In conversation with Director : Student Faculty Interaction

Rishabh Jain and Anushank Jain (Inquisitive Wanderers) interviewed Prof. Indranil Manna, Hon’ble Director of IIT Kanpur. The converstaion revolved around the state of Student Faculty Interaction at our campus!

What is the status of Student Faculty interaction in the Campus ?

Director - I personally believe that it should be very good. It has always been one of the major traditions of IIT kanpur to have a very strong student faculty interaction. I believe it should be good even now, but recently I encountered a group of students and it was real shock to me to hear that students find it difficult in some courses with some faculty members, they have very alarming experiences and they feel kind of threatened, inhibited or intidimated to approach the faculty for clarification and compared to that they even clarified that they used to feel at home with their teachers during their school days and that’s how they grew up and after coming here for whatever reasons they feel that teachers are not forthcoming or not very friendly to them. If that is the reality then I am really alarmed and thats a very shocking news to me and we must reverse this track .

Should interaction be extended beyond academic walls ?

Director -  See you must realize that today we are dealing with very large classes compared to 20 years ago. Now even I am teaching a class of about 100 students, I have taught for more than 25 years in another IIT, I never had in my discipline more than 25-30 students, so to keep track of every single student I always used to make a roll call so I could remember their first names. That’s no longer possible, so interaction has to go beyond the class and this is how you create bonds and I have many many fond memories of my earlier days when students, beyond classroom, they kind of approached, and thats how we thought of, and created an All India Student Congress which still continues in IIT KGP which was started in 1992-93 and it’s a student congress with undergraduate students. So I have always enjoyed interacting with students beyond classroom also because of my background of affection for physical activities, games and sports. I think it should be true here and it was true when I was a student here at PG level. I remember I wrote almost the entire thesis sitting in the drawing room of my guide, because there was a reason I had completed my entire masters thesis in just 3 days working day and night. We used to go and visit our teachers during Durga Pooja and Diwali and all those occasions. Those are very fond meories and this still continues and I hope this should continue. In other institutes wherever I have served this is a very common tradition. Yes, classroom is a formal atmosphere but interaction must go beyond the classroom .

How has interaction level changed with time ?

Director- As I mentioned, class size has grown enormously which is one of the impediments against having a close interaction, but at the same time amenities are much better now, the facilities available are better and certain things have changed over the years. For example, the emphasis on practical work or practical sessions in my opinion has reduced which is a very detrimental thing. In engineering, we must learn from practical experiences, working with our own hands, running the equipments, machines, collecting data and analysing it and so on. So in a group, students should work and then carry out an experiment and then discuss mong themselves. I must say, even  project work beyond normal setup is a very healthy practice, one need not always wait untill the final semester or the final year. One can start working even at an earlier stage and that’s how you learn a subject better and create interest in the subject much better, so beyond classroom, beyond academic activities, in areas where one has particular apetite, this is how one should pursue. It could be anything, it could be writing, it could be organizing an event, it could be games and sports, it could be taking group of students to industrial visit or any kind of activity which allows more interaction.

What is the status of Student Faculty ratio in the campus

Director - Student to faculty ratio hasn’t really changed much, even though we have grown in terms of students we also have more and more number of faculty members. Infact I possibly would say that student to faculty ratio today is not really anything to be worried about. We need more teachers, not for teaching, but for interaction outside the academic curriculum for project work, for research, for organization of events, for career guidance and various kinds of constructive activities. But yes, we are actually looking for good number of new faculty members. Even beyond regular faculty members we are very keen to hire faculty from industries, from R&D laboratories even faculty from abroad. If someone wishes to come and spend a semester or even a few weeks teaching module, or even without formal teaching interact with a group of students at PG level, we will definitely welcome that, so we are very actively trying to hire faculty from industry and other spheres as well.

How was your interaction with your Faculty when you were an Undergraduate ?

Director -  Very close and very warm, I mean I remember Prof. KC Gupta coming on a Sunday and working with me to change the big rolls of the carpet. I carried out my Masters in precisely one year, 3 to 4 months at the most, so there was a huge rush and I had to do things very quickly. So that was the kind of interaction and he was already close to retirement, a very senior person. I sat in Professor’s house and wrote my thesis, and corrected it. Those were the days when we did not have word processors, basically you write and then correct, and then again. Not only teachers, even laboratory staff were like very close mentors and I learned a lot of things from them. I must also mention that IIT Kanpur in those days had one of the finest labs and facilities in Materials Research. Of course, we still have very good ones, but I must say, at that time probably we were probably the best institution in terms of research facilities in Materials Department .

What is the importance of healthy Student Faculty interaction ?

