#IUKWIM Alumni

UCE to VSSUT: The change that never happened

ucevssut

Organized writing has never been my strength. So please bear with me through this long article of informal English, where I try to convey my perspective about the recent issues related to academics in VSSUT and try to bring forth the fundamental drawbacks in the system which is leading to these problems.

My journey in VSSUT:

I still remember the day when I joined as a fresher in UCE in 2006, getting down from the old noisy bus in front of the erstwhile South Hostel in the morning around 7 AM. Open natural beauty of greenery all around, a dark and cloudy day with brisk rain brought many hopes in my eyes, of the future that I dreamt of. The dreams of learning, building new things and making new friends were filling my heart with excitement. The same night, I saw the other side of the story- Ragging. We were not allowed to go outside the hostel without formals, shoes, proper shaving and walking on the road. We were not allowed inside the canteen and internet lab.  I was shocked. Yet I survived and adapted same way as the others. Those were the days when I was a newbie, with no connections among seniors to save me from ragging. In the very first month I started rebellion organizing a student meeting in the common room against a particular ragging incident, which made me laugh at myself in later years when I remembered that day. In my heart, I was fighting against injustice, yet I did not know, soon I would miss all those ragging memories. Slowly things unraveled, then came acceptance followed by enjoyment in that new environment filled with fear of ragging at every moment.

In the month of September of first semester I started a small team of 14 students to form a robotics group to participate in Techfest of NIST, Berhampur. We contributed money and brought few instruments and my room was converted to a mini workshop. During those days, there were no online shops nationally and no vendors in Orissa either. People used to order various components from the metros, of which we were unaware. There was no such open channel of communication between seniors and juniors. Whatever channels available were mainly one way for orders. We made almost everything in my room-cum-workshop, we also had to go to Burla and Sambalpur multiple times for raw material, electronics components, welding etc. There was so much excitement to make the first robot, I used to go in shorts to save time from changing to formals again and again, sitting on the bike of a local batch mate Imran, knowing that I’ll be punished heavily for that. I got slapped many times for that by seniors, some of whom later became very close to me. Slaps and other forms of ragging kept coming frequently for many violation of code of conduct given by seniors, yet those never stopped me from doing what I wanted. Finally the day came when we took revenge in the second semester from all the seniors collectively. Our robot won and literally decimated all their robots in an exciting robo fight event in Samavesh’07. In spite of strong warnings from many seniors to avoid cheering, all of us gloated and loudly cheered ourselves just to satisfy our anger and make their heart burn, only to end up getting further ragged by few seniors in the open area facing Chemistry lab in the public. That day I saw anger and shame in few of the senior’s eyes as well as pride and respect in few others’. Slowly robotics turned into my primary means of learning and implementing ideas. In the end of first year, I arranged for a summer training of around 20 students in aero-modeling at Nagpur. There started the story of flying aero-models in VSSUT, handmade by students. By the beginning of 2nd year, robotics had helped us form a technically enthusiastic group. One amongst them was Sarada who turned out to be equally passionate in robotics and a great companion. Both of us later went on to win many competitions in IITs and NITs which helped us in attracting considerable alumni attention to establish the robotics and aero-modeling club in the beginning of our 3rd year, against all the resistance from erstwhile principal. Later I became the Samavesh Secy and Sarada became the first Robotics Secy. Together we coordinated and started the first Robocon team.
These activities had helped us create a very bonded group of friends from all the hostels. By that time Passion for the college was running very high in us. Our robotics team was known to almost all the renowned colleges in Orissa after winning in most of their Techfests.

During my initial years of college I found least interest in regular classes as they were mostly (though not all) dictation from old notes or uninteresting. I used to be absent or sleeping in the last bench throughout the classes depending on whether attendance was strictly required or not for those subjects. My interaction with the administration mostly made me hate the system. I found faculties mostly confined to their subjects, in a one way flow of information without curious interactions. There was inherent disregard for any co-curricular activities. There was arrogance of academic power and Govt. job in many of the faculties. Most of them thought engineering was about getting good grades and then a job, rather than an opportunity to learn, create and innovate. This reflected in the teaching method as well. I always dreamt of faculties who would encourage a student to follow his dream and not tell him to be a book worm, until third year when I met a very few senior faculties(Rare earth elements in VSSUT).

