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Monday, April 9, 2012

The Last JEE and Autonomy of IIT Senates

Yesterday, IITs conducted the Joint Entrance Examination 2012, and many newspapers have reported the event as the last JEE, as we knew it. I really hope that they are wrong, and the Directors, along with the ministry, will reconsider its imposition of a new admission process.

While we have debated a lot the pros and cons of the change, there has been less focus on other issues around it. To me personally, a very important issue is autonomy of the Institutes. In an earlier blog, I had pointed out that the Act gave powers to Senates regarding admissions. Now, the ministry has come out with a document whereby they point out that Senates can play a role in the admissions only if IIT Council wants them to. It essentially says that even in academic matters, if IIT Council wants to take a decision, Senates have absolutely no say in the same. (Prof. Acharya, Director of IIT Kharagpur, read parts of it out during an interaction at IIT Kanpur last week.)

Stupid me. All these years, I was under the impression that Senate draws its authority and autonomy from an Act of Parliament, and hence we are largely immune from political and bureaucratic interference at least in academic matters. But now I am being told that Senate draws its autonomy only from a happy coincidence that most Directors in the past have allowed it to express itself. Directors could get together and decide to take up an issue in the IIT Council, even academic matters, and just take a decision. Senates do not even have to be consulted. This is shocking. In the earlier years, the opposite used to happen. Even in matters where the IIT Council clearly has been given powers to decide, if there was an academic angle to it, they will first seek the views of Senates. They may still do things that Senates did not like, but at least they consulted. From seeking views of Senate on everything, to declaring Senate as an unnecessary evil, we have indeed come a long way.

And what is the motivation for this assault on Senates. Apparently some of the Directors feel that their political bosses may not want any change in 2014, an election year, and a majority of Directors would have changed by 2015. So what if the new set of Directors do not believe in this change as passionately as the current Directors do. Of course, the current set of Directors know everything, what is good for all of us, and the new set of Directors would obviously be wrong. Hence you can't leave this important agenda to the next set of Directors. The problem is that there are not enough guts to ask the Minister if he is politically ok with a change in 2014, and there is not enough time to seek views from Senates for the implementation in 2013.  So tell the Senates that they are powerless.

The implications of this strategy are far reaching. Today, when the ministry wants to bring about a change, it takes Directors into confidence on most things, if not every thing. They know that Directors have to sell the idea internally, and it is not obvious that Senates will buy every suggestion from the top. But once it is established that Senates have no powers, then Directors too become powerless. They no longer can withstand pressures from the ministry. The delicate balance of power where everyone respect everyone else breaks down. The impact would not be visible immediately. In India, things happen due to relationships, and the current set of Directors and current set of administrators in MHRD already have an ongoing relationship. But slowly the power structure will change. The next set of administrators may not be as nice. The next set of Directors would have a much more difficult time.

But there is hope. There is a meeting in MHRD on 11th where they have invited several faculty members from all 7 IITs to hear their views. The hope is that we will be able to convince the ministry to follow a consultative process for such an important change.


Ankesh Kumar Singh said...

A really sorry state of affairs, especially after the hope we had after the open house :(

Saurabh Nanda said...

Why isn't this side of the story in the media?

SmitC said...

Sir, is not correct to state that as per the 'Institute Act' Section 33(a), 'it shall be the general duty of the Council to ADVISE on matters relating to admission standards' and also as per Ordinance No.3(Admissions), the power to amend the admission standards/procedures rests with the Senate in that only the Senate can pass ordinances (with some power to the Board)? Also, Ordinance 3,(bullet 3.10) authorizes the Senate to decide on the admission standards and procedures for all 'Categories' of students. Can this be seen to supersede or contradict (in a move of self-defense) the authority to decide on the admission standards for the'Programmes'?

Tarun G said...

The fact that IITs did not have any power on its own, was clear even back in 2006, when reservations were imposed on admissions.

The effect is clearly visible now, but it's sad to see how powerless we are and could do nothing.

With this sort of politics, India will never be able to grow, despite of all the potential it has. :(

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@smitc, I am not a lawyer. I do not know if "advise" includes "force." I also do not know why the Act refers to "admission" and "admission standard" as two separate phrases. May be "admission standard" refers to the minimum eligibility (like 12th class for BTech admission), and admission refers to the detailed process, including admission test.

What you are saying is exactly what MHRD/Directors/Council are saying, which is, "Senates never had autonomy. We were kind enough to let them have this feeling so far."

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Tarun, I see a difference in the reservation issue and admission issue. The reservations were decided by Parliament, and there has never been any feeling or desire to be above Parliament. One could agree or disagree with the decision, but it had to be implemented.

But in case of admissions, we had been under a belief that we had autonomy for the last 50 years. Suddenly, we are being told that we never had autonomy. They were just being nice to us, and they no longer want to be nice to us. This is totally devastating.

The first situation is like a doting father, who one day does not do something that you desire. The second situation is when a doting father tells you in your adulthood that he is really not your father, but just taking care for so long.

manu said...
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Ankesh Kumar Singh said...

@Manu, agreed that IITs have not done necessary reforms to JEE, but I don't see how the proposed system of exams would help to eliminate (or for that matter, reduce) coachings. In a country with so much student population and so few good colleges, coachings would always find a business.

manu said...
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WebMiner said...

"Delicate balance of power where everyone respect everyone else" --- are you kidding? Show me an IIT prof that respects ministry hacks and I will show you a dodo.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Webminer, I was not referring to MHRD officials, but to three bodies: Senates, Boards, and IIT Council. The Act has created a very fine balance between the three. With such a balance, the three bodies have to work together, grudgingly or otherwise respect each others' views and decisions. By re-interpreting the Act and suggesting that Senates have no power at all, this balance is sought to be destroyed. And current Directors do not realize (or worse they are doing it knowingly) that it will weaken the position of future Directors.

Unknown said...

Sir, I have a suggestion regarding JEE. Please consider reading it. My question is why are we given the department right at the start of our B.Tech just based on JEE rankings? most the people doesn't even know about the departments while filling the preference lists during counseling. I want to suggest that department of a student should be decided after 1 or 1.5 years of his B.Tech based on his JEE ranking+ performance in college during those 1 or 1.5 years. the ratio can be 50-50 or i would suggest 30% for JEE and 70% for 1st year performance in college. In this way, people will not be very much concerned about JEE. they will just be worried to clear the exam and won't be a big problem if JEE goes wrong for them due to not taking any coaching etc. I think this will reduce the influence of coaching etc as well upto some extent. And this will also increase sincerity of students towards their study in college right from the start.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

Dear @Unknown, I have a suggestion. Except under severe threats, let us be open about our identities.

What you have said is an excellent suggestion. This is something that has been discussed in IITK in the past, and is currently being discussed again. Most seem to agree that this will improve things a lot.

But the question is this. If an IIT getting 50 students from top 1000 in the current system think that they may get only 20 from the top 1000 in the new system, will they agree to it, even if they can be convinced that there is only 10 mark difference between the rank 800 and 1800, and that it will lead to significant lowering of stress at the admission time, and that it will lead to students taking academics more seriously in the first year, a complaint that we see from all IITs today.

The answer is NO.

manu said...
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