Outrage at bid to revoke PhD of IIT teacher

Move by IIT Kanpur panel has evoked global outrage

By Basant Kumar Mohanty in New Delhi
  • Published 5.04.19, 6:12 AM
  • Updated 5.04.19, 6:12 AM
  • 2 mins read
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The IIT Kanpur campus Source: Institute website

A recommendation by an IIT Kanpur panel to revoke the PhD of a Dalit teacher a year after he accused his seniors of caste bias has evoked global outrage.

Nearly 400 academics from India and 15 other countries, including Nobel laureates, have issued a statement in support of Subramanyam Saderla, who faces the threat of losing his doctorate over what IIT Kanpur’s ethics committee has described as “plagiarism of minor nature”.

Among the signatories are academics from institutions such as Brown University and Columbia University in the US, SOAS University of London and top science, technology and medical institutions in India.

IIT Kanpur’s senate, its top academic body, passed a resolution last month seeking revocation of Saderla’s PhD, awarded by the same institute four years ago. The tech school’s board of governors will meet on April 9 to accept or reject the senate recommendation.

Saderla had joined IIT Kanpur’s department of aerospace engineering as an assistant professor in January last year. In April that year, he complained to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes that he had faced caste discrimination during the interview and after he joined as a teacher.

He accused four senior upper-caste colleagues of passing remarks about his caste and social background. The board of governors found all four guilty in October.

The institute has punished three of them by denying them a year’s increment. By then, the fourth had been appointed director of another IIT by the President. IIT Kanpur has sought the President’s permission to act against him.

After the action against three teachers, the institute received an anonymous complaint of plagiarism relating to Saderla’s PhD thesis.

IIT Kanpur director Abhay Karandikar told The Telegraph that 10 to 15 pages of Saderla’s 260-page thesis had been copied from another thesis. But these pages were part of the introductory chapter and did not relate to Saderla’s own research.

The ethics committee asked Saderla to apologise and resubmit the material without the plagiarised content, which he has done. Before the revised content was sent to experts for evaluation, the matter went to the senate, which recommended that his PhD be revoked.

The Indian and foreign academics who have issued the statement want the institute to go by the ethics committee recommendation and act to create a healthy atmosphere for everyone on the campus.

“I don’t want anyone to be victimised,” Karandikar said. “If a few pages in the introductory chapter have been plagiarised, they should be resubmitted. The board of governors has the power to reject or accept the senate resolution.”

Dheeraj Singh, a former IIT Kanpur student and votary of social justice who is part of the global campaign for Saderla, said the institute had only four teachers from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

“When I was a student in 1999, faculty members used to openly say that Dalits were good for nothing. The situation is worse now; the environment has become more toxic,” Singh said.

P.S. Krishnan, an expert on reservation and social justice, has written to higher education secretary R. Subrahmanyam to intervene and prevent Saderla’s victimisation. He has also requested rigorous implementation of teacher quotas in the IITs and the IIMs.

Among the signatories to the global academics’ statement are American mathematician David Mumford, a Fields Medal winner, Indian physicist Ashoke Sen and information theorist Thomas Kailath.