June 12, 2013

Greatly enjoying Bangalore so far!


Bangalore has amazing energy...and weather. It has all the hallmarks of a city undergoing rapid growth; no matter what direction I head, going to meetings, there is an abundance of home furnishings, granite/stone, bathroom fixtures, etc. stores, car dealerships, real estate offices...and the plethora of luxury salons, boutiques, etc., suggests there is a good deal of wealth around.
Yesterday I had two meetings; in the first, the Director of the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, Pankaj Chandra, was kind enough to give me 2 and a half hours of his time. He has a lot of insight on educational issues, having served on a large number of government committees that have studied higher education and made recommendations, and he is a 4th generation academic, with some of his siblings and in laws  also academics, so he's got a long term perspective on the state of higher education in the country.
He came in to IIMB as director (in 2007, from a professorship at IIM Ahmedabad) with the intention of moving the institution to a new direction. He has therefore had a great deal of experience with effecting institutional change. A key component in his success sounds common sense, but can be easy to forget when you're pursuing an agenda; make sure you've got support from at least one key set of stakeholders. In the IIM system, the government, the board, and the faculty are the groups with power, and he spoke of working to make sure he had secured backing from at least one of these groups on any given change, particularly if another constituency was predicted to balk. By bringing in a new set of faculty, with high expectations for research performance (and hefty incentives both for research productivity and for excellent teaching), he managed to shift the culture to one where the expectation was that faculty would contribute both in research and teaching. He identified sorting out governance issues in universities as key to improving the overall system (not only the role of government but also role of director and faculty; apparently the model he inherited was one in which basically every form came to the director, the director sat on every hiring committee, and faculty were playing administrative roles that didn't require academics; like administering the dorms, etc. So he gave department chairs and deans more authority, and brought in administrative staff to free faculty time for research and teaching).
He also took me on a tour of their very lovely campus. The plants and trees that grow here are just spectacular- a lot of flowering shrubs, palm trees then also big old cool gnarly trees (sorry, clearly not a botanist!). The British past is also clearly evident in the architecture, and very much so at the Bangalore Club, where Professor Rajeev Gowda took me first for a meeting, then to have dinner with his family (including a sister-in-law and niece who live in Oklahoma City and are here visiting!). Prof. Gowda is the Director of the Center for Public Policy at IIMB, and also very politically engaged; he's currently serves as spokesperson for the Congress party (current president, prime minister, + abt half state governmetns), and working on his own campaign. We spoke a bit about his time at the University of Oklahoma, where he had been involved with an interdisiplinary environmental course (where he contributed policy expertise), and also about his teaching now; he leads a really cool course on "Understanding India" to ramp foreign scholars up to be able to at least grasp an Indian context for their further studies (I could have used it!). We also touched on his program for developing women leaders. His passion for politics, and developing policy instruments that can genuinely effect positive change was evident throughout our conversation.
Then we had a wonderful dinner, with wide ranging conversation...something that I have been missing as I generally eat my dinners here alone! It was wonderful just to meet his wife, teenage children, sister-in-law, and niece, and an interestingly different conversation on higher education, including the American system more from the perpective of soon-to-be college applicants and their parents. They were absolutely wonderful hosts, and it was fun to see the club. In addition to various animal heads and weapons on the walls (classic!) they had on display a ledger from the early decades of the club listing people who were late on their dues, including one  Lt. W.L.S. Churchill...