During my 4th semester, while attending a robotics competition in IIT KGP, there was a best design contest for one event called Stakistics, which was to be judged by a professor of IIT itself, of which I was unaware. Generally such judging events used to be carried out by senior robotics enthusiasts of IITs. Till that time I had developed a notion that, generally professors don’t care about these kind of activities and always regard vomiting in the exam being more important than anything else. I had seen such behavior from our faculties regularly while asking for permission to participate in competitions in IITs and NITs. Every time I was made to feel that these are all unnecessary activities are of no importance, which my heart always disagreed with. When I reached the venue of the competition I saw an old man with spectacles and uncombed hair wearing shorts sitting on the dusty ground beside the arena. He was holding one robot in left hand and examining it with the right. There was full crowd around him. He was asking questions with a lot of curiosity like a kid about why particular design was done on that robot to students who designed it.  Initially I thought he was a visitor who is satisfying his curiosity before the event started. I did not pay any attention and started assembling my robot. Then somebody from the organizers called our team’s name to bring our robot for judging. To my surprise that old man came to be a senior professor in Aerospace dept. of IIT KGP. I was awestruck and excited at the same time. I had met a professor for the first time in life who was equally interested to know about the robots and there was not a shred of arrogance neither in his questions nor in his behavior. He made me feel what a professor ought to be and how true knowledge makes people appreciate creativity rather than always treating students as mere grade hunters. This was an exciting point in my life which increased my dislike for the academic system in our college. The robots we made were not extraordinary, nor were they of any industrial or international standards. Yet they were means for us to be true engineers in the fields.  We were passionate about it and it gave immense opportunities to learn and create hands on. There may be many such ways apart from robotics to feel alive like an engineer and implement your learning to use and harness your creativity, but what matters is, there are ways and only fools would deny that. Later I learnt a lot of electronics and shared it with other batch mates taking classes in the college to create awareness in robotics.  I somehow passed with a CGPA of 7 in 2010, but robotics gave me a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that I was creating things while learning as well as enjoying those four years at the same time.

 Experience at IIT in contrast to VSSUT:

After college I went to IITB and sat in the classes of senior professors for real and interacted with them. I had the opportunity to learn from Prof. C. Amarnath, father of Techfest of IITB which is first ever in campus technical festival in India. He was a master of mechanisms who completed the course of Advanced Kinematics solely with his daily used umbrella. If you ever see him walking on the road you think of him as a very common man, yet he is regarded as one of the most creative professors, IITB has ever had.  During IIT days, my interest towards electronics and robotics kept me occupied in a team, designing an unmanned underwater vehicle (UAV) to participate in an international robotics competition organized by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR). I was the only MTech student among all other BTech students. I worked with the finest robotics enthusiasts working on the biggest robotics project on campus with a budget of more than 25 lakhs.

In all the 14 courses I had to undertake during those 2 yrs, only two of them had attendance requirement of 70%. All others had no policy on attendance. Students could wear anything to the class, so was true for the teachers. Students used to sleep, listen to music using head sets in the class. Yet none of the professors ever complain or throw you out, until and unless you cause disturbance to others in the class. There is no culture of any formal greetings from students towards the professors, and they also don’t care or expect these kinds of formalities. You could come and go out of the class as you please using the back door. After every test before checking of the answer sheets start, most of the professors upload a detailed copy of answers to all the questions on Moodle (An online platform used by IITB internally ), which is followed for evaluation. It gives no room for any unfairness to the evaluator. In case of weak students, extra care is taken and professors listen to their issues with attention and help them in every way possible. That could be extra classes, special time for clearing doubts, or classes in vacation in case of backlogs followed by immediate supplementary tests arranged by the professors themselves. In all the tests I appeared, rarely did I find any theoretical questions. 90% of them were always numerical.

The robotics team, I worked in, had two professors (One from aerospace & other from Systems n Control dept.) as project guides and in-charge. I never found any of them interfering in any activity of the team other than when asked for help. They never interfered in the finances and never asked for any account of expenditure. Everything is accepted as we submit the bills without questions. This helped students to be more careful not to break their trust. Every approval from them was a cake walk. Even internationally renowned events like Mood-I and Techfests with a budget over 1 crore each, find absolutely no interference in any financial or administrative matters from the professor-in-charge, which is completely organized by students. That is the kind of trust and broad mindedness they had. Every time you go to any professor with any idea about a new project, they would listen to you with enthusiasm and always encourage you. They would even add constructively to your ideas without slightest of intention for claiming credit. Not only this, the whole non-teaching administration in academic matters would ever give you the feeling that it is a Govt. organization. You never have to wait or request twice for any kind of services. Single window system of services and speedy delivery is the uniqueness found in all such sections. The whole of IIT seemed to work in sync for only one intention, empowering the students and nothing else.

