clear improvement over the existing process! Earlier, if you considered yourself suitable you would have to beseech some IIT/IIM director to nominate you. Those outside the charmed circle had no chance of staking a claim. Now, the field is open to anybody and, of course, the nominations process is still on and the search committee is free to seek inputs from IIM faculty. It does appear that some IIM faculty have muddied the waters through their knee-jerk reaction.
I would say that the ministry should go further and advertise in international journals such as the Economist . Foreign schools frequently advertise the post of Dean. A recent issue of the Economist carried an ad for faculty positions at the Indian School of Business and another for that of Director for an unnamed private business school in India. I would only ask that the ad be couched in more upbeat terms- it should mention the perks that go with the job, possible consulting income and the opportunity to make a big difference in India.
Incidentally, I have often wondered about the presumption amongst IIM faculty as to their right to be consulted about the choice of director. Agreed, faculty are important stakeholders but does consultation mean that the director should be somebody with a high or the highest acceptability to faculty? When a company appoints at CEO, does the board go round asking the GMs and VPs whom they would like best for the job?
The choice of director cannot be reduced to a popularity contest amongst faculty. Perhaps a minimum of acceptability is necessary but the director need not be somebody who gets the highest number of "votes" from faculty. Such a requirement can only promote demeaning behaviour among the contenders for the job at an IIM- and it does. You have people soliciting votes from colleagues, the very colleagues they are expected to supervise if they land the job. That apart, where an institution needs radical change and an individual stands for such change, lack of acceptability could be a virtue.
If at all faculty are to be consulted, the consultation can only be about ascertaining the requirements of leadership at a given point in time and the attributes that would go towards meeting the requirements. In other words, the Search Committee may interact with faculty with the idea of drawing up a profile of the director-to-be, not to find out which particular individual from amongst the insiders finds favour with the faculty. This important distinction, alas, has not always been borne in mind by either the Search Committee or the faculty.
Once the Search Committee has drawn up a profile of the "right" candidate for the post, the policy should be one of letting the best person win. It could be a person nominated by somebody or it could be somebody who has responded to the ad or it could be somebody whom the search committee on its own thinks fit to consider. There should not be any presumption in favour of either an insider or outsider.