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A talk with the DoSW

July 16, 2015

###In Conversation with Prof. D.K.Nauriyal, Dean of Student Welfare, IIT Roorkee

The world is abuzz with the news about the expulsion of 73 students who have just now completed their first year at IITR. Protests are growing by the day with students and political parties throwing their hats in the ring. All this notwithstanding, all eyes and ears are presently directed at what the honourable Nainital high court’s verdict is going to be, on the 22nd of this month, as the students have approached the court.

In the midst of all this that WatchOut brings to you, an exclusive interview with Prof. D. K. Nauriyal, Dean of Student Welfare, to know firsthand, the admin’s stance on the issue.

The expulsion of 73 students has created quite an outrage among everyone inside the institute and outside. What were the reasons for these measures?

It is quite unfortunate that it has happened but it has happened out of a senate resolution that was passed last year. This information was also conveyed to the students that whosoever is not able to score a CGPA above five will not be allowed to continue his/her studies in the institute. So it was just implemented by dean academics; but the number being so large, it has become problematic. Had it been five or ten students, people might have not known about it.

This decision has a background. Looking over the data from the previous years, we found that students who had a backlog in the first year carry it till the fourth and the fifth year. In some cases students were not able to complete the backlogs even till the sixth year and they had to leave the institute without a degree. That senate took into consideration with due deliberations, that if such an unfortunate thing happens then it would be spoiling the career of the students for ever. To avoid such cases the constraints are placed on the first year level itself, so that if they are out of the system then they can continue their studies elsewhere. Their precious years are not wasted.

If students score a D in one or two subjects, then is excusable as it might have happened due to a bad teacher or some other reason, but if the student accumulates the grade D or less in all the subjects then this poses a serious question mark on the capacity of the students to bear the load of the studies here. Our expectation from the students is that, if they get a D in some subjects then there might be some other subjects of their interest in which they would score higher and maintain an overall CGPA of five.

We conducted a meeting with the weaker section of students from all the years and discussed their problems. By and large, communication comes out to be a major problem because of which the students are not able to score well. To tackle this we have evolved a system. We have identified students with a CGPA of less than six; those students will have student mentors now. We have invited application on channel I for the students from senior batches who are interested in mentoring students. Those students will have a CGPA above eight or not less than 7.5 in any case, and we have received a good number of applications. There students will conduct weekly meetings with the students and appraise their progress. We have also identified the key courses where the students seem to be falling. We will provide these students with enough incentives to do the job. Most of the times, it so happens that students are not able to muster enough courage to talk to the teacher concerned. But when there are students teaching students it will be easier for them to communicate about their problems.

Do you think that a senior student would be capable enough to teach the juniors, especially when he has been introduced to the subjects just a year ago?

The mentors will have the capacity to do so. And since most of the subjects in the first year are basic sciences it will be relatively easy to do the job. Mathematics is the subject where students fail at most of the time. We have invited applications and we will make it certain that only proficient people are assigned the post.

Don’t you think that it would be better to introduce this advanced system first and then make the expulsion mandatory for the underperforming students, the following year?

There happens to be some misinformation on this one. It is being said that the students didn’t know about it. That is a blatant lie. During their orientation program, students were handed an information booklet which contains this rule. But then not all the students read the rule book, we know that. So Dean Academics very specifically mentioned it in his address, and it was mentioned umpteen times, that grade point five is the bottom line, and the students should stay above the bottom line. Not only that, Dean Academics after the first semester counselled the students, even their mark sheets were sent to their homes and they were counselled again after the first semester results.

To clarify, when the mark sheets were sent after the first semester, were they again warned regarding the expulsion?

That you will have to check with Dean Academics, it is he who looks after these affairs. I just told you everything I know.

The notice for Academic Probation is dated 30th January this year. Students feel that the time window between the rebuttal and the final examinations was too narrow for them to improve their CG. Do you think their grievance is plausible?

