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Many will agree that academic research in India needs to be internationally competitive and our institutions feature in rankings lists. Global research and competition are now increasingly diverse and in this scenario, India rightfully wants to be an important player. In pedagogy(1) too, we face a situation of enhanced expectations. There has been a rapid expansion with the setting up of more Central and State universities which includes more focussed institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Indian Institutes of Management and National Institutes of Technology, enhancing the opportunities for high-quality teaching. Despite the impressive job being done, there is considerable room for improvement.
But what is still holding our nation back(2) from achieving large-scale global academic excellence which is commensurate(3) with our intellectual heritage and caliber(4)? Beyond blaming the government and the bureaucracy, the usual suspects, it is important to look inward and ask whether our academics display an adequate ethical(5) commitment to excellence.
It is rarely appreciated that excellence is an ethical issue. We think of it as something arising from people of calibre coupled with sufficient resources. But how do successful nations spot such people and resources and enable them to achieve their potential? The answer: there is a sincere and stated commitment to cultivating excellence as a goal. Contrasting this with the academic ethos(6) in India raises uncomfortable questions.
Consider this advertisement put out by Stanford University recently: “We seek exceptional individuals who can develop a world-class program of research, and have a strong commitment to teaching at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.” In such institutions, once an excellent candidate is identified, the institution does everything to convince her/him to accept the offer. Loss of the candidate to a rival institution is considered a serious failure, as excellence is seen to be a precious commodity, with the heads of such institutions held accountable.
In India, in contrast, excellence is at best one of multiple criteria in faculty hiring. Though never openly stated, extraneous(7) considerations abound(8). It is an open secret that these considerations define a large fraction of hiring across India, and often precede considerations of merit. In some places, excellence can actually go against the candidate.
One might be tempted(9) to solely blame failed institutions/departments on the calibre of leadership, and, ultimately, the government that appoints such leaders. But the problem persists even in those institutions led by respected academics. The reasons need to be examined. While academics freely criticise personality cults(10) in the political sphere, they are happy to cultivate those of their own.
1. Pedagogy [ped-uh-goh-jee, -goj-ee]
Noun: the function or work of a teacher; teaching; the art or science of teaching; education; instructional methods.
Synonyms: apprenticeship, background, brainwashing, breeding, catechism, civilization, coaching, cultivation, culture, direction, discipline, drilling, edification, enlightenment, erudition, finish, guidance, improvement, inculcation.
Antonyms: confusion, destruction, harm, hurt.
2. Hold back
Phrasal verb of hold: hesitate to act or speak.
3. Commensurate [kuh-men-ser-it, -sher-]
Adjective: corresponding in amount, magnitude, or degree; proportionate; adequate; having the same measure; of equal extent or duration.
Synonyms: comparable, compatible, consistent, proportionate, sufficient, appropriate, coextensive, due, equal, equivalent, fit, fitting, in accord, symmetrical.
Antonyms: incompatible, unsuitable, inadequate, inappropriate.
4. Caliber [kal-uh-ber]
Noun: the diameter of something of circular section, especially that of the inside of a tube; degree of capacity or competence; ability; degree of merit or excellence; quality.
Synonyms: ability, competence, quality, stature, talent, appetency, capability, constitution, dignity, distinction, endowment, essence, faculty, force, gifts, merit, nature, parts, power.
Antonyms: inability, inadequacy, incompetence, weakness.
5. Ethical [eth-i-kuh l]
Adjective: pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in conduct; being in accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct or practice, especially the standards of a profession.
Synonyms: honest, honorable, humane, principled, proper, virtuous, christian, clean, conscientious, correct, decent, elevated, equitable, fair, fitting, good, high-principled, just, kosher.
Antonyms: corrupt, dishonest, immoral, improper.
6. Ethos [ee-thos, ee-thohs, eth-os, -ohs]
Noun: sociology. The fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people or period; the character or disposition of a community, group, person, etc.; the moral element in dramatic literature that determines a character’s action rather than his or her thought or emotion.
Synonyms: ideology, mentality, mindset, spirit, attitude, beliefs, code, culture, habits, mind, principles, psyche, psychology, traits, values.
Antonyms: body, physicality.
7. Extraneous [ik-strey-nee-uh s]
Adjective: introduced or coming from without; not belonging or proper to a thing; external; foreign; not pertinent; irrelevant.
Synonyms: additional, immaterial, incidental, nonessential, superfluous, supplementary, unconnected, unnecessary, unrelated, accidental, adventitious, beside the point, extra, foreign, impertinent, inadmissible, inapplicable, inapposite, inappropriate.
Antonyms: essential, important, material, necessary.
8. Abound [uh-bound]
Verb: to occur or exist in great quantities or numbers.
Synonyms: flourish, proliferate, thrive, crowd, flow, infest, overflow, swarm, swell, teem, be alive with, be all over the place, be knee deep in, be no end to, be plentiful, be thick with.
Antonyms: decline, fail, languish, retreat.
9. Tempt [tempt]
Verb: to entice or allure to do something often regarded as unwise, wrong, or immoral; to attract, appeal strongly to, or invite; to render strongly disposed to do something.
Synonyms: allured, charmed, desiring, enticed, inclined, seduced, bent on.
Antonyms: averse to, disinclined, indifferent, undesiring.
10. Cult [kuhlt]
Noun: a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies; an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers; the object of such devotion.
Synonyms: band, church, clan, clique, denomination, faith, religion, sect, body, creed, faction, following, party, persuasion, school.
Antonyms: agnosticism, disbelief.