This article is going to be published in the forthcoming edition of The Fourth Estate.
Returning from a boring physics class, in my first year, I found a bevy of my batch mates assembled near the notice board. The centre of their attraction was a list. The list of students who had to compulsorily take up the English O Level course. Knowing perfectly well that I, with my above average communication skills, would never be placed in this list, I coolly started going through it, looking for familiar names. As I went through the list, my passivity started giving way to bafflement, which in its turn made space for franticness as I slowly, but surely, started realizing that the names on the list had no humanely perceivable relation with one’s communication skills. The fact that most of the ‘listed’ names, never required a basic level English course and many others who did require were not in the list made one wonder about the basis to select these hundred odd students. Especially when the English workbook that we were supposed to complete and submit during our admission was never asked for and surely it was not possible that they chose all those names from a harmless looking bio-data form that they had asked us to fill where the only instance when one needed to string sentences together was while answering a Write-five-sentences-about-yourself question.
Little did I or the hundred odd black listed names envisage then that this list was destined to cause a furore in the institute after exactly one and half years, during the elections. But, I did realize something that day.
God doesn’t play dice with the universe, but, IIT Madras administration sure does.
And this realization of mine has only been strengthened ever since, thanks to a string of unwarranted administrative actions/decisions which on some occasions reflect the over enthusiasm on the part of administrators who at least seem to have their hearts at right places, and on some other occasions makes one question whether they have a heart at all.
One of the decisions, whose driving logic, I have never managed to fathom is the need to build a centralized mess facility when the hostel messes were already running smoothly. Central cooking facility, low transportation charges, competitions among caterers were some terms that kept floating during that time. But, I don’t understand how any kind of monetary saving or cost cuts can justify the amount spent on the mammoth structure that we call
But, an instance where poll was taken was when widespread ire on the service and quality of food at Minar was sensed. But, after eighty percent of students voted for removal of Minar, this poll results were simply ignored and the issue was coolly forgotten. If it was not possible to remove Minar for contractual/legal reasons, then why was the poll taken at all and why were the students not informed about the reasons behind the administrative inaction to their verdict are just some of the many questions that remained unanswered. Rumour mills have it that Minar was spared of the axe due to the satisfactory comments in their suggestion book. But, surely an idea of considering the rarely used suggestion book that can be easily tampered with as a better mandate of students opinion than the poll conducted is an idea that is, probably, too preposterous for even our Admin Block to harbor. Or is it? We will never know.
But, what we do know, is the reason behind an Administrative decision that baffled many in the beginning of this academic year. This time it was the hostel administration which to everyone’s surprise, allotted hostels to first year students in a branch wise manner. It was only much later that it came to light that this type of arranging of freshers was due to a clerical error. To call this feat the "conquering of an unscaled height of abject incompetence" is still an understatement.
There have been decisions which were never changed, despite months of students protests and hours of reasoning, like banning foreign and university internships. And there have been decisions like disallowing every first year and second year student to stay in their hostels during summer vacations, which had to be diluted after protests from students and requests for professors as well. This decision was apparently based on the assumption that first year and second year students do not possess the requisite skills to do any worthwhile projects. But, why was middle of June, when hundreds of students had already taken up projects and had planned their stay, was chosen to be the appropriate time to announce this new rule is again an unanswered question. And then, there are again the third kind of decisions which were actually overturned, like disallowing the students who had the English O level course as an arrear to contest elections, even when most of these students had passed a basic English test in a later semester and had been informed that the course had been scrapped. The rule of disallowing students with arrears from contesting election was framed so that the academically hard up students don’t spend there time in administrative activities. But, here were a group of students, many of them above average in academics, who were disallowed to contest for organizational posts because they had not been declared passed in a course which was already said to be scrapped, notwithstanding the scant reasons as to why they were handpicked for the course in the first place. This act of following the rules to the letter and not to the spirit was followed by informing the students that the course had not yet been scrapped and there would be an exam later in the semester to decide who passes the course and who doesn’t. Needless to say that there was a lot of unrest among the students and it was only after hours of requests and reasoning from institute secretaries that this decision was overturned about an hour before the allotted time for filling nominations finished.
What are common to all these inordinate rules/decisions imposed on students and the aftermath, apart from lack of clarification of the underlying reasons and a conspicuous unwillingness to discuss any suggested amendments to these rules, is a perceptible lack of care and respect for students’ opinions. Administrators, at times, have demonstrated that they are clearly out of touché with the student sensibilities and these occasions only contribute to the ever growing indifference in the student community towards them. Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community. And the lack of care and connection with students create a snobbish image of the rule makers in minds of students who start finding hostile undercurrents, even when they are non-existent, in any new development in the institute. This is apparent from the host of contumacious mails that have become a regular feature of the S-mail.
However, there have indeed been some decisions, though few and far in, which have been a welcome change from the conventions. After a Sunday was converted to a working day, due to arrival of the Parliamentary committee, any Monday could have been deemed as a holiday. But, the fact that the Monday after the day Saarang finished was declared a holiday is a decision which displayed that administration do know the students’ perspective and care about it. This is the kind human touch and an act of caring that begets trust and respect from the students.
At the risk of committing the cardinal sin of being preachy as well as clichéd, I would like to sum up my viewpoint with a quote.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”