Very few academic organisations in India nurture or even tolerate academic leadership. By this term, I definitely do not mean academic administration, so perhaps I should explain what this term means to me.
An academic leader is one who:
- Is known as one of the experts in a certain subject area
- Has research interests in broad areas
- Has scholarship well beyond both these areas
- Questions and discusses various aspects of academic policy
- ... and so on
Readers will doubtless be aware of many examples which can provide a broad template.
However, I would like to add one further qualification. An academic leader should not be a person holding a managerial or administrative position. Part of the reason is that administration necessarily involves compromise and "pure" thought should be uncompromising. Similarly, a person within the managerial framework is generally unable to be unabashedly irreverant --- a quality that is essential if one is to ask all the "wrong" questions.
The problem seems to be that most potential academic leaders are either pushed into administrative roles or feel the need to occupy such posts. The guilt ("give back to the system", or "if you don't then who will" or "there are too few people of quality") that is laid thick onto anyone who meets the first three of the above criteria is one reason that many accept administrative roles (a good few probably regret this decision forever afterward!). Those who are involved with "big" (and by definition expensive) science and technology obviously cannot achieve their goals without donning the managerial hat. What about the thinkers and the tinkerers? A substantial number feel that their voice is not heard or perhaps even their minimal requirements are not met unless they "change the system from within"; a feeling that may even be justified in many cases! Another set are able to see clearly into the hollow-ness of some bombastic claims that lie within science (or education) policy and they wish to "enter the Augean stables to clean them".
A book for Software Engineers that I once read at my cousin's home said, "If you are still developing software at the age of 35, you may as well be dead". The implication being that a software engineer should aspire to be a manager or entrepreneur by that age. Are our academics also reading a version of the same book?
Here's to ivory towers and those who would like to reside in them!