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A report on the Open House (22nd Feb)

Introduction



An open house was organised by the IIT Delhi administration at the OAT on the 22nd of February from 5 PM onwards in light of the recent student suicide, the fourth case of an IIT Delhi student in the past eight months. The Open House was preponed from 28th to 22nd of February after protests by students demanding immediate attention and action to the recent tragedy. As 19th to 24th of February was scheduled for mid-term evaluations, the examinations were postponed to 26th of February and all classes were also cancelled. 


The OAT was packed with faculty and students from different programmes across various departments, centres and schools. Several issues ranging from academics to mental health to interpersonal relations between students and professors in IIT Delhi were raised, and answers were sought from the administration. The concerns were answered by a panel led by Prof. Rangan Banerjee (Director), along with Prof. Ambuj Sagar (Deputy Director, Strategy & Planning), Prof. Narayan D Kurur (Dean, Academics), Prof. Aditya Mittal (Dean, Student Affairs) and Prof. Angelie Multani (Dean, Diversity and Inclusion).


The session was divided into an hour-long structured presentation of the problems and demands of the student which was curated by SAC and CAIC representatives from ~2500 responses received via an online form, after which the panel accepted questions from the students. As emotions were high, the schedule was not duly followed which led to some unrest among the students.


(From left to right) Prof. Narayan Kurur (Dean, Academics), Prof. Rangan Banerjee (Director), Prof. Ambuj Sagar (Deputy Director, Strategy & Planning), Prof. Angelie Multani (Dean, Diversity and Inclusion), and Prof. Aditya Mittal (not in frame), (Dean, Student Affairs) formed the panel.

Masters students



A primary concern was the high SGPA criteria for the continuation of stipend as compared to other premier institutes in the country. Moreover, the current system does not provide summer internship opportunities to masters’ students via OCS. Due to the inadequacies of the present feedback mechanisms, students proposed a statutory committee aimed to look into course, grading, supervisor and project feedback. Other demands included extension of hostel accommodation, modification of M.Sc. course work and offering alternatives to MTP 2. The panel acknowledged the suggestions but maintained that academic institutions must follow certain procedures established over the years to avoid counterproductive and irresponsible decisions. They promised to discuss the issues at the department level and with the senate. The panel agreed on the formation of a committee including student representatives and external members within a period of two weeks and committed to provide a written course of action for each of the demands by next Tuesday.


PhD



The major issues raised by PhD scholars were in relation to their supervisors and the lack of flexibility with regards to choosing one. They asked for an initial period of lab rotation to familiarise themselves with the professors’ conduct and research. They complained about the total lack of a work-life balance and a healthy social environment. Students suggested initiating an annual meet for research scholar.


Some of them claimed that their assigned leaves on paper were not respected by their supervisors, forcing scholars to be deprived of breaks from academic work, thus further deteriorating their mental health. Scholars complained about the absence of hostel accommodation following the submission of the PhD thesis. Scholars also complained of poor research infrastructure and reduced funding at CRF (Central Research Facility), HPC (High Performance Computing), etc including malfunctioning equipment and long job queues leading to delay in research work. They also complained that some supervisors are not sensitive to this limitation. Professor Ambuj argued that standardising PhD processes could be counterproductive to the diverse nature of the degree. 


Undergraduate



Undergraduate demands centred around the stringent grading policies and the lack of transparency in the process of grade moderation. A Department Wellness Committee was proposed to counter social isolation demanding active participation from professors, a suggestion eagerly welcomed by the panel. Examination schedule and re-minor standardisation were other prominent woes. The director encouraged the students to devise better course and faculty feedback mechanisms than those currently in place. The students demanded to outsource the counselling services to an external body for improved quality and efficacy. They also raised concerns over the utter lack of transparency in the placement cell and demanded that all placement statistics report should be externally audited. Professor Suma Athreye reiterated the lack of a sense of community felt by students and the need of a support system that extends beyond the counselling services.


