/Campus Dialogue I

Campus Dialogue I

Student-Faculty interaction is something that comes up again and again during discussions about the shortcomings of our campus. We all feel that it is an important part of campus life but no constructive steps have been taken to achieve this objective. Vox Populi decided to take the initiative in this regard and started ‘Campus Dialogue’ to discuss issues and take opinions from the two most important stakeholders in IIT Kanpur.

The first event in the series was held to discuss one of the most hotly debated topics on campus-‘Is Kanpur an asset or liability to IITK?’. All of us have heard of the glorious days when IIT Kanpur used to be the leader among the IITs, be it academics, cultural activities, placements, or any other field one can think of. IITK’s rich history and unique association with American universities allowed it to be the undisputed centre of excellence for a long time. We were the first to start the concept of a cultural festival among Indian Universities, which began as the CulFest, now Antaragni. Our academic mettle was recognised world over and IITK was the temple of research when it came to Indian universities. Numerous luminaries began their journeys in IITK. The list of achievements of IITK is never ending.But as time progressed, the other IITs caught up and now are giving IITK a tough competition for the top spot. “Companies don’t come to IITK for placements”, “IITK students don’t get good internships”, “MoodI and Rendezvous are much bigger than Antaragni” are some of the complaints that can be heard from students. And the common reason everyone cites is that we are in a tier two city like Kanpur.

The faculty panel consisted of Prof. Joydeep Dutta, Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi and Prof. Ishaan Sharma. Each of them gave some interesting insights into the issue and made the discussion a fruitful one. All of them agreed that there were some disadvantages because of IITK’s location but the advantages far outweighed them. Dr.Vimal Kumar, having been involved with the SPO, also attended the event due to his interest in the discussion and gave some valuable opinions with regard to the placement debate.

One input that was common to all discussions was the lack of initiative shown by IIT residents, be it the students or faculty. Prof. Sanghi pointed out that IITK’s history of dominance had led to a laid back attitude which had percolated to all levels in the institute. He said that IITK had forgotten how to deal with competition, and that was where most of our problems stemmed from. The administration doesn’t recognise opportunities and even when they present themselves, it doesn’t do anything to seize them. He gave the example of a couple which applied to both IITK and IITB and their only requirement was quick approval of accommodation. Even though it would have taken IITB longer to provide accommodation to them, the Director of IITB went out of the way to give them what they wanted since both of them were valuable additions to the faculty. Nobody in the institute questioned his decision and even if they did, he was willing to defend it since the greater good of the institute was everyone’s priority. IITK, being one of the most democratic institutes in the country could not have went forward with such a decision because of the backlash it would have faced.

Extending this argument to the students, Dr.Vimal said that the lack of preparation on the student’s part is primarily the reason many firms do not come to IITK because it is not cost effective for them. The other IITs are no doubt easier to reach but the quality of students in terms of their preparation is also much better. Dr.Vimal agreed that some issues do arise due to the geographical disadvantages of IITK but we still manage to perform well in Placements. The student to company ratio was the same in both IITK and IITB, around 4:1. The median salary was also comparable between both the institutes. The only parameter in which we lag behind is the number of Management and Consulting firms that visit IITK. But apart from that, this is an issue which is blown out of proportion most of the times. Lack of faculty in the institute is often blamed on the city since nobody wishes to come to Kanpur. The panel unanimously agreed that the institute is not taking any aggressive steps to market its advantages as compared to other IITs. Some disappointing instances were narrated by Prof. Sanghi that showed that it is our inertia and not the city which is holding us back. He mentioned that IITB had taken  a decision some time back to send a faculty member to all conferences even if he/she did not have a paper to present, just to increase awareness about the institute. When this idea was proposed in IITK, it was dismissed on the pretext that IITK did not need advertising. Only those who applied for faculty positions would be accepted and the institute would not go looking for them. Also, none of the faculty members actively advertise IITK in front of their peers, something that goes a long way in creating a positive impression.

Another issue discussed is that of spousal employment, which becomes a hurdle while employing faculty. Again, Prof. Sanghi shared that there were numerous opportunities for employment which went untapped. The campus school, he said, is the biggest advantage that IITK has in this respect. Faculty spouses can be easily employed as teachers but they are paid even less than the cleaning staff in department buildings.

Prof. Ishan raised the issue of IITK’s responsibility towards the city. He said since the institute was established, it has not taken up a single initiative to improve the city or it’s problems. Even if we do not want to do social service, there is a selfish motive behind improving the condition of the city and if we cannot do it for our advantage, then we are to blame. Since we do not contribute to the city, our voice is irrelevant to the city of Kanpur. He said that the inverted question, i.e. are we a liability was not at all illogical. We draw underground water from bore wells, more than thousand feet deep, for watering gardens while most of the city’s residents can’t even afford to dig them.

The advantages of a small city were brought to light by Prof. Ishan. He narrated an incident from the time of the Ayodhya riots. A professor was stopped outside the IIT gate and asked to step outside his car. One of the men from the crowd recognised him as an IIT professor and asked everyone else to leave him alone. This privilege enjoyed by IIT faculty and students is unique to a small town. In metros like Delhi and Mumbai nobody cares if you are from IIT or any other college. Prof. Joydeep went on to say that small towns have a lot of adventures hidden for the people willing to explore.

The discussion, a first for the students of IITK, resulted in a lot of misconceptions being cleared and new issues being tabled. The huge success of the pilot event has convinced everybody that a deep void has been filled and that this concept is here to stay.

Written by Simrat Singh