Reconsidering Academic Coercion
An issue that I am unable to reconcile with is the distinct lack of interaction between students and the academic section at IITD. Something is amiss and whatever it is, it has resulted in a curtailment of academic freedom and overall quality of life for undergraduate students at IITD. Allow me to build a case.
Last semester, students from three core-engineering disciplines were prevented from registering for the Data Structures courses floated by the Department of Computer Science. The reason? It was clashing with a core course. This has been the case since a lot of years and up till now, students interested in taking up DS chose to drop their core course and complete it in a later semester. But this year, they were prevented from doing so.
Let us first look at the professor's side. Professors would want students to not undermine their core degree by dropping a core course in favour of another unrelated course and would want the student to get exposed fully to what their branch has to offer. Fair enough. From the student’s perspective, the course is important to students who wish to or who are simply compelled to pursue their career path in a non-core setting, because who will tell professors that while there are 25-30 companies that visit for non-core roles during the internship season, there are only 4-5 companies who recruit for core roles? (keeping in mind the value of internships in the prevailing success matrix).
There were many solutions to this issue (changing the slotting to enable students to do both courses, adjusting course requirements etc.), but the easiest one was to prevent students from registering for the course, and that is exactly how the problem was dealt with. The net effect thus was that students were forced to forego a course that could have helped them with their internship preparations. I do not wish to get into the impact on students who may have wished to pursue their internships in the area, but would instead like to focus on why is there such a lasting mismatch of views between student reality and reality as perceived by professors?
I have personally had interactions with many professors and many of my colleagues have even raised issues regarding problematic rules at departmental meetings and although there is agreement that things have to be changed, nothing ever happens and year after year students are found at the receiving end of the same policies. Take for example the particularly confused policies of the Dept. of Chemical Engineering:
Each year, Dual Degree students are penalized by two-grades if they do not stay back on campus during the 4th year summer holidays to pursue their MTP
For DD students, the only time that majority of the companies offer internships is the 4th year, and penalizing students for wanting to get real-life experience is foolhardy. Even more so when you consider that the Computer Science Department does not penalize DD students for the same and instead provides alternatives through which the summer component can be completed at a later date.
Students are not given internship credits for a non-core internship
How many opportunities for core internships does the department/OCS provide anyway?
I do not deny that professors have the students' best interests in mind. From their perspective, it is important that students do not undermine the essence of their branch in any way. But there is essentially a gap in terms of understanding the reality as perceived by students and a lack of motivation to work on how things can be made better.
So where is the issue? There can only be one of two causes:
Inertia on the side of the departments and administration
A very weak student body
I think it is both. It is not as if there is a forum or vehicle for the administration to listen directly to student issues. The onus is on departmental convenors to speak up for themselves and their batchmates. However, even when they do speak up about genuine issues, they are never listened to nor given a straight answer. There is a trust deficit between most professors and students and the possibility that there might be an actual problem is never considered. When students look to break free from this and direct their problems to higher authorities, they are told that the department/someone else is responsible for addressing their concern. So it is clear that no one is serious about addressing these issues. I speak as a student who has spent four years in the system.
It is obvious to everyone that things have to be changed, but it is frustrating to see how no one is really looking at reality and actually working towards solving these problems. It is thus difficult to expect any actual change. The only hope is perhaps one day, one of us will occupy the chairs and will perhaps look at students in a more forgiving manner. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
The author wishes to remain anonymous. Illustration by Athira TA.