Friday, July 25, 2014

Convocation: Is there a need for a new format?

We had our convocation on 18th June, 2014. This time we tried a new format. For the last few years, we had one main function where there will be speeches, a few awards, in some years, PhD degrees were awarded, and then we had two more ceremonies later, one for just giving away PG degrees and the other for just giving away UG degrees. These degree giving ceremonies neither looked like a formal occasion nor a celebratory one. They did not have academic procession, or any invocation, no speeches, or even the National anthem. It was just a photo opportunity for the students and nothing else. In fact, the students were keen to slip out of the auditorium just after they received their degrees and they had to be stopped by closing the doors or having security volunteers at those doors.

This time we changed to two full-fledged convocations, a morning one and an evening one. Both had a procession, both had their respective Chief guests, all the speeches, invocation, national anthem, etc. In one function, all the PG degrees and awards were given, and in the other all UG degrees and awards.

It was extremely well received, but for one problem. The previous format discouraged students and parents, while the new format was attractive to them. Also, the number of graduates was higher this time compared to previous years. Both these things combined, the number of students who came to receive their degrees in person increased substantially, and we could not accommodate some of the parents in the auditorium, leading to some heartburn.

What is the way forward. In the informal discussions with graduating batch, two points come out very clearly. One, they would like the convocation to be held as soon as possible after their completing the requirements. Two, their parents and possibly other family members be able to watch them receive degrees. Also, students did not like being given degrees without any ceremony. One also has to note that the number of graduates will increase further next year.
The options are as follows (at least those I could think of, I am sure there can be more):
1. Keep two ceremonies on the same day, like this year, and inform students in advance that parents will not be allowed, or at most one parent will be allowed.
2. Keep two ceremonies on the same day, but shift the convocation to a later date, say in October, which would be inconvenient for many graduates, attendance will reduce, and we will manage to permit both parents of all graduates.
3. Have three functions serially on the same day. Of course, we can not have three full-fledged convocations on the same day. So it will have to be the earlier model of one main function and then just the degree distribution functions for providing photo opportunity. But it is not clear if this will really allow both parents of all students to be present in the degree distribution ceremonies. It will be touch and go and may cause heartburns if more students attend.
4. Have three (or more) functions on the same day, but allow parallelism. More on this later in the blog.
5. Have three (or more) functions on different days. Again, more on this below.
It is obvious that with the increasing numbers, we will have to have three (or more) functions to accommodate all graduating students and their parents in the convocation. The issue is whether everyone gets degrees on the same day, or is it ok to give degrees on different days. So, options 4 and 5 are really what we need to focus on.

Option 4 can be implemented by having one function in the morning, and having two (or more) functions in the afternoon. For example, we could have PhD and Master's degrees granted in the morning session, and in the afternoon, have one session for engineering departments, and another for non-engineering departments. This model is extensible to even larger numbers, since we could introduce more and more parallel sessions as the number of graduates increase. Thankfully, we will soon have another lecture hall with a capacity of 600 which could be used for this purpose. The hall will be available in time for the 2015 convocation.

Option 5 can be implemented by either having the multiple sessions on two consecutive days, or having one or two sessions in summer and having another one or two sessions in the winter. For example, we could continue with the two functions in summer as we did this year, and have one function in winter where all those who graduate in July and December can be given their degrees.

While it will be possible to have two parallel functions in the afternoon, there will be issues. First, one function will be larger (in auditorium with 1200 capacity) and the other will be smaller (in L-20, with 600 capacity). So their relative importance would not be equal in everyone's mind. Further, we have a very strong notion of batch in the student body. To split the graduating batch into two may not be appreciated by students, since they also want to receive their degrees and specially awards in fron of all their batchmates. Also, in our system, Chairman, Senate gives all the degrees, and he cannot be present in two places at the same time. Also, in our system, DOAA office manages the convocation, and managing two convocations in parallel would be a challenge for the staff. But, these are minor issues. (For example, the functions in the afternoon can be split based on year of joining.)
The other possibility of having convocations in winter and summer does not have above-mentioned issues, and it really helps those who are graduating in July and December. They don't have to wait for the next summer to receive their degrees. So it is a very attractive option, but it comes with a cost. The convocation organization requires a lot of preparation and substantial funds. Doing it twice in a year would increase the costs both in terms of human resources as well as monetary costs.
Sooner or later, Senate will have to take a call on this. But as of now, there is no consensus, and unless a quick decision is taken between option 4 and option 5, a lack of decision will eventually result in choosing option 1 by default, and a lot more heartburn amongst our graduating students and their parents.

No comments:

Post a Comment