In VSSUT we find faculty-in-charge of student bodies meddling in every small activities as well as finances as small as Rs 1 Lac given to different societies. They harass students so much for various approval that anybody would give up rather than working with passion for the events and clubs. I remember getting scolded in the principal’s room, when I went to ask for permission to start the robotics club, although few generous US alumni had already arranged to contribute 2 Lacs for the cause, after our personal requests. The principal had to just give a small space for the lab and allow the institute to receive the fund through official channel. Since the alumni wanted to ensure that the fund is used for the purpose it is given, one of them spoke to the principal from US. He enquired about the procedures to be followed so that the money can be used swiftly for starting the club, which the principal did not take kindly. While speaking, he supposedly did not greet the principal with namaskar (as told by principal himself to us). The Principal’s ego was so hurt that he scolded us, then thrown me and Sarada out of his chamber. His exact words were, “Se pilate heiki mo ghara agare khali dehare kheluthila, aaji gote kana chakiri kari deichi je UCE ra principal ku question pacharuchi je kemiti kama jaldi haba au namaskar karia janini ” (The concerned alumni was son of a former VSSUT staff during early days of the Principal). So the pride and arrogance of the principal could not see that it was not about him but about the students. He is supposedly the same person who taught in class sayig pen drive is a display device. Later we had to put a lot of pressure through the US and local alumni and take help of two sympathetic professors to pacify him and get him to say yes to receive the funds. Space for the lab was provided by one of the sympathetic professors in his own dept.. This is not all, from top to bottom, everywhere you will find many faculties who have either stopped research as well as learning in their lives and living a dormant life, for whom there is no recognition outside the small kingdom of VSSUT or they are too arrogant and proud with their insignificant research, in order to love and nurture students. Leave aside expectations of their encouragement to students for any co-curricular and extra-curricular activities; most of them don’t look beyond grades.

Attitude of professors in IIT reflects their passion for the profession of teaching. This shows they have much more important things to do other than taking note of who slept in the class, who is wearing what, who disrespected them. They are confident enough in their knowledge and ability, not to go around and beg respect through fear mongering. This also shows that they understand the fact that grades may be important ways of checking academic progress but not the only way out there to check whether someone is learning. Life is much more important than grades and grades seldom reflect the level of learning. They understand that there is a lot to success in life other than grades. Hence every opportunity should be provided to the students, to develop their abilities and use their creativity and passion in any way possible to be confident and able persons in all respects. None of the professors in IIT have time to meddle unnecessarily in petty affairs of student bodies, which they can spare for their own research work or guide other PHD students. Most important of all is they are still learning like any other student; hence they have their own expectation and ambition in life to learn even more. This makes their life interesting enough to keep going rather than getting lost in the pride and ego of a Govt. job. They always take students’ welfare as the primary duty. They never let their ego belittle the students who know almost nothing in comparison to them; neither do they ever show off instead of sharing their wisdom constructively. This attitude creates respect and trust between students and faculties.

None of the above mentioned things requires funds, permission from Govt.. They only require attitude, commitment and hard work for the betterment of students, with a noble intention that an institution is primarily for providing a platform to build the future of a student and it  prospers only when its students prosper. It requires a cultural revolution in the academics of VSSUT which will take it back to its long lost glorious history that we all alumni hope to achieve once again.

Premiere institutions like (IITs, IISC, IIM, TIFR etc.) are institutions as we see and hold with high regards, not because they have adequate and advanced infrastructure, brilliant professors, intelligent students or lot of grant money but because they have a vibrant culture of nurturing and promoting young talents, pushing the envelope of possibilities in the heart and mind of their students. Even if IIT’s entire infrastructure is provided to VSSUT no change can happen as long as the culture of freedom to adopt diverse ways of learning is promoted, not confined to strict academics. This culture is the foundation of their success which enables their students, not bounded by degrees and grades to achieve their goal. This also includes students who are interested in academics and research. This helps in creating not only successful engineers but also successful scientists, entrepreneurs, artists etc., who give immense contribution, back to the society.   It helps every student to achieve his true potential in whichever way possible, which he or she naturally and intuitively enjoys. To establish this culture nothing other than a change in mindset of the faculties could help. It can directly imprint itself onto the students via a top down approach gradually by implementing a transparent academic system. This will help reduce the burden of academics and help in saving the creativity of the students in all other fields they are better at. Until and unless we do that the dreams of becoming a premiere institute which can nurture talents and provide a formidable platform for the abilities, which are wasted every year. You ask any student from IITs the question, “what changed your life in IITs?”.  The unequivocal answer will be, “a culture to hone my abilities with freedom and opportunities to showcase them”. Rarely will you find answers like “I got to learn from the best faculties or work in the best infrastructure”.

