What are the rules for hiring?

There is a matter of a suspense which should break by the time I come back for my next post. Here is the story. (Narrated, as usual, tortuously and at a length. (Don’t read if such posts turn you off.))

The mechanical engineering professors in the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, as you know, have been pitted against hiring of people with a background like mine: BE and MTech in Metallurgy; PhD in Mechanical. “You must have had at least one of the pre-PhD degrees in mechanical, why didn’t you?” they have been respectively saying and asking (in a probing manner).

Most people occupying the working of the faculty of engineering in this university these days, in fact have come not from the University of Pune (or the University of Poona) itself; they have come from other universities. Typically, they have come from Aurangabad, Amaravati, and Walchand—but not from IITs or IISc or the better ranked universities in the UK/USA.

In my experience (i.e. with the exception of the late Prof. Dr. S. R. Kajale, who did have has UG degree from Amaravati), all of them carry faulty notions about the traditions at this university. In the Pune (or Poona) University, these professors have tried to explain to me, in a tone consisting of a feeling of an utmost certainty as arising from a superior educational experience, the ordinary exasperation arising after not being understood, an abstract projection of an abstract feeling for the acute concerns of the jobless-ness of the person sitting across the table, as well as, all in all, a very definite sense of their own unquestionably high moral and intellectual superiority, that there always has been this policy. [They have never felt it necessary to enjoin in their comment their own experiences or knowledge of their undergraduate universities/colleges. They were in the University of Pune, they knew what they were talking about, the matter ended there, as far they were concerned.]

Wrong. Factually wrong.

The other universities might have historically had this problem, but not the University of Pune (i.e., barring a few well-known personality-related issues concerning the Mechanical and Metallurgy Departments at COEP—the only engineering college this university had, for a long time).

IIT Bombay (with a heavy institutional-cultural influence of the Russians that lasted for too long a time) also have had this problem (concerning branch-“jumping”) but rather in an off and on manner; the University of Mumbai, to my knowledge, never (not at least concerning the specific branches of Metallurgy and Mechanical).

IIT Bombay did have this problem in the mid-1970s; they were against this particular branch jumping (even while promoting their interdisciplinary research centers). Then, during the mid-1980s, they didn’t have this problem. (I could have got an MTech in Mechanical Engineering at IIT Bombay (I had enough of a GATE score to be competitive back then); it’s just that I chose not to pursue anything at this IIT—this IIT was too strong on hype and too low on the academic freedom to the student concerning mixing courses from different departments.) Then, over a period of time, by the time I was applying for PhD admissions during the early naughties, IIT Bombay had once again gone back to having a problem about branch-“jumping”. I don’t know which way blows the wind of their whims, as of today.

So, historically, other universities might have had problems with “branch-jumping,” but not so, for a long time, the University of Poona/Pune. Certainly not before the people from Amaravati, Aurangabad, Shivaji etc. began rushing in to fill the ranks of professorships, in this university. (Surprisingly, the University of Mumbai carried on their more liberal policies concerning the metallurgy and mechanical branches, despite a similar trend of demographics occurring also at its affiliating colleges; I don’t know the reason why. It’s possible that they, too, weren’t being too liberal; it was just that they didn’t have a separate branch of Metallurgy, and so, the issue of the turf-battles and the academic self-inflations of the Mechanical departments, never arose.)

In contrast, COEP and University of Poona actually had no issue admitting BE Metallurgy graduates to the ME Mechanical program—the only requirement was a first class at BE Metallurgy. (And, a higher second, if the BE was in Mechanical itself. Also, vice-versa: For ME in Metallurgy, a first class would be required from the BE Mechanical graduates, and a higher-second from BE Metallurgy graduates.)

How do I know? Because I myself had taken admission to ME Mechanical program at COEP once, back in 1989/1990 (I have forgotten precisely when). Having decided to pursue computational mechanics, I had taken admission to ME Mechanical at COEP, just as a fall-back option to my US applications, back then, I think. And, yes, even back then, I was interested only in computational mechanics. I had just an interest, no real idea of what all this sub-field involves. I in fact didn’t even know programming at that time. But, by that time, I had already spent 1.5 years on the IIT Madras campus, gotten some idea about FEM and computational modeling, and after spending some time in industry now had come to realize that computational mechanics was the field of my life’s calling. That’s how, I had taken an admission in the Mechanical department.

