Concurrently with excellence of the teaching programs, an Institute would aspire to be known for its research and innovation contributions, especially with respect to the society. It is essential therefore that the post graduate programs be continuously strengthened both in size and in the quantum and quality of research, with focus in certain selected areas.
In India, the fresh or initial appointments for faculty at the Assistant Professor level are made almost ‘regular/ permanent’ with one or two years of probation (12 month salary). Hardly any faculty (to my knowledge), when found ‘unsatisfactory’, has been asked to leave. Several faculty members at the IITs have performed elegantly throughout their career in teaching, research, and service, driven primarily by their internal motivation and self-commitment. They have been active in teaching innovations, research contributions, involvement with matters concerning society, and professional bodies. Their relationship with students is excellent and they have been good mentors to them. However, some of them have not been as active and productive as expected and desired. We, it appears, are in general not able to get the ‘best’ out of them.
Why this is so, needs extensive study and analysis. What will enable us to do so? Should the ‘probation’ period be extended up to, say 3yrs? Are there better models practiced in other universities within India and abroad? Is it time to explore seriously the ‘tenure’ model that emphasizes ‘external motivation’ and has been ‘successful’ in the US universities? It is accepted that ‘internal motivation’ is desired over ‘external motivation’ and needs to be encouraged. Are there models to do so?
All initial full-time faculty appointments in the US universities are ‘tenure-track’ (mostly on a 9-month salary) and such faculty are expected to enhance their creativity in generation and dissipation of new knowledge, thus fulfilling and furthering the objectives of the institution. They are evaluated for their performance in about 5-6yrs from the initial appointment. The evaluation process is rigorous and primarily emphasizes research contributions in terms of quality publications in peer-reviewed journals. After being supported for initial 2-3yrs by the Institution with seed money to establish research, they are expected to generate research funding from funding agencies, public or private that may also cover their 3-month salary. They have to compete for Master’s and PhD students as well as for post-docs with other institutions for research funding, supported as research assistant/ research associate through their research grants, publish and present their work at conferences, file for patents, etc. This approach, I have found from my own experience in the US, creates external motivation for faculty in addition to their internal motivation, sets a ‘pattern’ for young faculty to be active in research, and remain active for much longer periods, almost throughout their professional career. I have known several professors in the US, active and productive much beyond 80yrs of age. The research and innovation output of the US probably justifies the means.
One also observes, ‘publish or perish’ situation that is really not desirable. Also some others feel that the quality of publications may also suffer under this policy, and there may be a tendency to neglect undergraduate teaching and the quality of teaching suffers. There appear to be appropriate checks and balances to carry out corrections of the policy. However, my personal feeling is that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and we need to evolve a system (may be a hybrid one), based upon our own experiences and needs in India.
The faculty is expected to contribute to teaching, research, academic management, and service. Teaching and research are related so closely that a faculty member must demonstrate competence in both. We all would agree that the quality of the publications, concern of and addressing the problem of the society, and a continuing interest and effort towards defined objectives, are more important than the quantity of work produced.