Questions raised by students



The house was opened for all students after the student representatives had voiced the popular concerns. There was an appeal by the students to set up an enquiry committee to carry out the investigation of student suicides that have occurred on campus in past few months. The Director was reluctant to commit to the committee's formation as he believed that it wouldn't add much value citing that it was not their area of expertise. Prof. Mittal shared that they were cooperating with the agencies in all ways possible and there was not much that they could do as suicide investigation is outside the institute’s jurisdiction. He went on to say that the Delhi High Court had passed a judgement on previous suicides stating, ‘Although unfortunate, nothing was found lawfully wrong and the court cannot proceed on emotions’. The panel acknowledged students’ concerns about the lack of deadline extensions for BTPs, MTPs and assignments despite minors being postponed, committing to resolve the issue by Friday.


Academic professionalism and teaching competencies of professors


A suggestion for a customisable degree for students who couldn’t cope with their academics of the current programme was made. Questions were raised on the quality of teaching of IIT Delhi professors as dissatisfaction leads some students to resort to external sources for learning. Students tend to skip classes and mark proxies due to this. Instances of snide remarks by professors in classes were also reported which highlighted the insensitivity and lack of empathy of some professors towards mental health of students. 


Concerns were also sighted regarding ineffective induction programme for PhD programme. The heavily mismanaged mentorship programme, lack of communication among students and academic information regarding courses was a major issue faced by the PhD freshers. 


Overwhelming focus on placements


Students highlighted that the overwhelming focus on placements sidelined entrepreneurship and research. This leads to a rat race for CGPA and Positions of Responsibility (PORs) aggravating the stress for everyone. Once again, the lack of transparency in OCS and its policies were also deemed problematic by the students.


What Changed Since the Last Open House?



Prof. Rangan Banerjee, Director IIT Delhi, addressing the Open House


Student Counselling Services (SCS)


The number of counsellors available on campus has significantly increased to allow for round the clock access to services. IIT Delhi has collaborated with multiple nearby hospitals and an alumni venture, Disha Kiran to provide counselling services when internal counsellors are not available. However, students have a mixed opinion on the quality and utility of such services and BSP found widespread non-uniformity in treatment and experiences of students who have availed these services. 


One-On-One Faculty Mentorship 


The panel claimed that an academic progress group had been constituted for students with extended degrees and letters were sent to the guardians of such students. They were monitoring the attendance of such students and coordinating with Dean of Student Affairs (DoSA) to incorporate changes discussed in the previous open house. A ground-level enquiry by BSP found that academic advisors assigned to some students facing academic probation showed a lack of participation in the duties assigned leading to a disconnect. Moreover, students repeating an academic year have complained that they have not been assigned advisors revealing the vast gap between legislation and execution.


Standardised disclosure of course policy and other academic practices


In the previous open house, the panel said that the professors would henceforth be required to display the course policy on the ERP Portal during preregistration. Student experience reveals an alternate reality where the institute mandated policy is not followed by every professor. BSP also found out that for some courses, the course policy was not uploaded until the end of the add/drop window. 


Conclusion


Though various issues were raised and multiple suggestions made, the administration did not commit to any concrete decision. The highlighted issues ranged from the work-life balance and mental health of postgraduates to a lack of empathy in a highly competitive environment. The administration pledged to improve community bonding, teaching standards, communication with professors as well as to reduce academic stress, and provide assistance to those struggling. While the efforts to enhance counselling services over the past few months were acknowledged, it was evident that the effectiveness of measures was in question and that further open houses required and there was still a long way to go before all the issues could be resolved.



 


Written by: Aahna Jain, Abhinav Ratan, Amaan Ali Sayed, Aneeket Yadav, Gourab Raj Sabat, Rohil Jain, and Pragyaat Goel

Design by: Satvik Deep and Anushka Chaturvedi

Edited by: Basil Labib



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