Members: Amrutanshu Dash (Convenor), C.V. Aradhana (co-Convenor), Surabhi Lal, Hardik Singh, Kanchan,Sanchit Saluja, Tishta Tandon, Karthik Suryaprakash Thayur, Prarthna Sharma, Arshdeep Singh
The Academic Committee’s most significant achievement through this last year has been the implementation of the Student Academic Assistance Policy, its brain child that seeks to involve the 4th and the 5th year students in the teaching process. Given the administrative inertia, the program’s very implementation is cause for celebration; in its current set-up it relies heavily on volunteers and has received no meaningful engagement from the faculty. The committee feels that for student run remedial classes (which have been receiving a great turn-out) to realise their full potential and make a substantial impact, it is important for the program to be formalized, acknowledged and incorporated within the academic framework. The laxity of the administration has thus created a problem of choice – where one would have to choose between remedial classes and other activities on campus – and sometimes the lost opportunities act as a serious deterrent to the learning process.
Apart from this, however, the rest of the Academic Committee’s initiatives (i.e. formalizing the attendance system, ensuring a less arbitrary system for marking projects, creating a better attendance policy, etc.) have either been entirely dropped or have met with no engagement, and have thus remained mere fantasies.
At this juncture, one might be tempted to think that this seems to be too little to show for a committee comprising our college’s toppers, which, according to them, met thrice a month on average.
However, it would be unfair to judge all committees purely on the count of their deliverables. It seems like an exercise in futility to review the functioning of a committee devoid of the context in which it operates, and in isolation from its ability to effect changes. While the rest of this piece highlights the institutional roadblocks that severely curtail their power, it is important to realise that these conditions affect all committees in varying degrees.
Let us begin with their mandate. The Academic Committee, as the name suggests, has largely aligned its mandate towards addressing concerns that a student would be likely to face in the academic sphere. This may vary from disputes regarding whether the students must be given bare acts in the examination to whether a teacher is being vindictive or arbitrary in his/her grading of projects. From what I have gathered, the main focus of the academic committee has been to engage with the bulk of the rules and practices surrounding examinations, attendance and projects.
The first hurdle comes from the fact that most of these rules are not within the committee’s power to amend. In our largely chaotic system, there are multiple councils in charge of each of these aspects. For example, there is a separate examination council that is in charge of examination rules, which is distinct from the academic council, which deals with other rules governing academics. Both of these have compositions that are constantly in flux, and both of them meet as rarely as once a year. Any proposal brought to the administration is first sent around to different people, who are themselves sometimes unaware of their own responsibilities. This completely fragmented system preserves its existing structural integrity by diluting all the proposals for change that are placed in front of it, and by subjecting their fate to the whims of individuals who, more often than not, have no incentive to even hear the proposal completely. It is only fair to also note that there have been multiple individuals (also known as exceptions) who have been receptive to the suggestions of the committee, and have persevered to assist them. Unfortunately, this by itself isn’t sufficient to make a difference against the backdrop of apathy.
There seems to be a system (deliberately in place?) which confers an exclusive mandate upon the Committee, an unelected body, to be the sole point of contact regarding all issues concerned with academics. These issues happen to be of a substantially greater relevance than most issues that other committees have greater autonomy in dealing with (and some might legitimately disagree with this). Irrespective of what one might want to believe, it is a fact that the academic structure certainly impacts us all, and as a student body, we have no control over it.
The inference that is to be drawn from this is not that the academic committees in the past have been entirely unaccountable, but rather that their bargaining position with the administration is weak. Further, their representations are easier to dismiss, as they don’t command an electoral mandate that affords legitimacy to their concerns. This has been one of the most significant issues that has been afflicting the committee, and as a consequence, the rest of the college. The lack of a mandate has also kept the academic committee from planning and discussing anything as a long-term agenda, and given the pace at which the gears turn, short-term goals are constantly going to be merely piecemeal.
This piece is not to be interpreted as suggesting that the committee has done everything that it possibly could have, given the degree of autonomy that it had. For instance, there has been no effort to engage with people who are having difficulties in comprehending English, or assisting those who have had to consistently give repeats. It is in this context that the lack of accountability to the student body, and the latter’s inability to shape the goals of the Academic Committee is greatly troubling. The intention of this piece is not to highlight the shortcomings of the Academic Committee, but rather to kindle a discussion on how we ought to start thinking about reclaiming our academic spaces.