Buckling up for the year ahead : SAC President Speaks

Buckling up for the year ahead : SAC President Speaks

We have entered a new session, and the last academic year has undoubtedly been full of highs and the lows, with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic coming forth as the stonewall to all the spirited student activities.

Team Monday Morning reached out to the President of Student Activity Centre (SAC), Prof. Seemita Mohanty, the first lady at the helm of SAC for an interview to discuss her visions and goals for the year that is strewn with a pandemic, the way she is handling the challenges and much more.

The following is the excerpt from the interview.

Monday Morning (MM): How has been the academic year 2019-20 from SAC perspective?

Prof. Seemita Mohanty (SM): The last academic year was well-managed and rather exemplary from the SAC perspective, of course, till the COVID-19 pandemic had not set off. The fests were conducted with the utmost diligence, we tried to bring many administrative and technical changes in the SAC workings, and the processes of paperwork and finance were streamlined. With that, I believe all SAC officials and the technical staff, were highly approachable to the students throughout the year and we tried to help the students to the best of our abilities. Innovision 2019, despite some shortcomings (which are inevitable), garnered very good response. The sports fests, Vriddhi and Inter-NIT, and Cosmopolitan fest, the platform that showcases our cultural diversity, also were organised admirably, with all of us and the students, working together for bringing out the best we could. The year also saw the very successful organisation of events like NIT Conclave and National Entrepreneurship Summit 2020. We brought about notable changes in the SAC elections to make the process more unbiased and ensure the participation of the maximum number of students.

However, after March, due to COVID-19, things started to fall apart. Most of the arrangements for NITRUTSAV and the Celebrity Night had been made, and all of us had put in a significant amount of time and hard work for it, but it had to be cancelled.

Yet in the end, I believe, students are the best critique of all that we do, and they can answer this question better.

MM: What was your major area of focus last academic year?

SM: To begin with, our primary aim last year was to ensure transparency in the SAC matters and to ensure that students had access to all the information, including the area of finance. The budget was made clear to the students, right at the beginning of the year. Keeping the benefits of the students, the SAC societies, and clubs at heart, we made changes in the budget. With that, a speedy, efficient, and streamlined working procedure was our prime focus.

Next, I am glad to say that the SAC building was renovated and refurbished. We purchased a lot of necessary equipment like copier machines, AC, display boards, chairs, and also installed a new water purifier etc. This time, we also implemented things like the construction of a girls' washroom, and that too, with the facility of sanitary napkins, which are indeed necessities but were missing from the SAC building. I have taken permission from the Director for installation of ACs in the Tech Room, putting up a full floormat for the Dance Room, display shelf for the SAC trophies and many other such important things, for the betterment of the students. The process has been gradual, but we are putting our best foot forward.

MM: What procedure will the SAC follow to conduct the selection/election of the next batch of SAC student representatives in the current situation?

SM: We were planning to have the elections earlier than normal this time, i.e. in April, for better management of the fests and other club events.  All the necessary steps had been taken, and Prof. S.N. Alam (in-charge of SAC elections at that point of time) was ready to circulate the details when COVID-19 struck, and we had to cancel our plan. Our next meeting, after the lockdown, was in July, and again the matter of SAC elections was brought up. We were estimating if the elections could be held via some online mode, but the student representatives were reluctant on this; they wanted the elections to happen only after the students come back to campus, speculating that the participation and involvement of students in any online election would be much less. So, we had to cancel it.

We do not have a full-proof plan for elections right now, seeing the uncertainty of the time.

MM: Seeing the pandemic situation, what is SAC into now for this academic session, 2020-21?

SM: First of all, the session saw a change in six Vice-Presidents of SAC societies and one change in PIC. And we had a meeting after that in which the first point of discussion was the SAC Election. But as I said earlier, we had to cancel it.

After that, we circulated a Google form for starting new clubs, and we received a pretty good response. Seventeen new clubs have been founded by our students. This year, we are planning to make all the SAC activities automated for the convenience of students; the online booking of LA rooms last year was indeed the first step, and we are looking forward to implementing that in all the areas. Currently, we are planning to make the certificate distribution process automated so that we can keep track of all the students who would be given certificates, plus it would help towards online record-keeping of all SAC associated students, which is missing right now. Many a time we are getting requests to validate a membership by students who are now pursuing higher studies, but we do not have any such records.

MM: What are the plans for budget approval of different clubs for this academic year? Will the process be the same as before?

