SAC Restructuring: Changed For The Better?
All work and no play makes college a dull place, and to prevent that from happening NITR has got a proper system in place. The Student Activity Centre (SAC) is the body which encompasses various societies under which all the clubs fall. The SAC structure provides for a tiered system which gives power to the faculties as well as the students to organise and manage extra-curricular activities, events and celebrations around the campus and keep intact the rich club culture of NITR.
How It Used To Work? And How Did It Change?
Till last year, four societies, namely the Technical Society, the Games and Sports Society, the Literary and Cultural Society and the Film and Music Society existed under SAC. Each of the societies had ten student representatives; eight of which were elected by the students and two of whom were nominated by the Dean (Student Welfare) from among applications received from interested students. All of them worked to help the clubs under their society as well as to organize the fest which their society was responsible for. From among all these representatives, two from each society were selected to be convenors. Two convenors were also nominated by the Director. In turn, from among these ten convenors, two were selected to hold the positions of the General Convenor and the Joint General Convenor. They were allowed to be a part of the Purchasing Committee which overlooked the purchase of goods and requirements for SAC use.
Last year, with a round of restructuring, NITR saw many changes in the SAC structure. The names of a couple of the societies were changed and there was some confusion as to which club comes under which society. The Film and Music Society expanded to become the Art and Cultural Society, and the Literary and Cultural Society became just the Literary Society. The number of representatives per society has been halved, of which four are elected and one, nominated by the Dean. In an attempt to separate the organisation of the fests from the management of the clubs, Convenors for the fests are elected separately, and any student (except UG students of first and second year) can contest for these posts. Two convenors are elected and one convenor is selected by the Dean (Student Welfare) per fest. Provisions of having internal elections to choose the General Convenor and the Joint General Convenor surprisingly stopped this year; leading to no student being present on the Purchasing Committee. This was how SAC was proposed to be structured this year, but circumstances forced it to be different.
REQUIREMENT IS THE MOTHER OF RESTRUCTURING
The basic reasons for proposing the restructuring were that the previous model of SAC was not very efficient when it came to the composition of clubs under the various societies. Also, it was generally agreed that the management of the college festivals shall be overseen by fest convenors, elected differently and for a different purpose, from the society convenors.
When Team MM contacted Mohit Gupta, the Director’s Nominee of yesteryear, who too pushed for SAC restructuring, he said that when they had had the meeting with the director last year for the restructuring of SAC, a lot many points were discussed, but many of them have not been implemented. Some of the previously prevalent systems that they had wanted to change were;
- A large number of secretaries but the amount of work done by them was less.
- No scrutiny of the nominations filed for elections.
- No scrutiny of the work done by student members of SAC.
- Literary and Cultural Society, and Film and Music Society had clubs which were not according to what the societies were actually supposed to look after. Hence a proposal to change the composition of the socities was planned.
- Separate body for fests.
- Reduction in the number of fests and only three proper fests in a year.
There have been many points of contention and benefit because of these, some of them being;
- A separate body for fests was made which has made the management of fests easier.
- Reduction in number of secretaries leading to more competition and hence more talented people coming into positions of responsibility.
- Just the names of the society were changed but the agenda and work done by the society were not changed.
- Fests were reduced to three but the budget for them was also reduced, where an increase was expected.
- The SAC budget was reduced but there was no reduction in the amount collected from students as SAC fees.
The SAC was restructured in an attempt to fix many problems; however, it simply restructured the old problems to become new issues.
One of the major problems seen this year was that three of the seats meant for the post-graduate students and research scholars went uncontested. The disinterest of the students in contesting for these positions and having a proper representation at SAC was alarming. To fill those seats up, the Director had to nominate students. But instead of nominating students from among the PG and Doctorate students, he decided to choose candidates from the undergraduate lot. The PG representation in SAC thus plummeted even further.