Actually, I had forgotten about it—I mean this admission of mine. I was reminded of it when, starting mid-2002, I tried to get admission at COEP, now for a PhD in Mechanical (with a thesis in computational mechanics, on a topic of my choice).

By the time it was April 2003, after having going through 12+ guides (all of who declined to be my official guide), and after having been declined by IIT Bombay (for branch-jumping issue), I finally was accepted by a professor at COEP. And then, the then director of COEP, Ashok Ghatol, kept my application in abeyance for more than six months.

During this time, one day in mid-2003—mid-2004, I received a letter from the COEP library threatening me with a legal action. The letter said that if I didn’t return the books I had borrowed, I would face action by the police. Yes, police, it had explicitly mentioned. The letter was delivered not by ordinary post (the way such letters usually are), and in fact not even by registered post (with the acknowledgment-due slip), but, as far as I remember it, by SpeedPost. Further, it noted that until the matter was legally resolved, I would be barred from many things such as: issuance of any certificate from COEP, applying for a job at COEP, and applying for admission for any further studies at COEP.

I first went through the collection of my books to locate this book, but couldn’t find it. (I in fact didn’t even recognize the book by its title, back then.) Until 1990 (when I went to the USA, and so, some of my habits here broke away), I would keep an excellent record for all the books I had. The book mentioned in the letter was not there in this list. (I would maintain this list in an old 80-page notebook, not in a PC database.) So, I visited the COEP library to figure out the issue. After some four/five visits to the administration building and the library on some six/seven separate days, I finally gathered that the book was supposedly issued to me not when I was a BE student, but when I was an ME student there!

Oh yes! Then the bulb lit up!! I was once a student of ME (Mechanical), at COEP! I had never attended a single class, but I had officially registered for the program, anyway.

Ashok Ghatol, the Director of COEP in 2003–04, it would seem, was being very conscientious. How else could the administration of my alma mater wake up about this library book only now—after a few months after my acceptance by a PhD guide? After all, as far as this library book went, they had never sent a single letter any single time over the earlier 12+ years. But, looking at my PhD application with this guide, they did somehow think of it. Conscientious, nay, very, very conscientious, COEP had turned, in the decade+ time that had elapsed when I was a student here last (in 1989/90).

As would be very easy for anyone to predict, it turned out that the record of the books borrowed by me were, indeed, very meticulously kept also in the COEP library. However, the signature for the last entry on my reader’s card—the entry for the un-returned book—was not mine. It did look somewhat like mine, but it wasn’t actually mine. At least I had a hard time identifying it as my signature. I could convince the library folks about my doubt, but only after not only repeatedly signing in their presence but also bringing and showing my passport to them. Finally, they yielded, and acknowledged the possibility of the existence of a doubt.

But what/who was the source of this extra line? I don’t know. I still don’t. But no, I didn’t even think of accusing the COEP folks with any malpractice. A far more likely possibility here was that some other student (say one of my co-students at ME, or, friends in the Metallurgy department, or a student whose ME project I had informally guided in the late 80s—he had won a University Gold Medal for that project) might have borrowed my library card, and might have used it to borrow a book for their use. (This used to be a common practice at COEP. The number of books to refer could easily exceed the number of books allowed. So, people would freely use each other’s cards, often without knowledge of which book had been checked out on one’s name.) And then, probably, he had forgotten to return the book. Possible. And, of course, there could be other possibilities, too; I don’t know. (The book was not on a topic of one of my own interests back then—viz. computational mechanics.)

Anyway, even as I became very well aware of Ghatol’s utmost conscientiousness by this time, I also, by this time, was a sufficiently grown up educated Indian to be well aware of the way that Indian governments work. I would be asked to pay a fine, I was sure. And the fine, I was sure, would be within a few hundred rupees. It would have to be only a fine, not a book-replacement. Two reasons: (i) There would no possibility of book-replacement for the COEP library. The missing book, I think, was an old one, and so the possibility of finding a replacement was remote. Further, this being a government college, a policy of book-replacement would, in principle, go against the policy of procurement of any of the library holdings only in the bulk and only by the college itself, not by a student, and only from one of the approved list of book vendors. (ii) The rules for the fine would refer only to the original cost, not to the current market price, or the price arrived at after accounting for inflation. The settlement of issues via the latter route would not only violate the principle behind the procurement policy, but it would also require making a reference to the State Accounting and Finance Department in Mumbai, and there in fact would be no precedent or a policy on how to make this reference—none would even know what category the outward register’s entry should note.