What the dream of VSSUT meant for us:

With the already mentioned deteriorating academic culture of UCE, students were always left at the mercy of teachers instead of in their care. UCE had academic autonomy but no financial autonomy. That created restrictions on UCE to directly generate and receive grants from outside. I am not going into details of that. Govt. grant was limited to salaries and rest was not even enough for general maintenance required for the infrastructure to survive. In those times, any request for improvement in infrastructure used to end up in excuses of fund crunch. Even vacant faculty posts were denied on the same premise and sighting cumbersome Govt. procedure to make the appointments. Any systemic change was indirectly dependent on Govt. sympathy.  Around 50% of the sanctioned faculty posts were lying vacant. The dept. of computer Sc. and Manufacturing Sc. was running with extremely less number of faculties. In addition to all this, higher authorities were always indifferent to the students’ plight. Administrative services related to students’ academics were poor, unresponsive and mired in corruption.  There was a environment of despair and hopelessness. Everyone used to talk about the problem but no one thought of the solution or took initiative for that.

Two things could change the face of UCE, 1st a good source of fund and 2nd an experienced and visionary administrator who could love UCE as its own and inflict fundamental changes in its working style. This two were possible if we got the University status, which was in the ambit of state Govt.’s power. A Vice-chancellor is meant to be a person who is directly works under the Governor. This is the source of his power and it enables to bring in the kind of people in to the position who are supposed to be visionary and passionate about what they do. This is what drove the students, very few senior faculties and the alumni. Also the regular culture of strike for 1-2 months in the beginning of every academic year was tiresome. It was not at all beneficial to the students.

At the same time this change into VSSUT meant many other things to other faculties. Few thought complete autonomy will make them even more powerful and they can enjoy their power with no accountability to the Govt. officials. They could share the same kind of equations and power as they used to with the earlier principals and use their whims. For them Students were just means to their comfortable and autocratic life. Many were indifferent and hopeless as usual. Many were afraid of a powerful VC who could take our comfort and force them to do what they have never done i.e. to be real hardworking teachers. Many had other hidden agendas. Yet there were a very few who were positive about the changes and welcomed it.

We were aware of all these intentions, yet we felt in our heart that our hope for the change and dreams will be fulfilled. We were noble in our intentions and had unimaginable faith in the position and capabilities of the future VC who would provide the future generation what we could not get, which would give everyone hope of a positive change. The hope that change will happen if not today, maybe in near future, the hope that it will produce engineers with values, confidence and achievements not limited to curriculum only.  This could harness the diverse natural and intuitive abilities of the thousand odd young talents who could say proudly that VSSUT provided us with something that helped us stand on our own feet, rather that providing us with a mere degree or a job or a livelihood.

    Strike for University status and few important examples of intent:

With the above mentioned motive behind the strike, we started working with a multipronged approach taking help and advice from each and every possible person and source starting from honest faculties, active alumni, politicians, media persons to sympathetic guardians. We took advice from all, yet decided for our own, keeping in mind the sole motive of creating a glorious platform for our next generation.

Many students and friends stood behind us with same intention and helped us stand the bulling and threat from the then principal and his crony companions whose position and luxury of autocracy was at risk, whose ego and arrogance was going to be crushed with our success. In my heart I always felt when we succeed and get a VC who will care only about the students, these bunches of faculties who have ruined the reputation and culture of this glorious institution with their negligence and selfishness would be put to their place. Many of the students were hopeless and inactive, whose argument was, ” this is an exercise in futility, which had no better outcome in near future and hence they should focus on their career and get good grades, a good job and move on”. They had all the rights in the world to behave in that manner since every student is here to build a career for him or herself. Few of them thought, ‘these few students taking the lead are puppets in the hands of few faculties, dancing to their tunes just to be famous’. Few others thought this is all done to get attention. As usual all sides of human nature was at display for and against the strike. Still majority of the students were behind us.

I personally cannot fathom the idea of looking away from doing something that can potentially change the system for betterment of our future generation, though we would not be there to enjoy the fruits of all the hard work and sacrifice. I believe if we cannot be part of a possible positive change around us, then any amount of self achievement would be worthless for these missed opportunities. Had everybody thought like this, we, as a society, might never have existed as we have today. After a meeting with The CM, nearly 2 months into strike, CM agreed in principle to grant us our demands. But this had happened many times before and every time after the promises made, nothing happened due to lack of political will and follow up in the state secretariat. Now I want to put 3 incidents before you all which were turning points and shows how desperate and hopeful we were in our aim to change the fate of our beloved yet declining institution.