SM: The plans for the budget is more or less the same, just that, this time due to the ubiquitous pandemic, fests such as Innovision, Vriddhi and others may not be possible, so rather than putting funds under these heads (except celebrity night that happens in March), we have included the fund in the SAC Society budgets so that the respective clubs can use them under the Society. For example, the fund for Innovision (tech-fest) will go to the Technical Society funds, similarly for Nitrutsav and Cosmopolitan, the funds would go to respective societies. The correct figures will be out only after we release the budget for the year, which will be available after Dean's and Director's signatures. Things have been delayed, but that is only due to the pandemic situation. This year we have kept some money aside for BBA maintenance and renovation.

After the Director's approval, it is up to the Vice Presidents of the Societies, the student representatives, and the club President to decide the micro-budgeting part (distribution of the funds among the clubs). However, I am always there if they ask me for their suggestion or if there is some issue I need to resolve.

MM: Should the students expect a reduction in the SAC fees this year, seeing the fact that no major event is going to take place?

SM: This doesn't particularly come under my jurisdiction. What I can say is that there won't be any reduction in SAC fees, and this was a collective decision made by the Deans and Heads committee, and I should not make any comments on it.

MM: Due to the COVID situation, major events like NITRUTSAV and NITRIMUN had to be cancelled. What happens to the fund allocated and the sponsorship amounts under such circumstances?

SM: When we allocate funds for a specific event, it can't be used for any other purpose. The unspent amount goes to an institute account called the 'Student Aid Fund', which has three sections- Medical, Books, and SAC Unspent amount Head. In a Deans-Heads meeting in April, I had proposed that this amount should not be used for any purpose other than students' related events, maintenance, and development; the step was welcomed, and it has been approved.

The sponsorship amounts were returned to those who asked for it, though not much had been received by SAC in the first place.

About the reimbursement of the pending SAC bills of the previous year, Prof. Seemita Mohanty had this to say:

We have taken approval from the Director that the currently pending bills of SAC of last year are to be reimbursed from the SAC unspent amount that is under the ''Student Aid fund.'' With that, other approvals like that of the display shelf, dance floor mats, bifurcation of the Tech Room to make a small storage room will also be paid from the unspent SAC funds.

 MM: On what grounds do the new club receive SAC funding? Does the budget increase or is redistributed, to accommodate the expenses of these new clubs?

SM: The total budget remains fixed, i.e. 2.4cr as was for the previous academic year. In the meeting with the VPs (Vice president) in July,  a combined decision was taken that we won't give too much money to the new clubs, except for the ones which require some extra funding and will try to manage with the fixed budget. Particularly this year we presume that not a lot of money would be spent in view of the situation. Also, clubs not getting enough money is an irony for the fact that money remains unspent because students are also not able to spend the lot.

MM: In recent times, many new clubs have emerged. What are the criteria following which any new club is registered under SAC?

SM: We floated Google forms to be filled up by the existing SAC clubs and by those wishing to start a new club, for registering them for the year 2020-21. Criteria were clearly mentioned in the form and required the applicants to provide the details like an action plan, the faculty advisor, originality of the club, budgeting, and how they are going to spend money in the coming years

MM: There is a raised concern on the approval of clubs with clashing objectives and similar domains. What is your take on that?

SM: This year, there were more applications, and we have given approval to almost all of them, after considering their responses in the Google form. The whole idea is to get more students to become a part of SAC activities since each one of them is paying Rs. 2000/ per semester as SAC fees. We appreciate the participation of a greater number of students and believe that they have put thought and effort to come up with the idea which shows their sincerity towards the club. And it does not mean that only by getting together and submitting a proposal a club can be registered, it requires the fulfilment of the previously mentioned criteria.

The procedure has encouraged many and witnessed the formation of clubs by PhD students (Actomania and Shodh) for the first time. There's always room for more people to form clubs and develop skills whilst being part of it. The concern about clubs with similar domains is valid, and we will keep this suggestion in mind for the future.

MM: There has been speculation that approving a club like 'SheCoders' is being gender-specific. What's your viewpoint?

SM: Some might be of the opinion that the clubs should be heterogeneous when it comes to gender, but in this specific context, they fail to look at it from a broader perspective. In an institute which is completely dominated by boys and the other gender is in the minority, it's expected that people be more sensitive and sympathetic towards the girls. Even the number of female dean's nominees and elected representatives is low, and that's not because of the process but the poor strength of women, ours being an engineering institute (not to be stereotyping but acknowledging what it is). While serving as VP (literary & cultural Society), I had hardly noticed any girls getting involved in SAC activities. When there was a proposal for an all-girls club, all the 8 (men) VPs wholeheartedly supported it as an effort to give an impetus to the girls to come up with their independent ideas and decisions, translating into more girls becoming a part of SAC. In the long run, I am sure it will pay dividends.