I didn’t divulge the above two reasons to the COEP staff; I merely let them decide. Of course, it took a few visits to the COEP library and the main administration block, before the whole issue could be settled. The end result was, I ended up paying a fine, I think an amount less than Rs. 500. (Yes, I had to write an application, get it endorsed from two different people each in the administration block and the library, fill four copies of the challan, get them endorsed, and then go to that World Famous branch of the SBI on the COEP campus, to make the payment of this fine.) But yes, this part of the institutional objection against my PhD admission was, thereby, cleared.

[I had shown my willingness to get them a replacement copy, but this request of mine was politely declined. Apart from that feeling of guilt (who knows, had I checked that book myself and signed in a hurry?), it anyway would have been the fastest action towards properly closing the issue. Naturally, I was requesting them to let me see if I can find a replacement for the book. But they said no. Apart from the procurement policy, they were well aware that books do undergo change over editions. And, they were sure, that “the government” would always be able to find some way to source the replacement of the same edition as lost, some time later, according to its proper procedures. (I don’t know, but it is possible, that they had another copy of the same book with them anyway, stored sufficiently out of the reach of any student(s).) On the other hand, a patiently and friendly talking Distinction Class alumnus’ PhD admission could not now be held in abeyance forever, in their better judgment. Also, in their judgment, sufficient time had elapsed that even the most conscientious of the most conscientious Director could not point an accusing finger in their direction, should the matter ever come up for a review. Quite a few months (could be more than six months) had elapsed since my PhD admission application had gone in, and questions from the other side could also be raised: why had this issue come up only now, after 12+ years? Wouldn’t conscientiousness also go in the other direction? So, they let me go with a fine. Exactly as I had predicted, while explaining the matter several months earlier, to my mother. (She was unnecessarily aghast, once she read this mention of the police, on that letter.)]

But of course, obtaining the library clearance took sufficiently long time that, COEP, under Ashok Ghatol, had in the meanwhile revised the list of Emeritus Professors in the Mechanical Engineering Department, and thusly, the only guide who had accepted me as a PhD student (after a search for a guide lasting for one year and going over 12+ guides), was now denied a continuation of his Emeritus Professorship. He was declined an extension at COEP despite his having retired from COEP as a HoD, despite his being active in the field of education—including being on the board of an NIT, and despite the national level Fellowship which he had at the same time been granted by the UGC/AICTE at New Delhi. He still was declined an Emeritus Professorship. With no active professor at COEP available for guidance (it would be some months before I would approach Prof. Kajale), the matter had come back to square one at COEP.

BTW, in case you don’t know, the current dean of the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, Gajanan Kharate, has done his PhD under the guidance of Ashok Ghatol.

But of course it would be too much to expect that Gajanan Kharate could possibly be aware of the kind of institutional memory that the institutions under the University of Pune are capable of keeping: being aware of such possibilities requires a finer and longer experience with institutions in general.

Therefore, it would be too much to expect of him that the same University where he currently is the Dean, would, as recently as in 1990, in fact allow the mixing of the metallurgy and mechanical branches—even at the ME level, not just the PhD level (where the rules are anyway more relaxed).

This better practice was stopped only some time later, roughly around the same time that the IIT Bombay changed its whims in their regularly irregular course. It was the same time during which the hoards of the even more enlightened souls from the Amaravati, Aurangabad, and Walchand/Shivaji universities (but not those from IISc or IITs or foreign universities) had joined the ranks of the Approved Professors at the University of Pune. It was also the same time during which COEP’s name was slapped with the “Government” prefix, to make it fall in line with the similar Government-run colleges elsewhere in the state. If COEP had later dared to drop this part of its moniker (which, too, happened during this same period), then its alumni couldn’t possibly be relied upon to know about the better practices concerning engineering education elsewhere. Conscientiousness would be a key value to keep, especially during those troubled post-liberalization times, and especially in respect of the more exceptional ones among the COEP alumni—at least those who thought of themselves as being exceptional, anyway.

Now, cutting to the present, as far as this branch-“jumping” issue goes, there were many people wanting to go back to the (somewhat) better times, of course. (I know of at least one past Dean of Engineering of the University of Pune who did. In fact, two.)