1- The day Govt. agreed we decided not to further continue the strike and not waste any more of students’ academic time. But we knew without follow up nothing was going to happen without proper follow up. I remember speaking to the students on that day promising them we will do everything in our power, not fearing the sacrifices required.  Hopefully this time we will get what we wanted for so long. In my heart I was afraid of the fact that this may end up like any other previous years without any change despite our efforts. Yet it gave us a noble goal to achieve at any cost and made us stronger.

2- A very few of us me, Sarada, Sanket and Saurav left for Bhubaneswar leaving our academics. After one month of running after IAS officers in the secretariat, files were moving at snail’s pace. Almost no significant progress was made. Then, pressure started to build from few alumni who were afraid that we will ruin our careers and yet get nothing. One of the alumni one day scolded us and told us to go back. He was just concerned about our future. We needed more help inside the secretariat. The same day we arranged for a meeting of all the guardians from cuttack and BBSR who had contacts and who were working inside the secretariat. Around 30+ guardians came and we made an emotional and passionate presentation that day, which convinced them and subsequently help started pouring in. The same alumnus was at that meeting, for whom I have immense respect for. In the end even he was convinced that these guys are not going to give up and he joined in our effort even strongly afterwards.

3- After around two months, still all our files were getting stuck in the Industry department under the dept. secretay, IAS Ashok Dalwai. He was of the notion that this university status is not going to change anything in our college and these students have ulterior motives or these students are being played in the hands of few faculties. So he used to delay our files indefinitely. That time Sarada and me were in the secretariat and others had came back to attend classes with mutual decision. After 5-6 days of continuous effort we got an appointment for 5 minutes with Mr. Dalwai in the industry dept..  His first question to us was why are you here and not in the college? Who are playing you with this non sense? Sarada and me were deeply hurt, did not give up. We described him every reason behind our effort and told him about the current academic culture in UCE and explained him why we want the culture to change though we won’t be able enjoy the fruits. We were honest and passionate in our explanation. In the end he was more than convinced to give UCE a chance though he might not have changed his perception, yet he realized our intention and respected it. In the end said, “I am sorry for blocking your files for so long, from this day onwards your files will never get stuck on my table and will be cleared instantly”. That implied almost 70% work was done. We were so happy, tears rolled down on both our cheeks in excitement and hope. He shook hands with us and told us not to worry.

These three incidents were turning points in achieving the University status.

The expectations from the university:

The fallout of above said cultural differences are immense in terms the achievement of students, as a result of the freedom and autonomy given to them in IITs.

In IIT a typical undergraduate student while continuing his studies aspires to apply for another premiere institute of international repute for research or higher studies. He or she is associated with at least one major student projects. These technical projects, mostly not related or originated directly from academic courses, are completely initiated, planned and executed by students themselves. Most of these projects are rich in implementation of technology; even some of them achieve better standards and output than industries. All of this is done by students from diverse disciplines, where their parent engineering branch has nothing to do with the work they do. This helps them in overcoming the boundary set by our highly competitive entrance examinations in following their passion. This helps them build a habit of self learning. Let me give an example of the project I worked in. It has very sophisticated electronics design and advanced software architecture as well as well researched mechanical design. Yet the lead electronics designer is from metallurgy dept., who went on to start a company recently, using the experience from the project. The lead software architect is from electrical dept. Such projects also generate quality technical research papers in international journals.  The role of the IIT remains limited to providing one or two professors to guide them in case of necessity and lend its brand name for sponsorships. The role of the guides is to bring in the student project and institute in sync, help the students in required official procedures, and use the outputs of it for brand promotion and IPR. Otherwise the faculties never interfere in such projects. In spite all the brand name and institute funding, there are always cases of fund crunch which is sometimes contributed by the dedicated students themselves. I have seen this in the project I worked in myself. Students who are not involved in such projects are involved in managing grand events like Techfest and Mood indigo whose budgets are well over 1 crore each and many other smaller events.  They help them in obtaining management skills and use their abilities for innovation in management. This gives them ample opportunities to interact with diverse group of people outside institution in official capacity changing their worldview and making them confident in dealing with various real life projects in future. Mood indigo was started decades back with budget of merely 5 thousand rupees and now it is well above one crore rupees.

