Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Last Professor from Kelkar's Era Retires

Today is the last working day for Prof. Sullerey in Aerospace Engineering Department. He is the last of the faculty members who joined when Prof. P K Kelkar was Director of IIT Kanpur. We still have people in the faculty who were students during Prof. Kelkar's time, including one who joined a temporary job during his time, and later became a permanent faculty. And, I am sure that the legacy of Prof. Kelkar will continue long after everyone who had any interaction with him is gone from the campus. But, in some sense, an era is coming to an end today.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should New Programs at IIT Kanpur be Available to Existing Students

In the last few months, IIT Kanpur has made its academic programs more flexible. For example, it has discontinued admission to five year BTech MTech dual-degree programs. Now, the students take admission to the BTech program, and in the 3rd year decide whether they want to spend an extra year to get an MTech degree as well. Similarly, it has started dual-major programs, whereby the student in the 3rd year can decide to get a second BTech degree in one extra year. Yet another change is re-introduction of minor programs, whereby a student can do 3-4 courses in a specified area and the transcript will mention that s/he has completed a minor program in that area. The flexibility is same for science programs also. The student gets admitted to 4-year BS program, but will have an option to do BS-MS dual-degree, or BS-BS or BS-BTech dual major, or a minor in another discipline. IIT Kanpur has also introduced an Engineering Science degree for which there is no admission through JEE, but students can chose to get into this program as a branch change option.

All these changes are applicable to students who are getting admitted to IIT Kanpur in 2011.

In my opinion, the Institute should attempt to make all options (or as many as possible) available to existing students as well. What that means is that the existing BTech-MTech dual-degree students should have an option to change to BTech degree only (this should be easy to implement for Y10, Y09, and Y08 batches, if not Y07 batch). It should be possible for an existing student to spend extra time and get another undergraduate degree. Again, this should be easy to implement for Y10 and Y09 batches, while Y08 batches may have to spend not just 2 semesters extra, but 3 semesters extra. It should be possible for existing students to opt for a minor. Again, trivial to implement for Y10 batch, and certainly something can be worked out for most Y09 batch students.

Why should such a flexibility be extended to existing students is the question many faculty members have asked me.

My argument is simple. Whenever we decide on a change, it is because we think that in today's context, the new rule/system is better than the old rule/system. Otherwise, we would not have decided on that change. If the new system is better, then the benefit of that "better" system should be available to as many people as possible.

So any change that we approve for Y11 batch, we should also look into the possibility of making it available to existing students. Of course, we may come to the conclusion that there is no easy way to incorporate the new system into the old, and therefore, we can't extend the benefit to the old students. But, in general, the benefit of any good idea should be extended to as many stake holders as possible.

Now, of course, those stake holders may have a different point of view, and they may consider the old system to be beneficial to them in some way. Therefore, most good universities, when they decide on something new, give an option to the existing students that they can follow either the old system or the new system (except, as I said above, in cases where adapting new system for old students is very difficult).

Faculty members argue that if we extend any benefit to existing students, then we will be unfair to those students who did not take admission to IIT Kanpur, because they were told about the existing rules then. Hmmm. So we want to be more fair to those who did not take admission to IIT Kanpur, and less fair to those who did take admission to IIT Kanpur.

By this logic, we cannot provide any significant benefit to existing students that we did not announce at the admission time. We cannot, for example, change branch change rules for existing students. An extreme example of this logic would be the following: We should not allow existing students to use the latest sporting facilities, since they were not told about it at the time of admission. If we had told about the upcoming facilities then, perhaps others would have been attracted to IITK, and the current students would not have been able to get admission. So by allowing such an access, we are being unfair to all those who did not take admission to IITK then.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Prof M P Kapoor is no more

Last week, IIT Kanpur family lost one of its most illustrious member. Professor M P Kapoor was one of the founders of IIT Kanpur, having joined its faculty in 1961. He served the Institute in various capacities including Dean, Deputy Director, and officiating Director. His contributions to the technical education in India go way beyond his contributions to IITK. He was Vice Chancellor of Thapar University for 10 years. He also helped setup NIIT University in Neemrana. He was also helping several other universities. I have been meeting him frequently for the last one year, and he would often share his passion for education and ideas for new universities. His sudden demise is a big loss to the Indian Higher Education sector.

IIT Kanpur has setup
this site for anyone to leave a message for the family members.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grading Statistics for 2010-11-II Semester

Recently, Dean of Academic Affairs informed us of some statistics about the grades received by our students in the previous semester.

A total of 16,818 grades were assigned (not counting courses where grades are not given as 'A' to 'F', but Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory). Out of this the 'F' grades were 528, about 3 percent, significantly higher than the 2.5 percent in the previous semester, but much smaller than what was the norm a couple of decades ago.

