Saturday, December 8, 2018

Remembering 1994 batch

Recently, DORA announced on facebook that 1994 batch will be coming to IITK later this month to celebrate their silver jubilee year of graduation. Then yesterday, the government announced that one of their batchmates, Prof. Krishnamurthy Subramanian is being appointed as the new Chief Economic Advisor. So I started thinking of my own interaction with this batch.

I had joined IIT Kanpur when they were in their 7th semester. In the 8th semester, I had offered a graduate course on networking, which only two UG students took, one each from CSE and EE departments. So, for all practical purposes, I didn't teach this batch. However, in the month of April, I felt that having overlapped with this batch for over 6 months, I should have some interaction with at least the CSE students before they leave.

I invited them one evening for some chatting and some tea/snacks. It was a very small group in those days unlike a graduating batch of 100 these days. About 15 students showed up. I started the discussion by asking how has their IIT experience been over the previous 4 years. This was a disastrous start, since student after student said that it was horrible, that they will never come back to IITK, and they would like to forget their experience. I was shocked. I have been a bachelor's student in the same department, and I had absolutely loved my 4 years here. What could have gone wrong.

I probed deeper. Did they enjoy festivals, student clubs, sports, hostel life in general, and they all seemed to have enjoyed that. So it was academics which was causing this negative feeling. So on a board I started listing all the compulsory courses and popular electives that many of them would have taken, about 40 of them. I started asking, "How was Math 101?" It was enjoyable. How was Phy 101. It was good. And we went on and on. At the end, out of 40 courses, they seemed to have liked about 35 courses, a couple of courses, they had some minor issues, and in another couple of courses, they had some major issues.

So it turned out that two faculty members either as instructors or as DUGC conveners (or some other positions) had taken a few decisions which the batch considered unfair and that was bothering them a lot.

It was an eye opener for me. I learnt that a few unfair decisions can cause so much hurt that one is willing to ignore all the good things that may have happened. I pointed out to them that they spent about half their waking hours on academics, and half on non-academics. Pretty much 100% of non-academic hours, they seem to have enjoyed, and 90% of academic hours too they seem to have enjoyed. Overall, 95% positive and 5% negative. That is not sufficient reason to hate IIT so much to say that they would never come back. Also in terms of faculty, each one of them would have interacted with 25-30 faculty members (instructor, tutor, warden, various committee members, etc.), and if they found two to be unfair, that does not represent the entire spectrum of their experience. They all agreed, and thanked me for this discussion. Some of them recalled this meeting when I met them a few years ago.

Later on, I made it a practice to invite the graduating batch every year for such a discussion with some food. The idea was to learn what negative experiences they may have had so that we can ensure the future batches will not face the same situation and also to put those negative experiences in perspective so that they don't go out with negative feelings towards their alma mater. Of course the practice lasted only about 10-12 years with 1 or 2 gaps in between.

I look forward to the Silver Jubilee Reunion and interacting with the batch again.

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