So how did all these come into existence?  It all started with giving the students complete freedom in starting the projects of their own choice. Giving these projects legitimacy through grades and accepting them as course projects.  Students execute the project passionately and really put very hard work into it, helped by the fact that institute stands behind them. Once any one project becomes successful, 10 other starts, taking the inspiration from the parent project. One initiative led to many others. This set into motion an automatic change of culture which self regulated to create a culture of engagement outside academics and yet not disconnected from it. This also creates an immensely competitive environment where students compete with each other to take their projects to even newer heights.

Let’s discuss the situation in our college. If a student cracks GATE or CAT that is regarded as a very high level of achievement and without other avenues available mostly highly ambitious students follow that path. The problem is, most of them never learn by doing and seldom possess the habit of self learning. If a group of students ever go to the faculties for any new technical project, first response is “What are all these unnecessary activities? How will that help in your grades?  This is wastage of time. Go and study. ”. This comes from most faculties who have never published research papers of any practical use and do not have experience of executing any good technical project. This kind of attitude hugely harms the thinking and learning brains of young students forcing them to give up hope outside academics. Even if any project is allowed to start, running after authorities for days and continuously pampering them, faculties always take care to make the students feel “who is the boss?”,  interfering in every financial approvals, of which they should be simply ashamed of. They never interfere in the technical aspect of the projects, which they are incapable of, but administrative and financial interference is abundant, where as the opposite should happen. This kind of narrow mindedness shows their outlook towards the world. Hence we don’t find many students getting admissions into good international universities, where good project experiences matter more than good grades. This works against creating trust and respect in students for the faculties.

The same negative culture also discourages quality faculty members from joining VSSUT. Even if a very few join, they don’t stay for long in this kind of unconfident administration, mired in dirty politics of dragging each other down. Instead of showing respect for each other’s work, they gather and discuss internal politics. It is very common to find a group of professors in IIT sitting in the cafeteria and discussing and sharing ideas, getting to know new projects running in different departments with enthusiasm. Even if we get new faculties with lesser qualification with poor teaching standards, the administration can certainly inflict in them change in attitude towards the students. They might not be great teachers, yet they could be great guides and not hinder students’ growth.

Recent issues :

There have been many instances in recent past of 20% to 40% of students getting failed in any one subject in the same academic year.  This is worrisome. Had this happened in any of the premiere institutes, the academic council of such institutes would immediately introspect and take remedial actions to prevent it in future and also they would take immediate action for the already happened cases by arranging for extra classes in vacation and allowing the students to immediately reappear in examinations with new measures in place. If needed counseling is also done through personal interaction.  But in our case, institute remains deaf and tries to run down the students in such cases. They forget the fact that, institute’s duty is not only to teach, conduct exams and throw ‘failed stamps’ on the face of weak students, but to help them get through the system. It becomes even more absurd when we see such behaviors from faculties whose back ground is not at all illustrious in such matters, when we look at their performance in research and teaching. Many of them have already stopped learning and adapted to a safe and comfortable Govt. job. In an environment with no system in place to hold them accountable when they fail in performing their academic duties with letter and spirit, these academic misconduct of faculties always go unchecked and unnoticed. Though I would not justify the poor performance of the 72 students, who got year backs, yet many of these cases were waiting to happen by getting slowly accumulated backlogs. Why did the institute not orient and counsel them before it reached such extremes. In the cases (around 25) where year back is due to repeated backlogs in the same subjects of Physics and/or Chemistry and/or basic electrical, I believe remedial action should have been taken much earlier.

Fairness and transparency in academic matters is of utmost importance to any good institute. Even the most inconsiderable mistake from administration regarding such academic matters cannot be justified. It should be regarded as a blunder, since it has the power to make or break a student’s career as well as life. This is not a joke. We already had lost one of our dear friends in third year for the issue of year back and I still vividly remember the day. We recently found out another such case of attempt to suicide. Scissors wife should be above suspicion aptly applies to academic morality of any administration. There can be thousand mistakes from students’ side(though it may not b justifiable), yet the academic administration can never be permitted to b vindictive while taking disciplinary action or be allowed to commit even one single mistake, since their actions can ruin a career in an instant. When we look at the events from this point of view, administration has committed a series of blunders by not showing the answer sheets before publishing the results even if the students got year backs and deserved it. Then notices are given for registration for year back students in the same year again, before releasing the final list of awarded year backs. This is grave academic injustice.

The VC has been given enormous powers by the VSSUT statute passed by the assembly, where as earlier, the principal had none in comparison. VC can take financial, administrative and academic decisions by self or by calling meetings of academic council and board of management. When current VC tried to wash his hands off recent academic inconsistencies and injustice by throwing a web of rules and regulations at the students, it only showed his lack of will and carelessness towards the students. If he cannot convene the meeting of academic council to change the existing old and outdated academic regulations in a small time frame, which is going to bring transparency, accountability and positive changes to the academic culture of the faculties institute, then perhaps his powers are worthless and perhaps his ego is overpowering his responsibilities.     

