The Portrait of our Professors
These are hard times, my friend, very hard times…. It’s tough to keep a stiff upper lip when bad news dribbles through the air like a stench from an overflowing gutter. Why, even the newspaper boy –an oft-quoted symbol of optimism, is seeing his smile curl into a frown. The daily burden of delivering news of nothing but Chinese cockiness, American apprehension and Indian idiocy is rapidly draining his spirits. Likewise, morale in other fields of human endeavour has drifted into a fog of despondency.
IIM professors, for example, have long been tirelessly fretting and fuming about ‘the system’. They have now been reduced to wringing their hands in despair. The burgeoning population of classrooms has finally crowned teaching as the most thankless and nerve-wracking job. Salaries have stubbornly refused to march with inflation. And when the professor enters a public debate, it is like an innocent child with smelly feet entering a small, crowded room. People freeze, turn their heads, forget all their troubles and pounce on the poor thing with relish. Professors cannot hide. Their excuses and extenuating circumstances (based on lousy pay, pesky students and distractingly beautiful academic assistants) are to no avail.
Sad and true, but beside the point. I hardly question a professor’s contribution. In fact, the professor in an ancient avatar as teacher had performed a great public service (she was the comely lady who had introduced you to puberty). Then again, in a more repulsive avatar as Physical Education Instructor, he was the first to show you that fear was not just an abstract concept – it was a tangible thing, by making you pee in your pants in anticipated punishment. Professors deserve to be understood before the guns of public opinion are trained on them.
This is an attempt to interpret rather than judge the IIM professor. For that, I’ll fall back on an old trick- a 2×2 matrix, a well-meaning mathematical device whose noble intentions have been derailed by MBA’s to present themselves in a ‘structured manner’.
Here we go – Let’s measure competence (which depends on subject knowledge and ‘teaching skills’) on one dimension, and a penchant for violence on the other. This being B-school, violence has graduated to the verbal variety, although a primitive assertion of physical force cannot be ruled out.
Hmm…..now, where were we…., aah, yeah, there you have it, four little professors in four neat little quadrants.
1. Enfant Terrible!:- Members of this breed are known to be extremely dangerous and volatile. They are a combustible mix of a sharp, scheming mind and an insatiable thirst to conquer, dominate, and stamp their foot down the throat of humanity. While their conceptual clarity and teaching skills are unquestioned, their social skills haven’t progressed beyond those of a three-year-old. Due to a general lack of companionship and other civilizing influences, they might, in the wink of an eye, swing from inspirational genius to childish petulance. One such professor was expounding on a case with such characteristic passion, when he heard the annoying sound of a student popping his knuckles. This was enough to bring the case discussion to a screeching halt and send the professor lurching into a wild tirade against the current generation.
Important: Not all these professors are very competent. Some cunningly use intimidation as a tool to convince us about their competence, like this. Our eagerness to mistake eccentricity for genius does the rest.
2. Superstars:- The most admired and widely respected breed. These professors are endowed with sage-like wisdom and serene temperament. They impart knowledge in the delightful language of wit and sarcasm (delightful if you are not the subject). They will react sportingly, even if you miss your submissions or arrive late to class. Many a relationship of unwavering loyalty between boy and girl has been wilfully wrecked to attend these sessions peacefully. Hence, these professors enjoy iconic status as “stud profs.” Mostly their vitriolic remarks are reserved for ‘the system’ – not any specific entity, but a broad term applied to any evil of modern society.
3. A Man’s best friend:- Well, these blokes are far from competent, but they manage to partially redeem themselves by giving you a free rein in their classes. Although not ‘stud profs’; they still make the cut as ‘chill profs’. Their sessions are a good time to begin long-pending assignments, catch up with friends and gossips, plan picnics, and beef up your stocks portfolio. If you have had a long night, these sessions are ideal to slump into a snooze before you return to the daily rigours of dancing and getting drunk.
4. Jerks!: -. No scorn heaped, neither any curses hurled, nor fifty gallons of boiling oil poured on this breed would be an unwarranted act. It comprises, needless to say, some of the most despised people alive. Suffering from a profound ignorance of their subject, as well as an inferiority complex from within, they retreat into the protective arms of formal authority to exact revenge on students who expose their ignorance. Moments into the very first lecture, a trivial argument explodes to set a mood of active hostility. Professor and students bicker and brawl in a protracted bout, trading vicious punches, until the ceasefire whistle is blown in the last lecture. These chumps make you doubt if the B-school experience was worth it.
Honourable mentions (could not be plotted on a matrix 🙁 )
Specious Loafers:- No profession is without its share of specious loafers, people who pretend to be sincere and slyly make pots of money without having any recognizable talents. Teaching is the same. You constantly find people making unverifiable or plainly bogus claims with a fraudulent air of scientific rigour. To make it big here, it is advisable that you specialize in something truly specious, like ehrmm…..communication skills or people management or some faddish strain of marketing. That is not to say that those fields are unimportant, the first two are actually more important than most, but the knowledge and methods applied there are conveniently vague, and it might be possible to succeed, armed with nothing more than –
- a nice suit & tie,
- spectacles(for scholarly effect),
- a smooth way with the ladies,
- an ability to network upwards.
– Shyam Sunder Ramakrishnan
(Shyam Sunder Ramakrishnan is amongst the rare breed at an IIM whose variety of talents stretch beyond what is considered as normal. Ranker, Musician, Sportsman, Writer and an extra-ordinary friend – Shyam Sunder Ramakrishnan is all this and more rolled into one. InsideIIM is privileged to have him on board SSRK is an alumnus of IIM Indore – Class of 2011 and currently works with Cognizant Business Consulting)