MM: In this time, webinars have become a major trend among clubs. If there is a requirement of funds for such events, now/in future by any club does/will SAC cover the expenses?

SM: Until now, except for one/two requests for financial backing, the organisation of these online programs have been entirely free of cost and SAC has not helped the clubs financially in any way.

All the VPS and I are really pleased and thankful to the SAC student community that COVID-19 has not stopped them in any way in their activities. Undaunted, they have moved seamlessly from offline to online activities, continuously organising webinars (both national and international), online programs, competitions, and activities in spite of this unprecedented situation. We are grateful to the students for managing this without any complaint and financial assistance from SAC.

MM:  Have the layout changes been made on the SAC website?

SM: We have already spoken to the PIC Automation cell and need his cooperation to get this work done. Prof. Sambit Bakshi is looking into the matter, and he is in constant touch with the Automation cell for designing the SAC website and SAC module in NITRIS for better management of clubs and events.

PIC Automation cell has recently assured us his cooperation. But not much progress has been made regarding the website work as far as I know.

MM: When SAC was being restructured, there were discussions that funds would be taken care of by the fac-ads so that students don't have so much of a load to run behind bills themselves. However, still, students have to engage in a lot of paperwork. What are your plans regarding that?

SM: This proposal is already in place. Students cannot take any advance money from SAC. It can only be done by the Faculty Advisors, VPs, President, PICs, or SAC officials. It is up to the faculty concerned whether they do this paperwork, or the students do that.

The advance is taken by the faculty advisors or the SAC officials. The students spend the money and provide the bills to the faculty advisor or SAC officials. The faculty or officer collects and checks the type of forms, i.e., if it is a reimbursement or a direct payment and signs on the form and provides it to the SAC office. The office assistant does the rest of the paperwork, and we sign the leftover part. The process is quite straightforward, and no such confusion should arise.

Considering the vast number of clubs, activities, and officials involved, there might be some miscommunications during the whole process, but we cannot be held responsible for such individual issues.

MM: Is it allowed for SAC funded clubs to have members from other institutes?

SM: No, the SAC funded clubs of NIT Rourkela can't have members from outside.

MM: We recently received a message from the SAC side that students should not involve in social media trolling, and comments concerning SAC and club presidents will be held responsible if their members are defaulting this rule. Why do you think this was essential? And how can club presidents take responsibility for personal social media handles of all their members?

SM: We received complaints that some SAC club students are involved in unnecessary trolling and commenting on social media platforms which is not acceptable. At the end of the day, SAC as a whole gets blamed as a reason for all these issues. That means everyone, from the SAC President to the most junior member of the SAC club, gets blamed for it.

If you are getting involved in trolling and commenting, we certainly don't have a say in that. However, once you bring up your club's name or the name of SAC, we have to bear the trouble and dishonour. If any club's postholder is involved in such stuff, they bring disgrace to the club, particularly the Society they belong to and ultimately SAC.

To prevent any future controversies like that, we have decided to hold the club president accountable if any of the members of the club get involved in such stuff.

For club postholders especially, my message is to set guidelines for your club members and set examples for them, especially for the junior members. Club presidents should regularly interact with their members and ask them not to get unnecessarily involved in such cases. Despite all the efforts, even if such a situation arises, the necessary steps should be taken to resolve the matter; that is to say, even exercising their power of taking action on any such member involved in such transgressions.

MM: Will the new sports complex become the centre of SAC activities and include all the required equipment?

SM:  Yes, the Institute has planned for a huge sports and cultural complex. The foundation stone has already been laid by our Director. The completion of the project will take three more years (approx). I am not particularly sure regarding the current work progress.

The current SAC building will be shifted there. Indoor sports complex, open-air theatre space, yoga room, meditation room, food stalls, greenrooms, washrooms, practice rooms, and many more things have been planned inside the complex. The students will undoubtedly be amazed by the grandeur of the complex, and it is an effort from the administration's side, to ensure more and more students are interested and involved in SAC activities.

MM: What would be your final message for the students?

SM: I say this with immense pride and pleasure that we do have a unique, path-breaking, ever vibrant club culture in our Institute, and very few institutes in the country host that. Now, it's up to the students to maintain the decorum and keep it lively and dynamic. The kind of picture you present right now will set a prerogative for the upcoming batches. As SAC officials, we look up to our students to maintain the standards already set and to bring more glories to SAC. It is about continually raising the bar to find out just how great things can become, not only for us but also for the many people we touch and are touched by, both directly and indirectly.

Team Monday Morning wishes Prof. Seemita Mohanty all the best for all her ventures for the upcoming academic year and hopes that SAC functions in a student-friendly manner in the challenging year ahead.

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