IIIT-Delhi (www.iiitd.ac.in) has had some early success in recruiting good faculty. Reflecting on what has made it feasible, I have identified a few insights, which I think can be useful to other Institutions as well:

  • Recruitment should largely be the responsibility of the person who is administratively closest to the faculty being recruited. The farther the recruitment decisions are from the unit for which the faculty is being recruited, the less the chances of attracting good people. In a small Institute like IIIT-Delhi, the Director can and should directly handle recruitment. However, for larger Institutions, having the Head of the Institution responsible for recruitment is not suitable as the people responsible for recruitment will have much lesser stake in it. In India, even in institutes like IITs, the recruitment process is centralized, and is the responsibility of the Institute (the Director and the corresponding Dean) and not that of the Department for which the faculty has to be recruited. Consequently, the departments and their Heads often do not feel the responsibility or the need to be very proactive for recruitment – making attracting good candidates harder. In the US, it is the academic Department which is mostly responsible for recruitment (within the lines given to it) – this decentralized model is far more scalable and responsive and that is why the US universities, despite being among the largest in the world, are able to respond quickly and compete for the best faculty.
    There is a more direct implication for those Institutions in India that rely on another agencies like UPSC for faculty recruitment  – they should not even dream of attracting good faculty – if they can get decent teachers they should be thankful. (This lesson is perhaps for the Government, which still requires for some Institutions recruitment to be done through UPSC).
  • While having good compensation is important, perhaps even necessary, it is clearly not sufficient to attract good faculty. Good people never come for compensation alone. Besides creating an exciting environment in which good people can realize their potential, as argued above, it is also extremely important to have a vision and articulate it to the prospective candidates, along with what the Institution is doing to achieve the vision. Here also, I believe, academia in India has often not risen to the expectation – while salary differentials have been highlighted and lobbied for, not very serious attempts have been made by established Institutes to have some shared vision/mission/goals,  and when some vision is stated, actions/plans to achieve them are not shown, making the vision statement mere words.
  • It is important for the Institute to woo prospective faculty, and make them feel wanted and desired – something that is traditionally not done in Indian Institutions who mostly believe that the good candidates will and must come to them. In fact, many take it as a matter of pride that they “don’t run after candidates”. Top candidates are hard to get and proactive approach of getting them can help. However, at the same time, it is important not to shorten/bypass the process even for good candidates – they must demonstrate that they pass through all the filters in the recruitment process. This last point is important as otherwise they may not respect the Institution if they feel that they are bigger than the Institution.
  • While opportunistic approaches for recruiting faculty  (i.e. get the best people from those who apply) are necessary in India, as the number of applications may be less in many areas like the CS. However, a proactive and planned approach for building some area can also work – it sends out messages that do attract some people. In other words, it is best to have a combination of opportunistic and planned recruitment for faculty.
  • Recruitment with focus toward building groups can help, both in recruitment as well as in keeping faculty productive. That is, instead of breadth to cover all areas, a better strategy is to have groups in fewer areas. Often Institutes go for the former approach, concerned about the education imperatives. This approach clearly relegates research to a secondary position, and the message is not lost on recruited faculty. Interestingly, as it turns out, the latter approach of building groups in a few areas can also serves the education needs quite easily – competent people can always teach the main core courses of a discipline, and so “covering” them is really not an issue that one should be too worried about.
  • Finally, for an academic Institution it is important for the Director or Head to be a respectable academician him/herself. I believe without this the moral authority of the Head to expect and demand more is severely eroded.  Unless the Institution Head is comfortable with excellence and has confidence in his/her credentials as an academic, he/she will neither attract nor even be comfortable in attracting, the best talent (“an A hires an A, a B hires a C”). Reliance on the position/title for authority is not always sufficient in academics/R&D. Implication for those who aspire to become Director sometime: build your academic reputation – it will help a lot later.