About 26.5 percent of the grades were 'A', 32.2 percent were 'B' grades, and another 26.2 percent grades were 'C' grades.

If students are performing so well, then why are some faculty members keep criticizing lack of attendance, keep demanding that Internet be disconnected from hostels in the night, keep asking for reduction in the number of festivals. The students have proven that they can manage their academics along with their other activities very responsibly. It is high time we start treating them as responsible adults and with the respect that they deserve, instead of micro managing their lives.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

IIT Kanpur in JEE 2011

Yesterday, JEE announced the first round allocation of programs to all candidates. Newspapers today are full of statistics. Here are some numbers.

Only 4 out of top 100 JEE rankers chose IIT Kanpur. 70 of them have chosen IIT Bombay. This is the least number of students that would be joining IIT Kanpur from top 100 in its history, and perhaps reverse is true for IIT Bombay. The consolation prize is that IIT Madras is behind us. Last year, we had 5 in top 100, and Madras had 7. So we have "improved our ranking" amongst top 100 from number 4 to number 3.

Out of top 200, the story continues in similar fashion. 89 joined IIT Bombay, 70 join IIT Delhi, 23 join IIT Kanpur, 15 join IIT Madras, and 2 join IIT Kharagpur.

Out of top 500, 180 join IIT Bombay, 129 join IIT Delhi, 101 join IIT Kanpur, 68 join IIT Madras, 20 join IIT Kharagpur, and one student joins IIT Roorkee.

Amongst the top 100 girls, 26 join IIT Bombay, 26 join IIT Delhi, 18 join IIT Madras, 12 join IIT Kharagpur, 11 join IIT Kanpur, and 6 join IIT Roorkee.

At IIT Kanpur, the most sought after program continued to be BTech in Computer Science and Engineering. The unreserved seats closed at 317.

IIT Kanpur seems to have been helped by the introduction of all 4-year programs, and making the 5-year dual degree programs optional. All 5-year MSc programs have closed earlier in their new avatar of 4-year BS.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Safety and Welfare of Construction Workers at IIT Kanpur

Death of two construction workers in quick succession has caused a lot of charges and explanations. First, a report was created by a campus group called "Hamara Manch." The Dean of Resource Generation and Planning, Prof. Manindra Agarwal, gave a rebuttal of the charges in the report. Then an alumni group called "IIT Kanpur Citizens Forum" refuted several statements made by Dean. Here are the links for the websites of IITK Citizens Forum and the response by IIT Kanpur.

What do I think of the issue. Well, I believe that IIT Kanpur administration have no intentions of hurting anyone. They have no intentions of saving money. They would like to see that contractors follow all laws of the land, and if there is any cost associated with obligations under any law, IIT Kanpur would be happy to pay for it.

However, ensuring safety and welfare of construction workers require more than willingness to spend money. It requires supervision of contractors, and essentially forcing them to carry out all the obligations (for which costs are built in to the contract amount). And that is where, something goes wrong. There are lapses in terms of not forcing the contractor to do everything that they are supposed to do.

In such a situation, what should be the role of alumni, if any. Is Citizens Forum playing that role effectively. In my experience, if you just hope that an accident on campus will force the administration to become more pro-active in terms of providing a safer work environment for construction workers, you are going to be disappointed. So a pressure from community is important. All the gains that we have made in the last 10-15 years over the issue of ensuring minimum wages to contract workers have been primarily due to community pressure (both internal and alumni).

But I find Citizens Forum to be too harsh. It is unfortunate that alumni have to use such language for their alma mater.

On the other hand, IIT Kanpur also has to come out of its belief that they are the best (even if imperfect). They may be the better than most, even all, government organizations. But, many private organizations have become much more conscious of the safety requirement. And why not. Safety does not cost much money. It really has to do with mindset. And every accident dents your image. So, why not just do what it takes to create a safer environment. And, frankly, I have personally seen safer environments outside IIT Kanpur.

At the end, I hope we will now be providing a much safer environment to our construction workers.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Suspension of all Civil Construction at IITK due to Accident

Here is the office order issued by Director's office:

Sub.:Suspension of Civil Construction activities

In view of the recent tragic incidents that have occurred at the civil construction sites in the Institute, it is hereby notified that the Institute authorities have taken a serious view of the safety of the workers at all the construction sites in the Campus and it is hereby ordered to suspend the work on all the civil construction sites of the Institute with immediate effect, till further orders.

SE, IWD is hereby advised to inform all concerned persons, including the contractors, to immediately suspend work on all the construction sites of the Institute with immediate effect till further orders.

This order comes into force with immediate effect.

Sanjay G Dhande