JEE and academia

This is (hopefully) a quick post I’m dashing off from the sidelines of the Basavanagudi aquatic Center where I’ve brought my daughter for her weekly swimming lessons

I write this as I’m reading Eric Hoel’s post on why he is leaving academia. Basically he talks about all the “extra curricular activities” that an academic nowadays needs to do. Reviewing journals, being on student bodies and the like.

The other reason he quotes is about how restrictive academia is – again because he is being evaluated on multiple dimensions, rather than simply on the quality of his research and teaching.

Given all of this, following four years as an assistant professor at tufts, he has chosen to quit academia full time and become a writer of newsletters. and he writes that “being an academic is not so easy any more”.

I was reminded of an old post I’d written about Indian and American universities. American universities admit students based on “a holistic set of factors”. So your test scores are important but so are your sports and charity work and 10 different kinds of extra curricular activities and all that.

Indian universities (at least the ones I went to) are far simpler – they admit solely on the basis of test scores.

After reading some articles on how the US admission process was producing highly homogeneous classrooms at universities, id written a few years back on how the Indian system rocked – because admissions were based on a single criterion, there was tremendous diversity jn the classrooms on all other criteria.

Now based on Hoel’s post I’m wondering if the same is true of teachers as well – the more the dimensions on which we evaluate professors for recruitment and tenureship, the more homogeneous the professorial class gets. Instead if we were to evaluate professors on narrowly defined conventional criteria (teaching and research) we’ll get a far more richer and diverse professors body.

This, however, is easier said than done. Quality of research is usually evaluated based on the quality and quantity of papers, and papers necessarily go through a peer review process.

And if your peers are all those who have succeeded in the “selected by holistic criteria” game, then you will have to conform to some of their biases to get good papers published.

All this said, I’m hopeful that in the next decade or so we will have a bunch of new and privately funded universities which Yale universities back tk what they used to be – centres of research and teaching , with professors selected on their credentials on these axes only, and a diverse body of students selected hopefully on a a small number of axes (such as test scores).

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