The restructured SAC lacks a basic constitution or a rulebook. The restructuring did produce a basic memo which was documented as the new constitution, as told by Prof. Arjun Mukerji, VP, Arts and Cultural Society (ACS), but seeing as it only mentions what changes are to be implemented, it holds no further value in the already restructured SAC. As Prof. A K Swain, VP, Technical Society (TS), said,
The group of people who suggested and saw the restructuring of SAC through, should also have scripted a proper constitution to replace the old one. As posts were changed and decreased and various new positions emerged, one expects a simple handbook so as to at least refer to it to know about one's duties and responsibilities.
Elected and selected student representatives, not including convenors and nominees for fests, are mostly clueless as to what their position requires them to do since no clear verbal orders have been issued by the authorities and faculties-in-charge. Almost a year passed and none of the faculties-in-charge or student representatives could take this up with the authorities, high up. It was only in a meeting on 21 March 2018, when a proposal for such a rulebook was discussed and they came to a final decision to script a proper rule book.
However, a point put up by Prof. Arjun Mukerji was that after working for almost two full semesters, any responsible secretary or convenor should be aware of his or her role and duty towards SAC. Denying this knowledge may mean negligence on one’s part, for not being upfront about this as well as bringing this up, only when their tenure is about to end. In Arjun Mukerji’s words:
If you don’t know after a year, what your roles and responsibilities are, who do you think we should doubt? And if you had any confusion regarding it, how is it that you didn’t clarify it for one whole year?
The VP, Technical Society (Prof. AK Swain) is of the opinion that just having a rulebook would not change anything, as there are many who do not turn up for meetings and work. There is no mandatory restriction on them to contribute to SAC. It is their moral obligation to contribute to SAC; no-one can force them. In regards to the redundant constitution, he said:
No one demanded a written documentation but some representatives approached the VPs occasionally to know their tasks and responsibilities.
Due to an absence of a proper rulebook, the secretaries to the various societies are confused whether to help the convenors in organising fests or not. This is mostly due to the verbal orders issued to them, against doing so. Hence, the overall number of elected student representatives working under the grind during fests has gone down drastically (the number has reduced from 10 to 3). This puts on more pressure on the three fest convenors to get all the paperwork signed and to get the ball rolling. Some secretaries, however, do volunteer to help organise and manage the events to help ease the load on the convenors.
NITR has a club system where the clubs are almost autonomous in themselves, except for being allocated a budget under SAC. Each club has got its own set of postholders; presidents and vice-presidents and the likes. When questioned about the role of the Society Secretaries, VP, Literary Society (Prof. Debajyoti Choudhuri) said that
Basically, they are facilitators between the clubs and the society. The secretaries are supposed to be the source of information about the clubs to the VPs. In many situations, VPs have worked more than the society representatives have.
To bring in a change, the VP, Technical Society (Prof. AK Swain) proposed to make SAC website active and society representatives would regularly update information. He even clarified that it is better not to involve society representatives in club affairs, rather the faculty advisor of the club should be the liaison between SAC and club.
These postholders usually confer and communicate directly with the Vice-Presidents of SAC instead of approaching them through the Secretaries. This again reduces the secretaries’ workload and causes a lot of confusion due to miscommunication.
Another point of discourse in the nomination of student representatives by the Dean (Student Welfare) to the various societies and for the fests. This has always been a rather controversial topic as the procedure for selection of the nominated convenors hasn’t ever been open to public scrutiny. Applications for the various positions are invited through webmail and received by SAC officials, who scrutinize, shortlist and send it over to the Dean, who then chooses seven deserving candidates at his own discretion. The nominees selected for the societies have the same duties as those of the representatives elected to the societies. The nominees selected to help organise the fests have the same responsibilities as the elected fest convenors. Hence, these positions are just as important as the elected seats and the nominees should be selected carefully after thorough scrutiny and intensive debates, to make sure that they are fit for the job.
Instead of having a selection at the discretion of the VPs, President and the Dean, one can do better by having a clear set of cut-off and requirements, which could be determined through open house debates, interviews and the likes.
There is no longer any provision for regular meeting between the student representatives and authorities. Even if such a proposal is put into action, the VP, Technical Society (Prof. AK Swain) feels it would not be productive as the representatives would take it informally and not turn up. Some of the representatives showed up for the first time in autumn semester and were dormant for the entire spring semester. There should be a proper scrutiny before presenting the certificates to the representatives which is not done now, and there must be a provision to impeach members if they stay dormant for a longer duration of time.
