It was a regular day in February 2019 at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta’s (IIM-C) doctoral labs when the PhD students were told they would be moving. “All of a sudden, the new director walked into the lab and forced us to move,” says a PhD scholar with the institute, who didn’t want to be identified fearing repercussions from the administration. “We went from having four doctoral labs to two.” 

IIM-C’s leadership had just changed hands in November 2018. The director of the institute, Saibal Chattopadhyay, was replaced by Anju Seth, a professor of management from the US-based Virginia Tech. Chattopadhyay resumed his position as a professor of Operations Management at IIM-C, post his term. 

Seth, claims the scholar, was not in favour of four dedicated labs for the campus’ 60-odd PhD scholars. 

Tucked away from the noisy din of the library in a corner of the Kolkata campus, the labs were basic rooms with computers and ACs that would let them work quietly. They were a hard-won right for the scholars, who had lobbied for them nearly a decade ago. In turn, the research produced by these scholars would burnish the institute’s credentials, emphasise its academic rigour, and bolster its position in international rankings.

The official reason for the move was that these rooms were needed to “store documents”. “I think it was purely a cost cutting measure,” the scholar adds. Till date, the empty rooms aren’t—allegedly—being used to store anything. 

Other measures quickly followed. The school’s internet network was changed from Airtel to the cheaper BSNL. Library access to international journals, critical to research, was also abruptly cut. 

Seth’s swift, unilateral decisions underpinned the ways in which IIM-C’s democratic governance structure and the power balance between the faculty and leadership were about to change. The change would also bring with it a palpable impact on IIM-C’s public standing as one of the oldest and most prestigious business schools in India.

The IIMs IIMs The Ken Jobs over careers: India’s premier B-schools keep making the wrong choice Read more were conceived as independent islands of academic excellence, free from the kind of regulatory shackles that bind the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). Along with its sister institutes, IIM Ahmedabad and Bangalore, IIM-C has put Indian institutes on the international rankings map—a feat that eludes other public universities in India. 

As a result, IIM-C had functioned like a private institute for over four decades. It was free to decide its own courses, fix compensation for teachers, and introduce a range of revenue-generating operations like executive MBA courses. This freedom has been crucial in building the all-powerful IIM brand, whose students often graduate with six-figure salary offers in hand.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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