Director – Basically we must realize one thing that the faculty member exists because of the students and not the the other way round. Teachers are here because the students come here. And learning is a continuous process, I always keep maintaining that it never suddenly starts and suddenly ends. You learn till your last breath, and its a continuous process. And the same thing is true about one’s career and its a long walk and you have many milestones. You learn at every stage, and remember learning is not necessarily by the students alone, teachers while teaching also learn a lot and that’s why these close interactions are absolutely essential. I personally would always urge the students a few things. First of all  I would quote the famous Sanskrit saying, “Shraddhawan lavte kendram” – You have to have a healthy respect. If someone is teaching you, it is purely because of certain circumstances that someone was born earlier than you, studied the courses, and has got experiences before you. So there’s no necessity that the teacher has to be always mentally or intellectually far superior than you. A student can be IQ-wise much superior than the teacher but it is the discipline which is created through this mutual respect which allows the pupil to learn from the teacher. And that has been the tradition of this country and we must maintain that. On the other hand, the teachers have always treated their students as their own children. So that kind of a healthy mutual respect develops. But another very important thing is that whatever your are doing, you must do it to perfection. You may have many many things in front of you, but you have to apply your judgement and be selective and prioritize. So if you are a student, you must consider learning as your first priority and rest of the things should fall. Learning is not necessarily sitting in a classroom, learning occurs in whatever you are doing. The other part is when a teacher is teaching, he should teach to the best of his ability and by teaching I don’t mean only teaching the textbook because for that there are many modules available. But teaching has to be supplemented with new knowledge which comes through research. So for that, this interaction is very important. We all have certain duties to perform in the society and we must not stay away from that. So we must first fulfill our primary duty and rest of the things should follow. I would also urge all my young friends in the campus that they must undertake a decent amount of physical activity and should not be confined only within a room and be hooked to a computer or laptop. You must indulge in sporting activities so that your physical agility comes to a required level and the level of your skill and various other things and you basically grow your muscles and your tissues. And beyond a certain age they don’t grow, so at this age I would say a healthy diet and healthy physical activity both are important.

Special Note to the Campus Community

I did (that) already, and in fact ever since I joined, I don’t know if you are aware, I met and pressed research scholars, PG students, UG students, Counselling Service, Volunteers; of course I met all the set of faculty members and I would like to repeat that, I got very valuable input and I try to implement some of them. No student should ever be able to say that I wanted to meet Prof. Manna and he did not give me time, so I am always available and always ready to meet them. But I can’t alone solve all the problems, so that’s why we have created certain bodies and we must remember that we have the Senate, the supreme academic authority of the institute, we have certain sets of rules, we have certain sets of traditions and so on. So we can’t deviate too far away from that but I think there is enough room for improvement and I personally think that IIT Kanpur Academic Senate should devote more time in understanding the academic needs of the students and how to address them rather than spending more time on rules and regulations, terminations, failures. And infact, I find it very strange that we repeatedly allow someone to get terminated and then he reappeals several times. Although I have often been told that our failure rate is very low but in my opinion there is no necessity that somebody has to fail. If we can have zero failure I think the country would prefer that kind of a system, without compromising the standards. Since you have flagged it off I certainly would take very serious note of it and would like to collect more information by direct interaction with the students and faculty members, may be the wardens and all. You possibly are aware that to make life more comfortable and homely, the institute administration has introduced a new layer called hall guardians. Essentially they are faculty spouses. We have just made a beginning, we picked only a few who would be spending very flexible hours in the hostels without any administrative responsibility, only to look after the students. You know our spouses anyway know how to raise children. That’s exactly what they are doing, so nobody can be better than them to take care of these young 18-19 year olds who arrive here away from their home. So Hall Guardians will take care of the hall amenities, safety, food quality, hygiene, many other issues, without having any administrative power though. So they are more like a motherly care for the students. We also have introduced a new layer called faculty advisors, faculty members who volunteered to remain attached to a batch who are joining this year for the next 3-4 years until they finish their course. We are talking only about the UG, not PG since they are supposed to be more mature. So the faculty advisors actually advice the students, in terms of what kind of courses to take, if one is not doing well what course he should take, what courses he should drop, how can one plan the future so that without losing a year or a semester, one can clear all the backlogs and get going. Faculty advisors give them advice and tips as to what kind of extra curriculars [sic] he should take or simply if you have any problem in terms of communication or having difficulty in a particular subject. Many of them do not know the rules properly or what kind of flexibility this IIT offers in terms of major, minor, dual degree and so on. We also have an office called ombudsperson who can actually take care of any kind of conflicts that may arise between UG students and a particular instructor. So we have introduced multiple layers of interaction who can act as mentors or guardians. The whole idea is to improve the faculty student interaction so that all of us can live in an ambience which will be more like a family and which we could retain in our memory and recollect fondly forever.