Although the internal elections have been abolished and there is no longer any student in the purchase committee, the VP, Technical Society (Prof. AK Swain) said,
The voice of students is always heard and would be heard. Directly or indirectly, their voice is heard in the committee.
The VP, Literary Society (Prof. Debajyoti Choudhuri) said that the lack of student representation in purchase committee was a temporary situation and from upcoming year, proper representation would be provided.
After a club submits its budget for next year, SAC has the discretion to approve a budget for it ranging from 0-100% of the demand. The VPs look into last year’s expenditure to allot funds. Clubs cannot be forced to utilize the fund and the fund cannot be diverted to other purposes. Even this year, many clubs have utilized less than half of the allotted budget. The SAC budget is not completely utilized and at the end of academic year, the remaining funds go are automatically transferred back to the corpus fund.
Before the allotment of funds to the societies, a mail is circulated requesting the clubs to submit a detailed budget for the upcoming year. Based on the proposal submitted and the activities of the club in past couple of years, the funds are allotted. The VP, Technical Society (Prof. AK Swain) cited an example saying
Udaan club’s fund was reduced from 1lakh to 30000 INR due to almost negligible utilization of budget in the previous year.
The VP, Literary Society (Prof. Debajyoti Choudhuri) was quoted saying
If a club is allotted budget and becomes dormant, a warning notice is sent to them. VPs are not the mentors of the club, Faculty Advisors are the mentors.
WHAT DO THE VPs FEEL?
The VP, Technical Society (Prof. AK Swain) considered it would have been better if there were no separate representatives for societies and fests. This move ensured that only specific students work for an event whereas every member used to work for all the events earlier. This led to reduced manpower to complete a task.
The VP, Literary Society (Prof. Debajyoti Choudhuri) mentioned that he is partly happy with the restructuring as it saved some of his personal time as now the things and procedures are channelized. He further added that the selection of VPs is not through nomination/election but are chosen directly and thus a lot of hardships and difficulties associated with the post come along with it to a Professor who is unprepared for it.
SUCCESSFUL OR NOT?
The survey conducted by Monday Morning witnessed a varied sense of opinion among the convenors. While some wanted another round of restructuring, others were satisfied with the existing one with modification. The convenors said that the SAC doesn’t specify their respective roles and collectively came to the conclusion that there should be a rulebook for the Student Activity Centre which has defined roles for each of the positions of responsibilities. But it was rather irresponsible at the part of the convenors to not find out what their responsibilities were if they were not aware of it, and go on ranting about the non-existence of a SAC constitution till the end of their tenure of one whole year.
Any document concerning a rule/bill to be passed to a specific club should require approval from the respective society convenors along with that of the Dean’s and SAC President’s. This would give some power to the former and the concerned club presidents asking for the rule/bill to be passed would contact higher authorities through the convenors, and not directly. This will make the process more simpler and hassle-free.
The Society convenors should properly document each and every detail about events conducted by the clubs coming under their society, the budget allocated to them, the amount of budget put to judicious use, the excess/lack of money, their requirements, etc. along with giving a hand to the Fest convenors during the fests in the common interest of the institute.
There should be better communication between the Student Representatives and the Faculties In-charge to facilitate the working of the clubs and fests alike and to reduce the number of mismanagements and discrepancies. Reduction in the number of people consulted in the process of getting things done will also achieve this.
The newly launched SAC website should also be put to efficient use. Ever since its inauguration during Innovision, it has seen no major or minor improvement. It was supposed to play the part of a forum for all information and happenings remotely and closely related to the Student Activity Centre. Some cultural clubs present under Literary Society should be moved to Arts and Cultural Society, and the budget of the latter should also be increased.
At the end of the academic year, when Team MM reviewed the performance of the SAC office beares, a plethora of problems came to the fore. It is expected that the student convenors and VPs would work hand-in-hand to solve the aforementioned problems and make SAC more student-friendly.