Home The Golden Rule, Balgram, Michelangelo, IIT, and IIM

The Golden Rule, Balgram, Michelangelo, IIT, and IIM

by Beheruz Sethna
only-change-is-real-HikingArtist

Source: Frits Ahlefeldt

Only partly tongue-in-cheek, in fund raising circles, there is something the “Golden Rule” of fund raising which goes something like this: “He (or she) who has the gold makes the rules!’

What that means is you should be available to go to the location they want, present the proposal in the form they want, and make the pitch for things that interest them.”

As background, I need to say that I lived by this so-called rule for almost a quarter of a century in a fundraising role in higher education, raising tens of millions of dollars (hundreds, if you include state moneys for buildings), as Dean and as President in American Universities.

Yet, the major part of this article is devoted to the limitations of this “Golden Rule” and what it should not mean.

Let me start with a little personal story. Bear with me; this is leading somewhere.

Each summer, I teach at Balgram, an orphanage school near Lonavala. It is challenging and extremely rewarding. I have also, over the years, provided ongoing “sponsorship” support for one child, then two, then four, and now eight children in the school. It is my honor to do so, and I seek no compliments for this; credit if any, goes to my parents and my aunts who left me some money which I want to use in this way. When I started sponsoring a child, I was asked if I have preferences as to gender or religion, or any other demographic variable, and I emphatically said “No.”I told them that they know the situation best and that they should make the decision. They did so, and chose a delightful girl, whose name I will not reveal so as to respect her privacy. Sufficeth to say that she has ambitions of being an English teacher and, several years after that decision, to this date I encourage her to follow her dreams, and will help her further if she needs help. I followed the same policy of letting the very capable administrators make the decisions for the other seven children. After all, the fact that I have some money to share does not magically invest in me the knowledge base and expertise as to the running of orphanages or the selection of children who need help. That is not my field; I have not spent one day of my life doing that job, and so I must trust those who have done this for many years.

After all, the fact that I have some money to share does not magically invest in me the knowledge base and expertise as to the running of orphanages or the selection of children who need help.  That is not my field; I have not spent one day of my life doing that job, and so I must trust those who have done this for many years.

Separately, having been a Rotarian for the past thirty-two odd years, I am trying to get a Rotary International grant to help Balgram. And, again, the approach is the same. First, I spoke with the orphanage administrators to find out what their most pressing needs were. My Rotary Club and a neighboring one are prepared to put up a few thousand dollars each, and now I am trying to figure out how we can write the grant proposal such that we can have the best overlap between Balgram’s needs and Rotary International’s criteria. I have no idea whether we will be successful or not, but we will try. But, the point I am making is that the first step was finding out what Balgram’s needs were. The possession of funds or the membership in Rotary does not magically invest in me the knowledge base and expertise as to the enhancement of an orphanage. That is not my field; I have not spent one day of my life doing that job, and so I must trust those who have done this all their lives.

Now let me go from Lonavala, India of 2015, to “long, long ago in a land far, far away ” and go back approximately 450 years in time to Italy, and talk of Michelangelo, considered by many to be one of the greatest artists of all time. Artists, in those days, were supported by patrons, and Michelangelo had two primary patrons: Pope Julius II, and the Medici family. Think, for a moment, how the great works of Michelangelo would have turned out if, by virtue of their financial support, either the Pope or the Medici family would have had decision power over the Pietà and David, two of the most awesome and awe-inspiring sculptures of the Western world, or the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome or The Last Judgment on the altar wall, two of the most awesome and awe-inspiring paintings/frescos of the Western world. Can you visualize the Medici family deciding the form of the limbs, the positions, the muscular structure of the sculptures, or the Pope insisting on his design for the art work or the colors used in the Sistine Chapel paintings? Again, the moral is the same: The possession of funds did not magically invest in either the Pope or the Medici family the knowledge base and expertise or abilities as to the enhancement of sculptures or paintings. Had they thought it did, it would have been a disaster!

Michelangelo-adam-version-hikingArtist

Source: Frits Ahlefeldt

Now, having built this case, let me come to the main point of this column (“finally,” I hear you saying): The government has decided to exercise tight controls over the IIMs, as it already does so for the IITs, though — who knows — more may come. I am respectfully, but strongly, opposed to these. It matters not if these are controls over the IITs or the IIMs, or whether they are old or new ones; to my mind the response is the same: Let the professionals do it. As I said of myself and the orphanage, “That is not my field, I have not spent one day of my life doing that job, and so I must trust those who have done this all their lives.”