Why are we assuming here that students would be scoring much less in the first semester, given that all of them are scholars and have come through coaching classes, where most of the fundamentals are made clear? We are not teaching them subjects alien to them. What they have to study, they have already studied in 11th and 12th. So why do we assume that they scored less?

But they did.

They did indeed. It is very unfortunate.

When you say that a backlog in the first semester carries forward to the fourth and the fifth year, do you believe that none of the 73 students would have made it through the college in their final year?

Our past experience such that, if I show you the data, somebody who has the backlog in the first semester continues with the backlog till 5th year. Of course, it is possible that a student with a CGPA of 4, may end up having a CGPA of 7 or 8. But you have to look at the probability. The laws and rules are formed for the average situations, not the extraordinary ones. The narrow range you are talking about, there is very low probability of that happening.

The point is that there is little that the institute can postulate or assume. The minimum CGPA criterion was made vocal and the discussion whether this system is fair or unfair is quite enigmatic. Also, had it been just five students, you might not have come here and interviewed me. Even though it would still have been unfair. So it is not the question of the merit of the decision, it is a question of large number.

Last year, amnesty was given to twelve students out of which only one could make it, rest just couldn’t make it above five even in their second chance.

What impact will it have on the educational standards of this institute?

I guess students will have to work harder. Take the example of your proficiency subjects. Not even 50% of the students turn up for those activities. And grades are just doled out. So, what are we doing here, if we are not able to make our students work hard? We can continue with the current state of practices but then IITR would go nowhere. That is the reason we have tightened up.

The selection criterion, JEE is one of the toughest examinations in India. Don’t you think that this is effective enough as a filter to determine the quality of students?

It is difficult for me to comment upon that. There is a strict policy mandated by MHRD government of India and the IIT council, so I can’t really comment upon that.

Plus, I think we need a bar somewhere after you enter the system. Some benchmarking. And this has been set right at the end of the first year.

There are cases where the students who have backlogs in a few subjects but an overall CGPA above five, have been promoted to the next level but the students with CGPA below five but a passing grade in all the subjects have been withheld. How is this system justified?

You will have to look at the underlying philosophy here. A student might score a D but a brilliant student would score well in a few subjects as well.

It generally happens with the students who do not attend their classes. Last time we implemented a system to maintain the weekly record of the students. But then it got inconsistent. Since all the topics are taught in sequence, missing one or two classes sabotages the understanding of the subject and hence students miss more classes, losing the grip over the studies even more. We will try to ensure that this doesn’t happen anymore.

90.4% of students expelled belong to reserved categories. Do you think the root cause of this issue lies in language barriers and other social factors rather than the incompetence of the students?

I don’t think they are any less brilliant than others. Some of them might be coming from vernacular backgrounds and might have trouble understanding the lectures. These problems need to be talked about. Last time we had meetings, and we concluded that this is a grey area that needs to be tackled. We don’t look into the caste or religion. To us, all students are the same. We never see it from that angle. If a student needs our support, we will be more than willing to provide that.

Mukesh Baruah is our SC/ST advisor. We called a meeting of all the weaker PhD students today, only 4 out of 100 turned up. When we had called a meeting of students of this section last year, only 3 students turned up. Most of the students who come to these meetings are from first year and second year. The other years don’t even bother. This shows their seriousness.

In any good system, if we call ourselves a world class situation, should we start questioning these numbers? 5 CGPA, 4 CGPA. Then there is no end to it. Tomorrow, we might just have to admit these students and give them their degree. So I feel there should be a minimum benchmark. If we keep disputing the limit, tomorrow someone might say 1 or 2 CGPA. Senate in its wisdom decided 5 is the bench mark.

In University of Roorkee, the pass percentage was 60%.

Do you think these numbers point to the underlying flaws in the reservation policy?

I think reservation policy rightly supports these groups that need to be supported. The only thing is that we need to work more on building their capacity than on simply handing out privileges which they cannot cope with, which causes them to drop out of the system. We, at IITR, are trying to do whatever we can do, with our limited instruments. Capacity building is the right solution.