world-class academic performance, but without a world class mindset?
there has been a debate recently about the quality of research and its impact. I will not deny that there is huge need for quality improvement in research and its theoretical, applied and other social and policy impacts. But how do trigger processes which breed impatience in the mind of scholars about the problems which our society is facing and which for some reason, we have learned to live with.
there are many things which policy makers and institution builders can do to push the edge of excellence in multiple domains. I will enumerate a few with the hope that those who cry the loudest about this problem will take some cues and do introspection.
one of the first thing which can lower down one’s expectations from one self is the realization that social, professional and institutional ladders are easy to climb by actions other than scholarship. one can become director or vice chancellor by using political connections. Naturally then, one has to pay recurring rent to such masters whose real interest also does not lie in lowering the performance standards but who cannot see far. They cannot realize that by having a conformist, compliant and timid person as the head of the institution, they have stifled dissent, defiance and democratic discourse which no quality scholarship can ever grow and be nurtured. Of course, there will also be rebels who dont care for institutional rewards and thus widen their degrees of freedom, but most people choose easier option.
second problem in this process is that many scholars prefer to be followers rather than leaders of their profession or discipline. They would seek a safe sanctuary by aligning with a well established western name, and thus build a reputation by being a good and diligent follower. It is ok except when they produce students who seldom quote well reputed scholars disapprovingly, they have done a long term damage. They have perpetuated a mediocrity of vision, mind and actions. Having seen many doctoral students, i agree with Prof T V Rao who recently noted that what i may call, a ‘colonised mind’ does not quote even his own guide as a lead source even if he or she had actually opened that idea furrow or deepened that furrow in an original manner.
Third reason is that our own society doubts its own ability to spot an early spark and waits till western society honours a scholar before conferring national recognition. Imagine, if Ravi Mathai had followed this principle, and hired or created a tradition of hiring, only proven horses rather than then unproven but potential winners, where would IIMA have been today? This is a practice which has continued well and i think is worth replicating. But sometimes, i have also seen anti-bodies against outstanding budding scholars, may be out of fear of being eclipsed by their brightness, i dont know. I am aware of such cases in many institutions, and feel that we need to be careful when someone is rejected because he or she is assertive and not because less brilliant.
Fourth is the policy interface about building institutions of excellence. I have asked this question many times. Can a Minister of HRD at central or state level or a chief minister name ten outstanding scholars in some of the disciplines with which they are familiar. Consulting them for public policy advice is a moot question then. If they cannot distinguish the outstanding from less outstanding ones ( a taxonomic disability) then how will they know what breeds excellence and thus a culture of appreciation towards socially merited and useful excellence.
Fifth issue which i must add is that nobody has questioned our ability to address persistent social problems in a world-class manner, can our scholars and activists help in improving quality of governance at different levels, and can that not become an important determinant of measuring merit in globally recognised manner at current juncture of our social transition from a stagnant to a growing economy?
India is passing through an interesting, and may be intriguing times, our younger generation is less patient with mediocrity in many respects, and our leaders are falling short of their expectations at different levels. A spoils system may sustain this mediocrity for some time. But eventually, we have to create and in many cases have already created, reference points with which world is measuring its performance, even if some colonised minds can not see that far.
Anil K Gupta