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Saturday, April 27, 2002

Consanguineous marriages were, and continue to be, a common practice among Indian families. Marriage partners were decided soon after the birth of the children. The families and the children were all mentally conditioned and nobody cared to think otherwise and the few who dared were ostracized. The offspring of such incestuous marriages were usually born with birth defects. Gradually over the decades, with education and exposure this practice has largely disappeared among the enlightened sections. But the bulk of our population still practices it due to sheer ignorance.

It is this same ignorance which is eating away at the vitals of our higher education system. This inbreeding is so routinely practiced in all our colleges and universities. Instead of looking outwards for Professors and Heads of Universities, we have very unacademic criteria for selection. We do not have independent search committees to scout for the best talent across the country. Very often we restrict ourselves to the state and worse to the University itself. How can we expect our universities to be seats of learning when people are chosen with the narrow outlook of caste and region and points are given because of political connections and not academic qualifications?

Because of the taboo against such inbreeding, in the West students graduating from colleges never consider looking for jobs even in the same town. Another college, a different philosophy, a new town – all these are things to look forward to. This open attitude contributes so much to their interaction with the students, enlarging their vision. This infusion of fresh blood contributes a great deal to the vitality of the institutes. Just as we never consider getting our child married to someone within the family however eligible the person is, so also the universities never think of appointing even their best products in their own schools. For instance, it is unthinkable for a student at Harvard or MIT to become a teacher at the same university. This simple principle of cross-fertilization of ideas has done wonders to these great universities. Whereas in our universities because of the detrimental selection methods, a candidate so selected is just not able to perform even to the best of his ability. All the selection factors of caste and region weigh heavily on them and affect their performance. They are always beholden to the powers that be for their continuing in office.

A Vice Chancellorship is a very prestigious but responsible office. And in the past many great personalities have held these high offices. Just a few minutes with VCs of recent times and you will not be surprised at the appalling condition of our Universities. With higher education in such doldrums how can we hope to improve our schools. It is these same products who become school teachers. In fact higher education should produce graduates who can provide leadership in all walks of life – professions, teaching, technology, management, administration and politics. Effete products of incestuous academic practices cannot provide solutions to our nation’s problems, in fact they become a big part of the problem.

Not all solutions to our problems involve no economic costs. Happily, appointing the best talent in academics is one such low-cost solution. We Hyderabadis are justly proud of our city’s reputation as a center of research and learning. Can we stop this academic inbreeding and seek the best talent to head our institutions of higher learning?

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