In June of this year, I published a column in The Hindu on this topic , and here I excerpt only a few paragraphs:

Change is most dangerous when it is brought forth not because it is necessary but because someone simply has the power to initiate it and wishes to exercise this power. This seems to be the reason for the Human Resource Development Ministry’s proposal for an Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2015.

It is important to note that world-class institutions are not built based on the decisions of politicians, but by those within the institution — those who spend a lifetime in their respective fields and make important decisions concerning the functioning of the institution. This is especially because political parties and agendas come and go, and therefore their temporary presence should never be allowed to influence academic decisions and excellence.

The IIM Bill, in its present form, intends to take away that decision-making power from the hands of the very people who created these great institutions through decades of hard work. …

The question to be asked is: Is the government really interested in supporting and enhancing world-class institutions or does it want to engage in one more bureaucratic exercise? For the sake of India and its students, for the sake of corporate India, and for the sake of jobs and academic excellence, I plead with the government to abandon these initiatives.”

The government has decided to exercise tight controls over the IIMs, as it already does so for the IITs, though – who knows – more may come.  I am respectfully, but strongly, opposed to these.

I make the same argument for the IITs — particularly IIT Bombay, which has a truly global brand. The IITs too need to be free of government stranglehold.

No party in power (in India or the US or anywhere else) wants to accept that their “rule” will not last forever. But no rule does, and they should be careful what they wish for! It is a reality of life that no single party lasts forever, and no single party philosophy lasts forever. Let us consider a hypothetical government, under another political party which – just for the sake of argument, believes that a different economic or developmental policy is best for India. They may issue a policy directive that their philosophy is the only road to go on, and thereby no teaching or research espousing any other topic would be allowed! Government policy directives should never be allowed to trump academic freedom and intellectual thought.

And certainly, the relevant stakeholders including alumni, business and industry, employers, citizens, and yes, the government, should give their inputs.  But, the professionals should be the decision makers.

Certainly, neither the IITs nor the IIMs are perfect; all of us can improve ourselves. And certainly, the relevant stakeholders including alumni, business and industry, employers, citizens, and yes, the government, should give their inputs. But, the professionals should be the decision makers. Professionals and students/alumni built the brand and these wonderful institutions, not government bureaucrats. Their control of funding does not magically invest in them the knowledge base and expertise as to the enhancement of these institutions, any more than my having funds to share magically invests in me the knowledge base and expertise as to the enhancement of Balgram, or the Medici family and the Pope financially supporting Michelangelo magically invested in them the knowledge base and expertise as to the enhancement of some of the greatest works of art of all time.

If government insists on implementing its stranglehold, it would be the equivalent of an amateur’s scribbling on the Sistine Chapel, lasting for hundreds of years, for all the world to see, and wonder:

“What were those people thinking?”

4 comments

Sudhir Sharma, C'62, MetE, H1,3 January 24, 2016 - 3:40 am

Hi Beheruz, just finished reading your article and enjoyed it!! I don’t know who, besides the government bureaucrats, would disagree with your arguments against the government control on the direction of research or the future expansion/growth of IITs/IIMs just because they control the purse.That could stunt the growth of these great institutions. One can also argue that IITs have flourished in spite of government controls but maybe they could have done even better with total free hand given to IITs. But you will agree that in any case all these institutions need to work within a development frame work for the needs of the country.

Reply
The Role of the Government in Publicly-Funded Institutions: To what extent should the government be setting the agenda for activities of the institution or its faculty? – Fundamatics April 13, 2017 - 12:51 am

[…] the IITs and IIMs. I quote below some excerpts from that article, though I encourage you to read it […]

Reply
Sienna September 7, 2018 - 12:23 pm

Appreciation to my father who shared with me concerning this webpage, this blog is actually amazing.

Reply
DFWIM December 29, 2018 - 7:24 am

Thanks for every other magnificent post. The place else may
just anyone get that kind of information in such an ideal
method of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I’m on the look for such
info.

Reply

Leave a Comment