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What actually happened

Somewhere in the first week of April, as we shuttled between elections, selections, treats,
PAF meets, valfi profiles and end-semester exam study sessions (if any such exist), an
inconspicuous mail was circulated on Student Notices by our then newly instated Dean of
Academic Programmes with the following message:Compulsory attendance for students
from the beginning of the semester

“… Students are expected to attend classes right from
the first day of instruction in every semester. It has also been decided in this meeting, that
students are liable to be de-registered from courses if they do not attend classes in the first
week of the semester…”

Given the fact that many students had scored ‘official’ internships through the PT Cell that

violated the conditions of the mail, and the lack of precedence for such a rule, the message
came across as extremely non-intuitive and confusing. Due to the ambiguous nature of the
mail, and the general chaos that characterizes April in IIT Bombay, this issue went largely
unnoticed by most of the student community. Hence, it came as a real jolt in May when
another mail was sent from the Dean AP’s office reiterating that students who missed even
a single class would be de-registered from the semester. Suddenly, there was a scramble
to prepone the internship dates and adjust tickets, many of those at a high cost, at least

Throughout the months of June and July, the GSAA was stuck seeking clarifications on
behalf of students and trying to reconcile student pains with the apparently immovable
instructions from the Dean. Somewhere in early July, another mail was sent which stated
that a student would not be de-registered if he missed the two days as long as he could
prove that he was indeed working during that period.

Forward to a few weeks into the semester. A mail was sent by the Dean AP containing the
names of 79 students reported to have bunked lectures during the first week. Everyone on
the list was asked to go to the Dean’s office and give a reason for their absence.

A few days later, another mail was sent, asking the Academic Office to de-register 10
students. Later, we discovered that no one was de-registered this semester, but the 10
students on the final list were given a warning that they would be de-registered indefinitely
if they failed to attend the first week of classes next semester.

Why it happened

While the implementation ultimately wasn’t as dire as the imperative threatened, this rule
caused a lot of worry and confusion in the minds of a large number of students. To figure
out the evolution of this saga of chaos, we spoke with the Dean AP, Prof. Shiva Prasad.

InsIghT: What was the reason for the inception of the rule in the first place?

Dean AP: Many professors were unhappy with the fact that students would end up missing
the first week of a course, which, in their opinion, was a major reason for the lack of
interest shown in the subject. They felt that, given the way that they had designed their
courses, the first week was an integral part of understanding what the course was about.

I: Why was such a harsh punishment decided for a relatively mundane issue as this?

D: There was a Senate meeting held where the punishment was decided as De-registration
for a semester, but the issue of re-registration of the student was not discussed. If the

students and professors are ready to sit down and discuss modifications for this rule, I am
more than willing.

I: This seems like a problem that would have been present for a long time now. Why
was it brought into the limelight recently?

D: This year, Techfest was moved from the later part of January to the first week, which
coincided with the first week of classes. The professors noticed a marked drop of students
attending the first week as compared to the previous semesters. It came to their notice that
freshmen were being asked to bunk classes to work for Techfest. Looking at their peers,
many others also decided to skip classes.

I: Couldn’t anything have been done about the timings of Techfest, rather than apply
this rule?

D: There was a suggestion to fit both Techfest and MI into the winter vacations, but this
was rejected by the IBs, citing logistical and staffing reasons, since this would mean
conducting Inter-IIT, Techfest as well as MI in a span of less than 30 days.

Why it shouldn’t have happened

The institute has the power and responsibility to maintain a healthy educational
environment. Some of the criteria for legislation to be considered fair are:

Need: A strong rule must either prevent great harm or achieve significant benefits. While
professors are justified in criticizing students that miss the first week purely on the basis
that much won’t be taught, exceptions could be made for students that end up missing
the first week to spend more time at home or to complete an internship. A more nuanced
stance recognizing the different motives, and penalizing them respectively is what is
required, rather than a “one-size fits-all policy.”

Proportionality: The punishment should be a morally acceptable response to the crime.
De-registration, either from a course or the semester, as the case may be, can cause a great
deal of stress resulting from backlogs, with the effects spilling over to other semesters.

Temperance: One must ask question as to why this rule was implemented retrospectively,
often at great cost to students who secured interns without the aid of the PT cell.
Retrospective action tends to be reserved for extremely severe crimes and the overall

effects of this rule on students should definitely have been looked at more closely.

Epistemic Modesty (Open-mindedness): The institute should make space for differing
definitions of a healthy academic environment. Internships often supplement coursework,
and even if not, they contribute to all-round development by teaching things outside one’s
core competency. Furthermore, foreign universities have differing academic calendars
which cause projects to spill over into the start of the semester, which may become a
deal breaker for students wanting research projects in the future. In such a scenario, the
institute ends up penalizing students who are enthusiastic about research by denying
them availability to resources and equipment that IIT may not be able to provide in the
foreseeable future.

What should have happened

The primary reason that so many students were unhappy with the rule was because it was
announced too late. Ideally, the rule should have been announced during the odd semester,
where interns, etc. hadn’t been decided and tickets hadn’t been booked yet. If the inception
of the rule occurred in the spring semester, it should have been applied only from the
subsequent semester/year onwards, to avoid the disruption of any plans of students.

The other aspect of the rule that didn’t make sense to most was the magnitude of the
penalty. The punishment for ragging, which could be the cause for major psychological
impact, is a Rs. 10000 fine. While the rule was instituted to enhance academic interest in
students, de-registration is, ironically, a move that hampers academic progress, where
added stress is a minimum in terms of effect on the student, and even an extension of the
degree is not impossible. Even if we look only among the systems in place currently for
alternatives, community service, for example, seems like a much better alternative.

And finally, while we may want to punish students that don’t turn up in time, alongside
this, we should be looking at the various ways in which the student population can be
made to understand the importance of attendance, with some emphasis particularly on
the first week of classes. This would, if nothing else, provide perspective to many students,
and it would be quite likely that at least a few would inculcate the message. After all, isn’t
prevention better than cure?