Elucidating All Uncertainties: Dean Student Welfare Speaks
Our daily lives have been hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic which hit us in March. With no signs of daily activities returning back to normalcy, various questions have plagued the minds of NIT Rourkela students. The pandemic situation is nowhere near to be getting resolved as students are increasingly getting impatient to return back to campus. These unprecedented times are presenting unforeseen challenges.
Team Monday Morning caught up with Dean Student Welfare, Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty, also the Chairman of the Central Task Force committee formed to tackle COVID-19 situation on campus, to know about the challenges the administration is facing and the steps planned to tackle these uncertainties.
The following are the excerpts from the interview:
Team Monday Morning (MM): Owing to these unprecedented times, what set of challenges you faced as the Chairman of the Central Task Force (CTF) committee during this Covid scenario?
Dean Student Welfare Prof. Snehashish Chakraverty (DSW): We have not seen this type of disease and scene before. It is all very unexpected. Firstly, we are missing our students and offline teaching. We have not been able to call back all our students. We have called the PhD students first in batches, M.Tech final year, PG final years, also PhD first years those who are getting an external fellowship and those who have projects. We have different SOPs that are circulated to everyone. This disease is very dynamic, so the SOPs need to be changed from time to time, depending on the situation and directives from the Ministry of Education. We are proceeding with the directives so that no untoward incident might happen.
Many students are pressuring us, those who want to come because they do not have a good internet connection to attend the classes and labs. Previous semester exams have also not taken place. We also want the students to come, but we have to be very careful in this problematic situation.
In CTF, we have a five-member committee all from different departments. Chairman is appointed in addition to the five members of the committee. We also have a Departmental Task Force (DTF), where 4-5 faculty members are present. There is a DTF Chairman. Any student coming must inform their DTF chairman and Guide(as only PG students have come).
While entering the campus, they should have the COVID negative result within the last 72 hours. Once they enter the campus, the procedures are stringent. A Google Form is also circulated by me, where they should mention all details regarding the arrival. Then they are directed to go to their respective rooms, where they remain for five days in isolation. After the five days, they again get tested, and if the result comes negative, they are allowed to go to the dept with consent from the HODs and DTF chairman.
Another challenge is that I am getting daily phone calls, emails regarding different queries. Some are satisfied with the replies and some are not. I try my best in that regard.
MM: What is the current status of COVID cases on the campus? How efficiently is the Institute carrying out the regular tasks abiding by all the norms and regulations daily?
DSW: Till now, fortunately, only two students have tested positive, both being asymptomatic cases. A student was most probably infected earlier, but we got a positive result here. The student was shifted to the Guest House. Her 14 days quarantine is now over. Another M.Tech student was there, who also has been cured.
It is sad, but the truth is that the students are not following the SOPs. One student with a positive result could have infected the entire campus as he started coming out during his isolation period. Now it is in Hostel authorities’ hands who can instruct students to go back to their homes. Students are even going out of the campus without informing, which is entirely unacceptable. The Institute is not the only one responsible; the students are also accountable. We have already lost one beloved faculty member to this pandemic. So if everyone is not serious about this, the situation would become very difficult.
MM: When can we expect arrival dates for UG final year students because they have their final year projects lined up?
DSW: NIT Rourkela was one of the firsts for reopening the campus for research scholars and PG students. As for the UG final year students, we will call them back as soon as directives arrive from the Government. There have been no such instructions as of yet. Those institutes who are calling back any UG students may be doing it on their own.
MM: Any plans for completing the projects for final year UG students?
DSW: No, nothing as of yet. Not all final year students are doing lab-based projects; many have computational projects which may be done online. However, for those who are entirely lab-oriented, we will decide. The Senate is there to take such decisions. Dean AC would be in a better position to answer this as this is under his domain.
MM: Can you brief us about the institution’s procedures for bringing back the rest of the students (mostly the UG students) when the situation starts improving to normal? Has there any timeline target set by when the Institute is planning to call back the students?
DSW: The procedure will be the same as that being followed for the M.Tech final years. Various committees are present who will sit together to decide on this. It will surely be in batches, maybe considering those who have lab-based projects. The strength of UG students is considerably larger compared to that of PG students and research scholars. We do not have the space to provide single rooms. Only the UG final years have single rooms. Thus, we would have to call everyone in batches.
