Friday, July 22, 2011

Branch Change

Yesterday, there was a meeting of Academic Senate, and one of the agenda item was to permit branch changes to undergraduate students who were admitted in 2010. As per rules of the Institute, no general category student could be allowed a change of branch (and only two reserved category students were allowed a change of branch). Of course, there is a tradition in the Institute that students who get all 'A' grades in the first year, and hence a CPI of 10.0, are allowed a change of branch of their choice. Continuing this tradition, 7 students, all with a CPI of 10.0, were allowed change of branch.

What is interesting is that the existing rules did not allow even a single branch change to general category students, and if we include every type of branch change, only one percent of the first year students could be allowed a change of branch.

Till 10 years ago, we had amongst the maximum number of branch changes in the IIT system, and now we have the lowest. Something has gone seriously wrong, and we need to fix it.

Conservative branch change rules are one of the many factors that get discussed on various admission counselling sites on the Internet, and therefore discourages at least a few students from choosing IIT Kanpur.

Also, a liberal branch change regime reduces the stress on students. They don't see JEE as the final word on their life. They see that they have yet another chance to do what they like. If we could liberalize our rules, we will be doing a service to the society by reducing stress.

Further, a liberal branch change regime encourages people to ignore last year's closing ranks and choose what they like. In today's context, a lot of students and parents argue that they should fill up the choices in the order of closing ranks since it will be easier for them to change branch to the "lower" branch next year. If they opted for the "less popular" branch this year, it would be impossible to go to "more popular" branch next year. But if there is a reasonable chance that someone can indeed go from "less popular" to "more popular" branch next year, at least a few brave souls would ignore the closing ranks data in filling up their choices, and start thinking of their innate passion.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Poor Hostel Facility for New Students

Today was the day when new under-graduate students started arriving on campus, along with their family members. Smart looking confident students, but yet a bit fearful about the new life. Worries about ragging were at the top of the agenda even as the Student Guides will tell them that there is no ragging. One significant difference from the time when I was one of those new kids and today is that very few of us had their parents coming to campus. Today, it will be difficult to find a student whose entire family is not on campus to drop him/her. But I digress.

I went with one such student to the Girls' Hostel to look at the entire process. I must say that while the student volunteers were very helpful, polite, welcoming, the process itself was not befitting an IIT. At the entrance, it said, new students should report at the TV Room, and there were no directions to the TV Room. We asked someone, and she was nice enough to take us to the TV Room. I am not sure if everyone would be able to find such a helpful person all the time. At the TV Room, there were 4 student volunteers sitting on the chairs right next to each other, and there was one family in front of us. I don't think all four of them were helping that family/student simultaneously, and could have helped us in parallel, but since all four of them were sitting right next to each other, there was no way, we could approach them till the family in front made way for us. For us, it was a wait of less than 30 seconds, but what if 3-4 families came at the same time. If the volunteers had spread their tables just a bit, they would be able to help people in parallel.

Then we got the key to the room allotted, and the bad news: Three girls had to stay in the room designed for 2 students. One of the Student Guides took us to the room. It cannot have 3 beds, 3 desks, 3 chairs, and one almirah (2 almirahs being part of the civil structure). So, of course, there will be no almirah, and somehow the 3 girls will have to share 2 almirahs. There won't be 3 tables and chairs. One could keep one table in the room, and have a bit of space, or keep two tables and have no space to move about. How are students supposed to study. Well, they can go to library and study there.

We came to know that the second year students have been given single rooms. This was, frankly speaking, shocking. Why couldn't there be double rooms for both first year and second year students.

And, even if triple-seated rooms were necessary, there was an alternative that I have seen elsewhere. You put 3 beds and one extra almirah in the room. Take out all tables and chairs. Put several tables and chairs in one common room within the hostel (instead of asking them to go to library) and to make it attractive for students to study there, make that room air conditioned, just like library is.

The walls of the hostel were dirty, the corridors were dirty, and this is when the majority of the students haven't returned back. I am sure there are supposed to be sweepers in the hostel cleaning all this. Couldn't we do this a day before the new students and their parents arrived.

I am told that what I have seen today is much better than what is available at other IITs. And I have no reason to doubt that. After all, all IITs know that they will get the best students even if the facilities were much worse. But it is not a satisfactory answer to me. We just need to do the best we can, always, irrespective of what the expectations are, or what our competition is doing.

Of course, we can raise larger questions. When we knew the intake of 2011 in 2007, why do we have a shortage of hostel rooms. Is four years not enough to build sufficient capacity?

Friday, July 15, 2011

National Hero and International Zero

Recently, India Today ranked us as the best engineering college of the country. Here is the link to the news story.

In the last paragraph, India Today has quoted Prof. Sanjay Dhande, Director. He apparently said:

"Indian society looks at IITs as elite undergraduate institutions. This is unfortunate. IITs should have created an impact in research, postgraduate education, development of technologies for the benefit of society and providing effective academic and intellectual leadership to the society at large. This has not been the case. Society should demand more from IITs instead of merely glorifying them as elite undergraduate colleges. Being national heroes and international zeros is not going to work for long." (emphasis is mine)

I am sure that there is some miscommunication and Prof. Dhande has been quoted out of context. We are not comparable to the best in the world, but calling us "Zeros" is not a fair evaluation either.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lawn cleared of encroachment by trees

Three monsoons ago, a young faculty member, planted 35 trees in the area between Faculty Building and Lecture Hall Complex. He and many others had been asking the Institute for years to share the master plan for the campus and tell the residents what areas will remain green in the long run. But no master plan is ready, even after a decade. So he takes matter into his own hands, and plants several trees in an area where he believes and is reasonably sure, no construction will be done in future.