I strongly believe in the fact that when one’s intention is honest and positive, there can always be found ways and means to bring in the required changes. No one can disagree with the much needed academic reform even in the academic council. The VC should take extra measures to immediately bring in those changes along with helping create a culture of giving freedom and encouragement to students for taking up projects outside academics, providing them whatever funding possible from the institute and helping them to raise the rest by sponsorship from various sources. These things only require nothing more than official permissions. This can be done by a top down approach by formulating rules and regulations or by issuing standing instructions to all faculties who are not accustomed to such cultures. The much needed academic reform will reduce the arrogant and autocratic behavior in academics through transparency and due procedure for accountability. This will also remove the culture of having grudge on students which sometimes reflects on grades. Academic honesty is a must from students, but so is true for a faculty. This must be implemented. No one should be above the academic regulations. Both stake holders have to be equally accountable.

     A request to the faculties and the VC:

Please rise above your ego and self interest. Let the students use their abilities in various activities and help them in the same. Even if you are not best in teaching the subjects, you could help them learn in many different ways. This kind of compassionate attitude will only bring respect and trust in students towards you. This may not happen in a day, but I am sure it won’t take decades for that to happen. There are always few students who are wayward and not at all interested in any academic activities. Please do not hate them and look down upon them. This will not help them in any way or make you any nobler. But if you could treat the most unruly student with compassion, chances are he or she may change. In IIT, I have seen students getting punished severely for unruly activities, yet I have never seen any punishment that hampers their academic career. I have never heard a professor say, “these students deserve year backs, to the contrary I have heard them saying we could not help him improve and it is a failure on our part”. I have never heard any professor dislike such students; rather they become more sympathetic towards such students and give them ample chances to be reformed. Learning to treat the students as your own children, whom you forgive repeatedly for their mistakes would make you magnanimous. Learn to forgive them when they make things personal or show immature behavior, without taking it personally yourselves. This will show your maturity instead of being belittled. Try to feel the joy of theirs when they achieve something not only in academics but also in any other field. Let them blossom naturally. Who knows what can come out of them when they are given the freedom to learn and create without boundaries.

Immediate changes required in the institute:

I may not help the students in recent issue of year backs, but I certainly don’t want to be helpless for the same issues next year. That is why I wrote this article to highlight the fundamental problems in the system which leads to such problems. Without corrective measures to bring about changes in this outdated academic culture, no permanent solution is possible. I hope I have been able everyone’s attention towards the same.  Few of the changes can be brought about immediately without any appreciable financial burden and which require no external intervention.  These changes lie completely within the ambit of VC’s power and require nothing other than intent. Following are the changes required, which the administration should promise to the students and alumni.

  • Immediate initiation of reform in academic regulations coherent with IITs and NITs to be implemented from next academic year without exception. Salient features->
     a) Well established procedure for Transparent and seamless flow of information(as happening in IITs) in relation to

-Academic

-Examination

-Evaluation and publication of results

-Academic accountability of administration

  1. b) Formation of an elected student council to work as a direct bridge between the Dean Student Affairs and students (as followed in IITs and IISc) to resolve students’ issues related to academics, hostel management etc.
  1. c) Remedial classes for weaker students
  1. d) Implementation of strictly anonymous and online feedback mechanism to evaluate faculty performance at the end of each semester and used for improvement of teaching standards
  2. e) Allow student co-curricular projects to be accommodated for course credits
  3. f) Single window facility for pass-out students

2)   On account of administration’s fault for not showing answer sheets before publication of results->

Allow all the students who has got year backs in last academic year in reasonable cases, most of whom have failed   in Basic electrical, Physics or Chemistry, to appear for a supplementary exam

3)   Formation of grievance redressal cell according to AICTE norms (2012) as existing in

other institutions
-Online complaint window for students, parents and others
-Redressal within 72 Hrs as per provision of the AICTE rules
4)  Immediate provision of basic amenities like water,  sanitation inside academic area and  Hostels  

5)  Encouragement for extracurricular and co-curricular activities

– NO interference in student activity bodies as well as Dept. of Training and Placement.

– Give full autonomy, both administrative and financial, under a general guideline

Set by the institute for these bodies to function freely without interference .

