Monday, March 24, 2008

How the IITs can suck less

It is a general observation that if you allow comments on any online forum, it usually degenerates into a cesspool of filth and dung. My blog doesn't fit this observation, probably because it isn't as much a forum as it is a vent for my viewpoint. Plus, nobody reads it.

Last week saw some remarkable filth and dung on one particular post, though some comments were surprisingly insightful. For the record, I haven't deleted any comments, and all comments are still available for all to see. In places the comment author (not me, the blog author) has decided to delete their comments.

A heartfelt thanks to the person who posted anonymously saying the following:
The strange thing one can easily notice about IIT UGs is their un-necessary superiority complex(there is exception). They think, cracking the exam (where our education system is read, re-read, and reproduce) entitles them to be a creative genius like Einstein or Schrodinger.
Remarkably true, and I think you've put it better than I could. This post comes from a person who teaches at an IIT coaching institute. Instead of thinking deeply about what was said, a variety of clumsy comments were posted, railing against this person. Most comments were ad hominem attacks on this person being a tutor rather than an Aryan JEE graduate. These comments pointed out what I was saying all along: we don't know how to react to criticism.

Another beautiful comment was again anonymously posted, and quoted a snippet from an Indian magazine Outlook.
SOURCE:OUTLOOK April 30,2007

Tata Steel MD, B. Muthuraman, an IIT Madras graduate, says IITs are now thriving on their "past reputation" and TISCO is "not likely to recruit" IIT graduates any longer

Many IIT professors too find the present crop of students lacking in creativity, and the spirit of innovation and inquiry

They blame the students' blinkered, robotic approach to their studies on the fact that a large majority are products of coaching factories.

They call for reform of the joint engineering exam (JEE), and of the IIT curriculum as well, to develop the students' societal awareness, communication skills and knowledge of the humanities.
This is an understandable development, and was bound to happen given the skills of the graduates. I am glad that TISCO is honest and forthright in their opinion of IIT graduates. Even if the IITs are world class, not addressing such concerns is a remarkable failure.

To the person who pointed out the insignificance of my blog: Thanks, I already knew that. Yet, here you are, reading it, and writing a comment on it.

Finally, someone decided to rail on me personally by asking what my suggestions were. Thank you for you very inflammatory attack and your obvious anger. First, realize that if you are asking me for suggestions, you admit that the institution is broken. We can't fix something that is perfect, so at least you agree with me on that part. That alone was the point of the post where I was pointing out how the IIT Bombay was broken. Now let's go on to the suggestions, which are put into categories on N's suggestion.

  1. Fire all the Nazis running the administrative offices, and the administrative section of the departments. I never understood what the role of the administrative people in the Mathematics department was. They did nothing useful when I was there, and only served to impose a strict power structure over the students. Move administrative tasks online. Make the administration accountable to students.
  2. Fire the clowns doing security. They wouldn't notice if someone steals their furniture. There's very little worth stealing, so stop running the place like the Manhattan project is under way. Bolt computers and screens down, and leave the labs open.
  3. Stop treating the boys and girls like they were cherubs. These are young adults, and they will engage in mammalian behaviour. Hint: the sign-up system in the girl's hostel has never worked.
  4. Decrease the feudal nature of the institute. Have you see how big a house the director lives in? Have you compared it to the lodgings of normal faculty? Get rid of this fawning feudal organization, and you might just see change. This sycophantic nature carries over to the departments, where the department chair has way too much power, all the way to the security setup. Everyone and his dog wants to assert their control and their position. Nobody helps the students out unless they kiss up to this power structure. Realize that the institute is primarily for research and for students, and treating students like crap isn't a good strategy.
  5. Remove the thought control headquarters that censors access to the Internet. Students already have all the porn they could ask for, so clearly the Gestapo isn't working. Legalize the local network that has all the unmentionables.
  6. More openness in the running of the campus. How much money do we rake in, and where does it go?
  1. Do something useful with the teacher evaluations rather than throwing them into the fire each year. Get rid of the bad teachers. Allow students to anonymously post their grievances. Take videos of all lectures, and put them up online. You'll know in a week who the poor teachers are.
  2. Increase the pay of the professors, and give good incentives. Faculty housing needs to be improved. Give faculty more control over their research, and allow them to hire students with start-up funds. Give faculty more control over their teaching, rather than the strictly regimented teaching load.
  3. Allow students to sign up for more classes than they need in a semester. Allow students to drop classes after the semester has started.
  4. Decrease the crushing workload on students. Focus on learning and not coursework. Give students time for rest, thought, and flirting.
  5. Strike up partnerships with industry. Allow industry funding to sustain research. Give professors generous cuts of the funding they bring in. Allow industry representatives to attend classes, collaborate in research projects, and mentor students. Allow industry to subsidize needy students by sponsoring fellowships.
  6. Post the syllabus of courses online in a wiki. The difference between the published course info and the actual course info is immense. When you think you're learning Mathematical Modeling, you're actually learning what Nazi Germany must have felt like. Let the wiki reflect this.
  1. Stock some general books in the library. Allow individuals and institutions to donate books for use in the library. There is Western literature beyond Shakespeare, you know.
  2. Increase the fees to allow for a humane living environment, and then clean up the hostels. There are some new hostels but the old ones are abysmal. Journalists who claim that IITs are a prestigious institute should be forced to live in the old wing of Hostel 4 for a month, preferably in May.
  3. Much of the surrounding area needs to be scrubbed clean of the damn mosquitoes. It is nearly impossible to go for a walk, or to study if there are so many mosquitoes all around. The area near the lake needs a very good scrubbing: the filth really clogs up, especially after festivals where trash is dumped in the lake.
  4. Herd the cows together, and launch them off to Mars. I don't think the dogs are that bad. Some of them were very close to me, and a source of honest companionship. A big exception is the rabid, angry mongrel near the staff quarters. Donate him to the local ultra-nationalist party.