An e-mail exchange between professors reveals a line of thinking that students find disturbingly restrictive, report Prasanth Radhakrishnan and Vasudha Venugopal
IIT-Madras may soon impose stricter disciplinary measures on students, reveals an e-mail exchange between senior faculty members that TheHindu sourced from one of the recipients. Besides what seem like unreasonable restrictions, some of the professors have made certain shocking comments about the character of students.
The e-mail thread is doing the rounds on campus at a time when students of IIT-M are brimming with discontent over what they deem ‘moral policing'. From regulating students' privacy to restricting their internet access, the proposed ideas seem to take disciplinary measures to a new level of impracticality. “Ideally, no LAN”, “Open doors and windows” (in hostel rooms) and “Shelving hostel nights and thinning down cultural nights” — are some of the ideas mooted by professors, some of whom are also administrators.
The e-mails were exchanged in late March, soon after the open forum in which students argued with administrators over rules regarding hostel nights - an annual celebration that all hostellers look forward to.
Students' feedback at the forum seems to have bothered professors quite a bit, going by what one of the professors M.P. Maiya, chairman, council of wardens, suggests. “For the next open forum, if at all there is one, we must get the questions screened by responsible students first” , he says, in order to ensure no “insulting or embarrassing question” is raised. He says this, referring to ‘I am 21 and what is your (read Warden, CCW, DoS, Director) problem if I have sex with my girl friend or whoever it is in the hostel room?' and questions like that.
Shaligram Tiwari, another faculty member, goes further and brings parents into the picture. “I apologise in stating that parents do not have enough education to recognise moral values,” he says . He suggests “generating enough fear towards wrong-doing” among students and “handling them harshly” , clarifying that “Of course, the good and academic students will naturally remain unaffected.”
When TheHindu contacted professors for their response, Prof. Maiya declined comment, while Prof. Tiwari said: “The comments were made in a particular context. Most students are disciplined. Only a handful of them need more disciplining.”
While most of the professors on the mailing list observe that many students are by and large well-behaved, professors seem to sense a crisis on its way. Narayanswamy N.S., a professor and the warden of Tapti Hostel, says: a small quantity of “impurity” in water is “ ok” but a larger amount is “not ok”, the latter referring to the current situation in IIT-M. “ Your life in iitm is in the academic zone and in the sports fields and in clt and in sac and oat. The hostel is the place for you to sleep. the bathroom/toilet is where you get your privacy” is the message he conveys to students, who he thinks are pampered “ in the name of their being elite.”
[The references are to the Central Lecture Theatre, the Students' Affairs Council and Open Air Theatre, where academic, cultural and extra-cultural activities are held]
Professors like him are also concerned by what they term “experimentation” and decline in “values”. In a comment that may outrage many, Prof. Narayanaswamy says: “It will be too late when some fellows are found to be having ‘alternate sexual' preferences and also on drugs….and we will be left with no defence...”
A few students who gained access to the e-mails are clearly enraged. As a second year student put it: “This is only an extension of other steps taken to intrude upon our privacy on campus.” She said some of the comments were “vicious” and found the comment on alternative sexuality “homophobic”.
A post-graduate student said: “These e-mails reveal tendencies in the administration that are downright dictatorial. There seems to be not an iota of democratic spirit in these faculty members. I find the comment on our parents to be particularly disgusting.” L.S. Ganesh, dean, student affairs, said that the correspondence reflects only the views of the individuals, and not that of the institution.
“We support the principle that these wardens stand by, not their words because that might have been only for effect.” He added: “Warden and hostel directors are answerable to the parents. They need authority to handle this responsibility. We have to give them certain moral rights over the students to propagate a healthy culture in the institute.”