Ranjith, appointed in IIM Ranchi, was rejected by Calicut University

No state or central university in Kerala or India ever put out a notification without mentioning the reservation for the posts, said Rasheed Ahmed, a syndicate member of the university.
Ranjith R
Ranjith R

KASARAGOD: Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac’s winsome words for economist Ranjith R for getting selected as an assistant professor in IIM Ranchi have blown up as a PR disaster for the LDF government and put the spotlight back on the nepotism and favouritism in the state’s university appointments.

Isaac compared Ranjith (28) — a PhD in economics and a member of the Marathi Scheduled Tribe community — to former President K R Narayanan for showing extraordinary willpower to overcome the social and economic hardship to get into the elite Indian Institute of Management as a faculty member.

But the reactions to the post were brutally sharp. “Those who diced him down are now applauding him,” wrote Kasaragod MP and Congress leader Rajmohan Unnithan on Facebook. Ranjith’s appointment to IIM Ranchi is a gift of time to the Left Syndicate of Calicut University which denied him the post of assistant professor despite being fourth in the rank list, he wrote.

Ranjith, a member of the Marathi Schedule Tribe community, told TNIE that Calicut University called for applications to four posts of assistant professor in December 2019 and the interviews were held in January 2021. “The university went ahead and made the appointments without even publishing the rank list or revealing the reservation roster,” he said.

No state or central university in Kerala or India ever put out a notification without mentioning the reservation for the posts, said Rasheed Ahmed, a syndicate member of the university.

“If Isaac was sincere in his appreciation for Ranjith, he should press the government to cancel the appointments made at Calicut University, and initiate action against the vice-chancellor and others responsible for sabotaging the recruitment process,” said the Kerala Private College Teachers’ Association in a statement.

Twenty candidates who attended the interviews had other serious complaints. Two days after the interview, they had written a letter to vice-chancellor M K Jayaraj questioning the integrity of the interview board and alleging favouritism.

They said a majority of the members on the board were faculty members from neighbouring universities when there were premier institutes in Kerala and neighbouring states. They alleged one of the candidates was the PhD student of a member of the board, and she had worked as a guest lecturer with the professor for another 10 years.

When the appointments were made, the said candidate — who had just two publications co-authored by her guide — was one of them. “In 2019, she appeared for an interview for the post of a guest lecturer in the same department, and was down in the rank list. In 2021, for a regular post, she was second in the list,” said a candidate.

Candidates and officials who spoke to TNIE said 65 persons attended the interview and the university prepared a rank list of 35 candidates. The CV of the 35th candidate far exceeds the CV of the first two rank holders. Both the CVs are doing rounds in social media. Two candidates — Nirmal Roy V P and Sumalatha B S — have publications in the ‘Economic and Political Weekly’, a premier peer-reviewed journal.
Lagesh M A, another candidate, had developed his own statistical tool when usually economists just use tools developed by others, said a candidate. He has several publications in Indian's top peer-reviewed Journal of Quantitative Economics. But Lagesh was ranked ninth in the list. “Ranjith is just one example which got highlighted because he got into IIM. But there were brilliant candidates who were downgraded to appoint candidates with connections,” said the official.

John Matthai's legacy

The Calicut University's Department of Economics is run from the ancestral house of India’s second finance minister and first-generation economist Dr John Matthai. But today, the department's head is just an assistant professor though the department has a professor in K V Ramachandran, a Scheduled Caste faculty member. In the interview to select assistant professor, Ramachandran was not even invited but the HoD was on the interview board.

“According to UGC rules, only a professor or an associate professor can be the head of the department. But Calicut University does everything with impunity,” he said. In the 2020-2021 budget, the finance minister set aside Rs 3 crore to renovate the house of Dr Matthai and convert it into a National Legacy Centre in memory of first-generation economists such as K N Rajan, P J Thomas, V R Pillai, and Padmanabhan Pillai. “Assistant professors are an investment universities make for 20 to 25 years. I am not sure if this is the kind of legacy Dr Isaac had in mind,” he said.

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