He is reprimanded by the Institute to plant those trees without permission, but miraculously the trees survive the wrath of the administration. The faculty member continues to take care of them at a significant personal cost. End of flash back.

This week, all those trees have been uprooted, without assigning any reason. (Whether the trees have been given any reason, I don't know. At least, the campus residents have not been kept informed.) This is strange. If the trees were planted at a location which was to be used for future construction, or if trees were planted in a way that it was inconsistent with the landscaping plan of the Institute, then they should have been removed three years ago. If there was no such problem, and the only issue was lack of permission at that time, then this encroachment by trees :-) could have been regularized.

Interesting discussion going on in the Institute. People feel that the death warrants were issued only because the birth certificates were considered illegitimate by the Institute administration.

I have added the two URLs of the photos that Prof. Prabhakar has posted in the comments. They are not clickable there. Hopefully, they are clickable here.

Old Photo: With Tree

New Photo: Without Tree

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Should IITK Courses be Open to Public

Recently, a resident of Kanpur approached me. He is BTech in Computer Science, and is running a small company in web designing. He wanted to know if it was permissible for him to do some courses as non-degree student at IIT Kanpur in an official capacity. I suggested to him that he could just talk to the instructor and seek permission informally. But he wanted to do all assignments, give exams, wanted them to be graded, and be assigned a grade. Sorry, we don't allow this.

He sent me a link from IIT Delhi and IIT Bombay. Both IITs allow this. Any instructor in either of these IITs could inform its Continuing Education cell that s/he has no objection to allowing people from outside to sit in the class. They could be working in industry, or in another academic institution, own a company, or whatever. But they do want the person to have adequate background to be able to do the course. If the instructors permit then those courses are thrown open for public on payment of specified fee. Sometimes, if a course is popular, they may even change the timing to evening classes to enable more outsiders to attend the course. At the end of the course, the non-degree student gets a certificate specifying the grade received. This is one way the Institute can help people in the neighborhood.

Of course, IIT Kanpur offers short term courses for industry folks. These courses are typically 2-10 days compressed courses. And all IITs offer them. The goal for compressed courses is that people from outside the city can come for a short duration and upgrade the skills. But there can only be a few of them. By allowing people within Kanpur to sit through its regular courses, the options to local people become more by two orders of magnitude.

Even new IITs like IIT Gandhinagar allow this.

When I talked to a few faculty members about it, the immediate response is - there is no demand for such a thing in Kanpur. May be there is very little. May be this person who contacted me is the only one in the city who is interested. What is wrong in allowing such a thing anyway. (And based on my experience with IITK, I know that if tomorrow there is a lot of demand, we will not start it because there is too much demand and we can't meet that demand. Our quality of education for our own students will go down.) And I do believe that there will be several people in Kanpur who would want to do courses at IITK. For example, many of the project staff, who have done bachelors from poorer quality colleges would want to do a couple of courses "officially" where they have a certificate at the end. And we have a couple of hundreds of them at any point in time.

It is things like these where leadership can play a very important role. Since the perception is that there is hardly any demand, most faculty members would neither do anything to make it happen, nor would oppose this, if the Dean or Continuing Education Coordinator were to propose this.

Friday, July 8, 2011

IIT Kanpur is Ranked Number 1 by India Today

India Today has ranked IIT Kanpur as the top engineering institute in the country. The rankings have been delayed this year and have been published in the July 18 issue of India Today. Here is the link to the online article.

IIT Kanpur was also ranked number 1 last year by India Today. Six of the seven old IITs are in top 10, along with IT BHU. (IIT Bombay is not in the list, perhaps they did not participate.) Outside the IIT system, the three institutes in the top 10 are: BITS Pilani, DTU (earlier known as DCE), and NIT at Surathkal.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Call for Nominations for Distinguished Teacher Awards

As most readers of this blog would know, IIT Kanpur has been recognizing some of its best teachers through the "Distinguished Teacher Award" which is given in a function to celebrate Teachers Day on 5th September.

Nominations are sought from faculty, students and alumni of IIT Kanpur for this award. More information on who is eligible, the process of nomination, where to send nominations, etc., is available on the website of Dean of Faculty Affairs, IIT Kanpur. Here is the link for the same.

The deadline for the nominations to be received by IIT Kanpur is July 15, 2011.

Friday, July 1, 2011

First Retirement from CSE Department

We had another bit of history in making yesterday. Prof. R M K Sinha had his last working day in the Computer Science and Engineering Department. The special thing about him is that this is the first occasion, a faculty member is leaving the department after superannuation. In the last 27 years, all the faculty members have left by resigning from IIT Kanpur. He belonged to the era when we had faculty members either shift from other departments to Computer Science, or had a joint appointment between another department and Computer Science. Prof. Sinha had a joint appointment between EE and CSE.