The IIT-Kanpur (IIT-K) Senate has recommended cancelling the PhD dissertation of a Dalit teacher, who had complained of harassment and discrimination by four colleagues last year, on allegations of plagiarism, although the institute’s Academic Ethics Cell had found “no reason to revoke the thesis”.
The charges of plagiarism against Subrahmanyam Sadrela were made in an anonymous email sent to several faculty members on October 15, 2018 — two months after an inquiry by a retired High Court judge found the four teachers guilty of violating the conduct rules of IIT-K and the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
The Senate’s recommendation is expected to be placed before the institute’s Board of Governors (BoG) soon. The Senate is the highest decision-making body of IIT-Kanpur on academic matters and comprises all faculty members. It is headed by the institute director.
If the BoG accepts the resolution, Sadrela’s PhD will be withdrawn, which could result in him losing his job at IIT-Kanpur. Sadrela did his BTech from the Institute of Aeronautical Engineering affiliated to Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in Hyderabad, and his MTech and PhD from IIT-Kanpur.
Sadrela, who joined the Department of Aerospace Engineering at IIT-Kanpur on January 1, 2018, had accused four of his colleagues at the institute of discrimination and harassment on January 12, 2018. A three-member fact-finding committee, set up subsequently by the IIT-K director, had found the four guilty of harassment in its report submitted on March 8, 2018.
A subsequent enquiry by a retired Allahabad High Court judge, undertaken at the behest of the BoG, also found the accused teachers to be at fault in the report submitted on August 17, 2018. The findings were discussed in a BoG meeting on September 6, 2018 — the Board decided that the accused teachers had violated conduct rules but not the SC/ST Act.
On November 18, 2018, Sadrela had filed an FIR against the teachers, which was stayed by the Allahabad High Court.
The anonymous complaint against Sadrela had alleged that parts of his PhD thesis — on parameter estimation of unmanned aerial vehicles using flight test data at low and high angles of attack — were “plagiarised” from works of three other people.
The complaint was referred by IIT-Kanpur director Abhay Karandikar to the Academic Ethics Cell for enquiry, which found that the complaint was “prima-facie correct”.
However, the nine-member Ethics Cell’s report, submitted last November, said: “…there is no allegation of plagiarism with regards to the scholar’s research work comprising his creative and technical part of the dissertation, including, detailed experiments, tables, figures and the conclusions drawn from them. Thus the only instances of copying are restricted to certain introductory passages in several chapters and mathematical basics and preliminaries.”
It said that “the committee felt that it would not be proposed to consider revocation of the thesis”. It recommended that Sadrela rewrite the passages in question in his own words and submit an updated thesis in a month, and tender an apology letter to the institute director for his “misdemeanour”.
However, when these recommendations were placed in the meeting of the Senate on March 14, it voted to have Sadrela’s PhD revoked.
Professor Sumit Ganguly, who heads the Academic Ethics Cell of IIT-Kanpur, did not wish to comment on the matter. Karandikar, the institute director, did not respond to requests for comment from The Indian Express last week. He replied to an SMS Sunday saying he is travelling abroad.
“I have responded to the report of the Ethics Cell. As recommended (by the Ethics Cell), I have said sorry for the unintentional mistakes and also revised the introductory part of my thesis and resubmitted it. I got to know of the Senate’s resolution (to revoke my thesis) recently,” Sadrela said.
Defending his thesis, Sadrela said the similarities found were only in the introductory parts. “Literature survey is usually common. Only in the literature survey, the appendix and equations of motion, an overlap has been found. But these are standard procedures and overlap is common,” he said.
“In my introduction, I have credited authors for work done in the past. My research is of 300 pages, of which 12 to 13 pages of introduction are under the scanner. Nobody has questioned my research and my findings, which are original. The recommendation to revoke my thesis is only a ploy to torture me,” Sadrela said.