We are waiting for instructions from the Ministry. Everything is dynamic, so we are not in a situation to predict.
MM: There is a new strain of the virus, which is known to be more contagious. There are chances that lockdown restrictions can be tightened further. Bearing this in mind, there is a chance that colleges may not reopen. So what is the alternative to the two semesters examinations that are still to be conducted?
DSW: We will conduct the exams when the students arrive off-campus. Even if we plan to have exam centers countrywide, the international students are left behind. Moreover, many of our students also come from remote village areas. They can even face significant difficulties in these demanding times. We plan to conduct it in March or April, but it highly depends upon the then situation.
We will act only as per the government directive. Firstly we thought of conducting the end sem exams in December. Therefore, we waived off the mid-sem exams, but we again shifted it as per the situation. We are thinking of bringing back final year students for some days for offline exams.
Seeing the horrifying situation in IIT Madras, we fear the spread of corona. Exams of theory subjects can be somewhat done online, but what about conducting lab exams and lab-based projects? We can’t think of a few students. We have to think about all the students.
If anyone has any suggestions and solutions regarding the conduction of well-proctored exams in this situation, feel free to write a mail to any one of us. This is not only our responsibility; students should also actively participate.
MM: Many of the first years who started their classes recently haven't got laptops, which are essential for carrying their lab work, specifically ED and C programming. How would they deal with this because most of them purchase their laptops either at the end of 1st year or 2nd year?
DSW: This matter comes under the watch of Dean Academics. He would be better suited to answer this question.
MM: This pandemic gave students the realization that they did not have a proper student body like the ones formed in different IITs and NITs. Do you think the same? What are your views on this?
DSW: We are for the students. We encourage the students to come forward and voice out their opinions directly to the administration. We are all ears to them. There is no need to have a student leader for this purpose.
MM: Due to the absence of student secretaries’ position, there is also a lack of proper communication between clubs and the authorities. By when are the elections being planned?
DSW: The previous post holders should be continuing as elections have not taken place. The SAC officials are also continuing their tenure without fresh elections. We cannot conduct the election on an online mode due to various underlying problems.
MM: What has been planned for making the Souvenir for the batch of 2021?
DSW: We are planning to print the Souvenir for the batch of 2020. The Souvenir will be published after a 15 days tender procedure and sent to students and their certificates by post since I understand fewer chances of conducting convocation in an offline mode in this challenging time. However, a discussion needs to be set up for the batch of 2021. In this case, students may send their photographs wearing their souvenir attire and we can prepare that accordingly. I don’t see a need for the physical presence of the students for the same.
MM: When will the new UG Souvenir team for the upcoming session be formed to take responsibility for the preparation of souvenirs for the batch of 2021?
DSW: SAC President would be better to answer this question as she is looking over this matter. Students will be appointed as coordinators and it will be done.
MM: Although no budget has been allotted to SAC clubs, most of the clubs have been highly active on online platforms. What is your comment on this issue as they could have used the budget in various ways like calling eminent speakers, conducting online events/competitions to make quality online content? Won't there be any budget allocation to the clubs this academic session?
DSW: In the current session, the students paid a sum of Rs. 500 concerning the student activity fee. So it is nearly impossible to allot a budget to any of the clubs in general. Coming to the part of paying those distinguished speakers for the online events/competition, I would suggest not to call anyone who is charging money. Even in this COVID-19 situation, if they cannot help the students, it's better not to invite them. If any club is collecting registration fees, they can use that but we are not in the position to allocate budget this academic year. We are ready to pay them, realizing the speaker’s financial background, but if a well-known and wealthy person claims for the same, then it may not be acceptable.
MM: What is your final piece of advice for the students of NITR in these demanding times?
In this demanding time, the students need to be cooperative, understandable, and careful. We understand the problems that are faced by the students due to online classes, and we professors, too, miss those interactions of the offline classes. However, we have to bear with this pandemic without underestimating this dangerous scenario. I hope we will win this challenge soon by abiding by the norms of COVID-19.