– More focus on industrial training and skill development in training and placement.
6)  Improvement in current unlivable Hostel facilities

  1. a)  Immediate measures to improve unhygienic standards of living in the hostels
  2. b) Renovation of existing old hostels to better standards(medium term), and increase in number of hostels to provide accommodation for all in time bound manner (Long term)

7)  Steps to ensure all self-sustained students to be absorbed as regular students and  immediate stop to increase in  students intake till proper minimum  infrastructure is created(Medium term, through Govt.)

8) Build a Student activity centre in time bound manner (Medium term )

Except for the last three demands, all others can be initiated immediately. It will b shame full if the students ever have to go on a strike for such legitimate demands, which is the least that VSSUT could do. With such kind of autonomy and huge powers vested in the chair of the VC, it will be ironic if such doable, just and obvious changes are to be called as demands. Administration should assure the students to these suo moto without delay and lingering any further. Authorities should not be afraid to empower the students, which will slowly help them to be more responsible In fact it will help in reducing the administrative burden on the institute and bring in innovation in smooth hostel management and academics.

 

Why I included a part of my story in the article:

The sacrifice of many students, faculties and alumni behind the struggle for university status was neither superficial nor was it for getting just a university tag. The intent behind it had always been to revamp the academic culture and create adequate infrastructure. The expectation was to restart the system completely with an adaptation to flourishing standards of education; the standard that everyone is eagerly waiting for.

There are examples of very few students who have been lucky enough as me, Sarada or Roshan bhai who started Samavesh in 2005-06. We could fulfill our passion by finding ways and means around the existing obdurate and uncooperative academic system. But think about all those wasted talents who wanted to do something great, yet who could not work around the system and lost the appetite for their passion, those who got frustrated and gave up. What could all of them have achieved, had there been a change in the prevailing scenario?  Our story might not be great, but who knows how many possible great stories were destroyed even before being written due to these problems? There might have been many more success stories of engineers who would have been proud to say, VSSUT provided me the platform to live my dreams, follow my guts and nurture my abilities via its vibrant and co-operative environment as most IITians gloat with pride. The stories everyone is waiting for.

Answer to the VC’s question:

The VC asked me a question during the recent interaction – ”What would you do if you were in my place? ”. I assure you sir, if I were in you place, I would treat VSSUT as my family, and sacrifice everything in my hand, pushing my own self interest to the corner, just to prevent any part of VSSUT, may it be its reputation or its students’ career, without thinking twice and without having a shred of ego or arrogance. I would have made sure that this injustice is never repeated and would have rooted out every factor behind such negligence. That is how much I love VSSUT. I have shown it when there was occasion to do so repeatedly and so have many other students and alumni in the past. Otherwise a remotely located declining institution like ours, away from the good books of the Govt., might not have survived or held its head still so high at least outside Burla in Orissa. This has only been possible because of the unending love of numerous alumni all over the world who have always lent a hand when asked for, just because they had the opportunity to spend memorable four years of their lives in this beautiful corner of Orissa, the stories of whose history reflects in the fact that so many of them have brought laurels to the institute by their achievements all over the world. You might not have been aware of its history, and might have disliked its current poor condition, but those who have seen it and those who still have hope in their heart, will continue to fight for it, in any way possible, despite their busy lives.

A Vice-chancellor is not supposed to only perform his duties mentioned in the rulebooks, but has to be a beacon of hope for all the students and faculties. He is not in the chair to show the students path of hopelessness and despair but to be the part of the solution to every problem, to run the extra mile even for the smallest of the things that adds to a better future of the students. Hope you will rise to the occasion, accept VSSUT as your child and nurture it with your heartfelt commitment rather than doing your duty just for the sake of it.

There are always few rotten apples in any system, even in IITs or IIMs. There are examples of academic injustice even at these places. But they are never accepted as regular practice and not left unchecked without corrective measures. To err is human, but to live with errors without correction is blunder. Administration should accept its mistakes and also make these demands their own for the betterment of students, rising above their ego or self interest. This is an opportunity for the VC to show his magnanimity and love for students’ interest. This can be a great start for a new VSSUT with these reforms. With these changes we may start to respect and trust the administration again.

Hope I have been able to draw everyone’s attention towards the issues at hand and have been able to express views of many alumni & students. I have tried to be blunt in my expressions raising these urgent issues. I hope I will be forgiven for any mistake made unknowingly. It will be unfortunate if the students would ever have to take extreme steps like sitting on a strike for demands, which we feel legitimate, highly desirable and doable, all in the interest of a better future for VSSUT.

In the end, I hope VSSUT would get the change that never happened even after UCE converted to VSSUT.

Biswajit Parida

Mechanical Engg. (2010)

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Biswajit Parida

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