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IIT Bombay is renowned for its world-class education, with some of the most qualified faculties from across the country. Similar to several other top universities in the world, IIT Bombay follows the model of maximising the instructors’ autonomy when it comes to deciding the course content, the grading, the evaluation methodologies, etc. This autonomy, however, occasionally comes under the lens. Cases where professors have gone rogue with evaluation methods and instances of random grading schemes are often talked about on student forums but these discussions fail to make it to the administration. In some extreme cases, professors have even gone to the extent of threatening students with bad grades when they raised their concern with a certain evaluation policy. While autonomy for instructors is essential in a modern-day educational set up, there have to be certain checks and balances to ensure that the autonomy is being used for good. With this article, Insight looks into the situation at IIT Bombay and what steps have been taken by the administration to ensure student well being alongside instructors’ autonomy.

The present situation

Ideally, most professors discuss their evaluation schemes in the very first lecture. A majority of them are even open to suggestions from the students and make the necessary modifications if required as the end goal of learning is to not secure marks but to ensure understanding. Some professors, however, can be a bit adamant on their evaluation schemes and students have no option but to comply. If the scheme seems excessively unreasonable, the general practice is to communicate it to the professor through the Class Representative. One can also raise issues with their respective DUGC/DPGC. In some rare cases, even the faculty advisor gets involved, but given the dynamics of the professor fraternity, the faculty advisor’s involvement is extremely limited. The DAMP and ISMP network is another channel through which the grievances are often communicated but action is rarely taken.

In this situation, the seemingly strongest tool that aids students is that of feedback. Every semester is followed by a detailed feedback filling procedure through which students communicate their experiences with the courses, the instructors and the teaching assistants. While the administration lays a lot of emphasis on the feedback filling procedure through multiple reminders and deadlines, a major chunk of the student populace remains clueless as to what exactly is the protocol followed after the feedbacks are submitted. In the case of some professors, the feedback remains sub-par, year after year, yet there’s no visible change in the manner of teaching or evaluation. 

An ex-student representative told us that the feedback is looked into by the department as well as the faculty but little is known about how the action is taken in case a professor receives negative reviews. It is also a criterion for awarding excellence in teaching awards. Consistently bad feedback is likely to affect the professor’s chances of promotion too. The manner in which this can affect senior professors however remains to be a question. All in all, there seems to be no standard protocol in place to deal with professors who have been receiving bad feedback semester after semester. 

Issues with PhD Guides

It is a known fact that PhD guides enjoy supreme power in terms of deciding their student’s work and evaluating their performance. This power dynamic leaves a lot of room for misuse on part of the guide. Several students have often anonymously complained of unreasonable expectations and working conditions on multiple student forums. Not only does this affect the mental health of students but also serves as a precedent for the budding academicians and researchers who might perpetuate this toxic cycle when they take up senior positions. The skewed power balance also makes space for gender and caste-based harassment issues, which are rarely reported for obvious reasons. Some students have also complained of being harassed by professors and being cornered in their departments when they chose to lodge a complaint against their guides. Professors have also been known to gang up against the student, which further deters them to talk about their issues, let alone lodge their complaints officially. 

The way forward

The recent case of a viral video clip where a professor was seen threatening their students successfully created a discourse in the student community. Meanwhile, the student representatives approached the administration with several proposals to keep a check on the autonomy of professors. The administration is currently looking into a proposal to set up an academic grievance committee with representation from students as well as professors. Furthermore, to protect the interests of PhD students and empower them, the ex GSAA PG has proposed a work progress documentation system to document the research work better. This can also be used as evidence in the event of a conflict between the student and their guide.

As of now, the Student Grievance Redressal Policy Committee has been formed. Aiming to solve academic issues within the student community, it has already started receiving student inputs through student notices. Keeping certain important spheres (such as “academics”, “hostel” and “administrative/others”) of student life in mind, a form was floated on Webmail asking students to share their grievances. It further asked students if their grievances were resolved and what more should be done to improve the current resolution system in IITB.

With these steps being taken, it is clear that Institute Administration is taking steps toward improving their redressal mechanisms. Further, allowing the student population to participate and suggest improvements may ensure that our voices will finally be heard while making key decisions regarding this issue.