Monday, February 25, 2008

DICEY VENTURES

The fact that I did not add anything to this space after a rather enthusiastic start, the enthusiasm of course being short lived, should not lead the readers into believing that the spirit of the stairway ceased to pester me during this period of hibernation. Its just that the ever so active ghosts of procrastination and inactivity always managed to engulf me like a creeper and overwhelm all the other spirits haunting me. Now, that I am finally managed to free myself from these personal devils, let me not waste your time and treat you with some of my thoughts before this temporary phase of blog enthusiasm ceases to exist just like a very good friend of five years who now has left the world of mortals for his heavenly abode.

This article is going to be published in the forthcoming edition of The Fourth Estate.

DICEY VENTURES

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 Himalayas, not to mention the land that was used for building it. And as far as competition is concerned, due to limited infrastructure, there is a cap on students who can be allotted to a particular caterer which by default assures the other caterer of a minimum number of students. Now, lets keep the Pro vs Anti-Himalya argument for another day for people can argue and argue all day about this topic. But, what can not be argued against is the acute change in student lifestyle that was suddenly brought upon by this decision. But, what was gross in this decision of considerable importance was the amount of student participation in the process of making this decision or rather the lack thereof. The administrators didn’t even have the common courtesy of taking an opinion poll among the students before taking this measure.

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.”

11 comments:

ORKestra said...

Cant agree more over the issues dealt with!!!
gr8 blog ...
your 2nd post and a crack again!! :)

Rampy said...

nicely summarized !!!
Carry on blogging.

kay gee said...

You touched some very relevant issues. Really wish the administration became more understanding. Well written!

mrugen(CC) said...

A wonderful literary kick in the *** to the administration, although very tactfully given. I believe everyone will agree with the opinions u ve put forth ....Hope it flashes some bulbs once it reaches the Fourth Estate !

Focus said...

Well, i dunno. I find the whole English issue hilarious (probably because i viewed it from an outsider's perspective). I must say that without redundant and unnecessary policies, any institute would be a boring place. All right, keep your shirts on...i was kidding!!!!

Kudos to Mauseet for an entertaining two minutes!

SDK said...

@Orkestra

Thanks. But, this one is actually my fourth post. But then Apurv, your world only seem to start at yourself. But, at least it goes forward and doesn't end with yourself.

@Rampy

Thanks. I will carry on


@KG and CC

Thanks for the complements. But, if our administration could realize their follies and put an end to their antics after reading articles such as mine, there would be no reason to right such an article at this point of time. If someone repeats similar errors for three years or longer, its safe to assume that it would take more than an article for them to correct


@Focus

Totally and I mean TOTALLY agree with you. It is not the perfections, but the small imperfections here and there that are the crux of life. But again, excess of anything is bad and excess of imperfection is very very bad.

Virgineer said...

Pardon me for my acerbity...but if the Tarams Cycle Repair Shop owner comes to teach there, I am on for Eng 0 level :P
btw the best part of the blog is that it's suggestive and the authorities are shown the right path deftly, especially with the last quote.
Strong blog!

galli said...

Quite a informative entry .Great compilation of facts..really o level sucked a big time.
hope administration wakes up until then, you keep banging them.

ro(GEL) said...

Hmmmmm SDK!!You have truly come up with a very apt analysis of the functioning of the insti(or the lack thereof)....The first para was exquisitely written.There were a few trivia that I wasnt quite aware of.One of them being that the monday following saarang was given off in lieu of the HRD (Holiday Ransacking Department) ministry visit, thanks to which I decided to switch over to the conventional expansion. The english o level course and the minar fiasco were hilarious too. With your article adorning the fourth estate's pages, I hope it does gain its much needed readership.Kudos....
P.S:I could've simply commented "GAWD" or "STUD" or something in a similar vein but then I had no intentions of creating a "Parody of Plagiarism"...:D

jimmy said...

When you said administration and the communication gap that exists between them and the students, whom are you blaming? Aren't our student representatives a part of the administration?
About the 0 level english course, it has been introduced with a good intention of isolating people, who due to geographic/cultural factors couldn't learn much of english, as did their counterparts. Even if some people with a decent skill in handling English were asked to attend, the fact is none of them whose English was not upto the mark was missed.Don't you think this is not such a random way of selection as you have portrayed it to be.
People tried to change then then existing system. It failed. They've experimented, mind you, taking suggestions from our batch and our seniors(that english is not required for everyone-it's a well informed decision.)Experiments donot always give good results and as students of this institution, well aware of this fact, we should try not to crib on the failed-ventures-later-rectified.
Nice that you've got this point out. It made me reflect for a day or so, get the facts and post this reply !!
Articulation aspect of it, goes without saying, Brilliant!

SDK said...

@Jimmy

Thanks for giving a well thought out comment on the article. I don't have much idea about how the English O Level course is conducted nowadays. I think, now freshies have to undergo an elaborate test. So, those who are bad are invariably caught, but,some people who are good in English, but were lazy, or lets say callous enough to screw up the exam also have to go through the course. But, in my first year, it was conducted in a horrible manner. I can name many people who needed the course and were not listed for it. That is because, there was no selection criteria at all.

And yes. You are right when you say that student representative are at fault in some of the occasions, but, many a times, they don't have much of a say in the administrative decisions.