Some other people were really not aware of the better times, but they simply faced the practical inconvenience of not getting a Government Job, and so were trying very hard to persuade both the university as well as the state government. The Maharashtra state government could only be sensitive to the representations if these were made in a democratic manner, and it would only be willing to review the mere technicalities involved, but of course, according to its own time-table—as a part of its ongoing Plans for a further expansion of the state expenditure.

Thus, while the efforts of these other people at the Savitribai Phule University of Pune didn’t at all bear fruit—I suspect that something other than conscientiousness might have come in their way—their tenacious representations to the state government certainly did. Over a period of some three years (give or take a few), the Mantraalaya finally did come to the point of concluding its ongoing reviews, and thus come to the point of issuing a GR.

It was thus that, in mid-2014, the Maharashtra State government came out with a GR affirming certain new eligibility criteria for the hiring of professors in the Government-run colleges in the state, as well as for the non-aided colleges in the state. These new criteria included allowing the graduates of the production, metallurgy and materials science branches (as also certain other new branches such as CAD/CAM, CFD, etc.) to become (full) Professors of Mechanical Engineering, if the candidate also had his PhD in Mechanical. (If he has a PhD, but if his PhD is not in Mechanical, the candidate now can still be hired, but he can now become only an Associate Professor, not a Full Professor. But at least, he can now get a job in any university falling under the jurisdiction of the Maharashtra State, now. More importantly, he can get a Government Job.) Including at the very highly conscientious university that is the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, Pune.

The GR had come out in the mid-2014. However, I didn’t know about this development. In the University of Mumbai, none was aware. None of my numerous friends (more than 10) working as Professors, HoDs, and Principals, in the private engineering colleges in the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, knew about it. Not a single one of them. And, Gajanan Kharate, even if he sure would be aware of the development, did not clarify the matter in response to the emails I sent (keeping him on the cc field for my application for a Principal’s position). In fact, he sent no replies at all—not even to the other email I wrote; this email was addressed to my friend’s friend (and a COEP alumnus), one who is a Principal at one of the (better) engineering colleges in Pune, and whose ad I was responding to. The Dean didn’t deem it fit to clarify the matter to a Principal of a leading engineering institute in Pune.

So, how did I come to know about the GR?

Only by accident, and only around mid-June 2015, i.e. one full year after it had originally been issued, while idling browsing the Web site of COEP. … You see, I have been looking for an opportune time to show them—the current COEP professors—down, and so, I sometimes do check out their Web site, esp. their recruitment section. For their latest recruitment advertisement, COEP had now put up this GR on their Web site. That’s how I came to know of it.

But, by this time—mid-June 2015—professors’ posts at the leading colleges in Pune had already been filled. (I saw all their advertisements in the Pune papers during April and May, but ignored all of these, concentrating my efforts instead only on the colleges in the better run University of Mumbai, because Mumbai had no issue concerning the metallurgy-to-mechanical branch-“jumping.”)

Anyway, the point is that after mid-June, I began applying to (and indeed also sporadically interviewing at) the private engineering colleges affiliated to the Savitribai Phule University of Pune.

The current status is that chances are high that I would get a job offer at at least one engineering college in Pune. I have been offered a position by phone and I have confirmed my acceptance by phone, but I have not received the offer by email. Once the latter happens, I will update this post when that happens.

I also want to see if this blog post goes against my getting that job offer (or any other job offer). No, not exactly for fun, but I do want to do that. … It’s just me, you know… I am just so talkative. And, readative. And, also, writative. Blogative, in fact. … I just can’t help blogging…. And so, it’s quite natural to want to see if (my) blogging habits come in the way of (my) getting job offer(s). Check back for any updates concerning this aspect.

Update on the same day (2015.08.11, 5:30 PM): Yes, I have received the job offer by email. I should be joining the college right this week. More, later. [The section on a song I like has returned immediately, however; check out below.]


[Some editing, as usual, is due, and I may effect it, but I am not in a hurry. Done. I may go out of town for something other than the job-related matters, too, in the meanwhile…. Either visit a friend, or go on a short trip driving in the mountains, or something like that… Check back after a couple of days…]


A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “ashkon ne jo paayaa hai …”
Singer: Talat Mahmood
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Music: N. Dutta