A few weeks ago, Nature carried an opinion piece titled "Leadership: Ten tips for choosing an academic chair". Although "chair" is in the title, the article broadly addresses the decision-making process for the selection of "Departmental chairs, deans, facility directors and other leaders". Though this is obviously an important topic, discussions on it are rare in India and usually lacking in factual information about the decision-making process. This in turn is not surprising, because the decision-making process in our country tends to be a tightly guarded secret.
Part of the Nature article recounts the hiring process for a chair of clinical academic medicine. What I found more interesting than the article itself was an attached 10-point "Checklist for high-level hiring". (Apparently Nature too has realised that the only thing people read these days are 10-point lists!). I thought of picking out a few of these criteria and asking how well we follow these in India.
(i) Articulate requirements clearly in the job advertisement.
(ii) Articulate the offer clearly.
(iii) Ensure accountability in the selection process.
(iv) Seek strong emotional, personal and social skills.
Note that my numbering does not correspond to the order in the original list.
On point (i), the authors of the Nature article say: "Before candidates can be considered, the hiring committee must clearly state the standards required in clinical ability, research and teaching." I looked at a couple of recent advertisements for the top job at two prestigious institutes in India, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai (here) and the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre, Bangalore (here). The former says:
"He/She should have an excellent publication record and be highly regarded in both national and international academic circles. Desirable: Apart from the above essential qualifications, the candidate is expected to be familiar with administrative and financial matters, preferably in Government set up."
The JNC advertisement says:
Essential: The candidate should have a Doctorate degree in the area of physical sciences/chemical sciences/life sciences /any other related interdisciplinary area. Desirable: (i) Post-doctoral research (ii) Original published work of high standard and (iii) Evidence of high professional eminence by way of recognitions like fellowship of academies, national/international awards in science etc.
I find this somewhat baffling -- apparently a degree is essential, but having good publications and an international reputation are merely "desirable"! The IMSc advertisement does better, stressing that publications and an international reputation are essential.
One notices that nowhere in either advertisement is any meaningful statement made about the goals of the institution or the qualities required (as opposed to qualifications) of the candidate. Both ads are fairly dull and prosaic, worded in early 20th century English and scarcely inspiring.
I'll end here for now and leave points (ii), (iii) and (iv) for another time. Meanwhile I invite readers to post an advertisement for a comparable position (Director/President of a research institution) from some other country, so we can compare the approaches taken. Among other things, I would love to know if literary gems like "Professor or Scientific Officer/H in PB - 4 with the Pay Band of Rs. 37400 - 67000/- plus Grade Pay of Rs. 10,000/-" are universal, or unique to Indian culture.