Unraveling the Enigmatic NITR Senate Meetings
Monthly Senate meetings and their conclusive circulars are something that never fails to catch the attention of the NIT Rourkela student fraternity. But the flow of proceedings of the meeting and how a particular decision is reached is very much unknown. Team Monday Morning (MM) had the opportunity to catch up with Ms Meenakshi Panigrahi, the students' representative to the Senate and clear the conundrum about the same.
MM: How has been your last four months as the Students’ Representative to the Senate, shouldering such great responsibilities amidst this critical and eccentric time?
Ms Meenakshi Panigrahi (MP): My tenure as the Students' Representative started quite late. I got the letter of my selection on 10th November 2020, i.e. towards the end of the Autumn semester. After that, I have been a part of every senate meeting very sincerely.
This has been when a lot of opinions came from students and professors, and I got to know many aspects of the organisation and how many things that may seem easy to be done from a student's perspective aren't very possible from the administrative side. Many things also happen that can't be told to the students but have to be taken care of from the institute's side. This has been very fruitful four months; I have tried my best to represent the students at the Senate and to make students understand the administrative limitations while implementing any of their demands.
I have attended four senate meetings till now; the meetings happen monthly, and all of them have been online. One constant and common topic of discussion has been the mode of examination and the academic year's duration. But the situations have been confusing. Along with this, we discussed the students who would be repeating their first year (circular is already out), students with backlogs who passed out in the year 2020 and a few more things, which will be soon available as circulars. In the Senate, many things apart from the academics have been discussed, and they are available in the circulars or will be available in the coming time.
Perceiving the Senate in Detail
There are 96 members in total in the Senate, with the Director, Prof Animesh Biswas as the Chairman and Prof PK Das, Registrar, as the Secretary. The Senate has various professors and Heads of Departments (HODs); they are mostly senior faculty members of the institute and make the majority. Apart from them, the Senate has three external members: one from IIT Kharagpur, IIT Bhubaneswar and Sambalpur University each, who also give their opinions on some matters, if not all. There are also professors invitees and the two student invitees, who currently are Ms Meenakshi Panigrahi, fourth-year B. Tech, Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Mr Tushar Tiwari, second-year M. Tech, Dept. of Industrial Design.
MP: The three external members' role is that it is always good to know what our peers are doing while making any academic or student-related decisions. The Senate believes that our students should have the same environment as other institutes, and thus some inspiration can be drawn. They give their opinions in many critical cases. Our Chairman Sir also gives particular attention to what they suggest.
The flow of Events in a Senate Meeting:
Mostly, the meetings are pre-planned. The agendas of discussion are given to the members beforehand to be prepared with their suggestions and opinions. As the meeting starts, firstly, the Chairman invites everyone, and then they sanction the discussions of the previous session. The circular of the previous meeting is confirmed, and the progress in the direction of decisions previously taken. Next, one by one, the agendas are brought to the floors for discussion. In an online meeting, a member can raise his/her hand and then be recognised for speaking on the motion. The meetings happen in a good flow.
Opinions of Students' Representatives:
All the members are given equal opportunity to speak on any matter of interest.
MP: As I belong to undergraduate classes, I understand the undergrads' situations and issues better. So, I ensure that I am very keenly observing the deliberations regarding the undergraduate courses. For post-graduate courses, we have Mr Tushar Tiwari. We surely can give our opinions on any agenda, and are not just limited to our courses of studies. But yes, the diversity of members is there so that members about a particular field or background can give their best stances on that.
What information goes into the official circular?
The official circular only mentions the final decisions or policies, not the entire procedure. Senate not only discusses rules and procedures, but it also examines several individual student issues not brought out in public; instead, they are communicated personally. Whenever the senate meeting is held, and the matters in the agenda are discussed, all the members present there to try to come up with a final decision or try to form a committee that could discuss the issue in detail and suggest solutions and proposals to the senate. The Registrar notes down all the minutes during the meeting, and he is responsible for circulating the details to the students through webmail or any official channel.
Ensuring to address the Student’s grievances:
MP: As soon as I resumed my position as the student representative, Prof. SK Patel (Dean AA) made sure that I was added to the WhatsApp group (informal) with all the class representatives as its participants. All the members in that group are free to share their opinions on any matter. I am also in contact with other representatives and students themselves mail, text or call me directly to share their issues and opinions. Though there has been diversity in their opinion, I make sure that I hear all of them and try to put them forward in the senate collectively as what the student fraternity wants.
Procedure to raise a motion:
If a member wants to propose, he/she has to write it down and mail it to Dean AA, and that proposal will then be added to the agenda to be discussed in the senate. Every member of the senate has to follow the same procedure.
Clearing the Examination Conundrum:
Role of Students’ Representative in the decisions regarding the Students’ return and examinations:
MP: First of all, the decision about the students’ return to the campus was not deliberated on in the senate but was discussed and decided by the Deans and HODs of all the departments regarding the dates and facilities. However, I tried my best to put forward the issue related to students' return to the campus, especially the final year students, as they had raised issues regarding difficulties in getting the practical data which hampered the publishing of their papers. I persistently tried to raise this issue in the administration. Finally, the final year B.Tech and Dual Degree students were called back to the campus voluntarily.
During the period of November and December, the issue regarding examination for the autumn semester was also raised. I tried to gain as much opinion as possible regarding it and realised that maximum students were willing to attend the exams as soon as possible in any available mode. The online mode was the only available option at that time, and our institute had already ruled out the possibilities of continuous evaluation. However, the online examination option was also ruled out and decided to conduct the exams conventionally only when the institute would re-open. For the spring semester, I had again tried to put forward the continuous evaluation method so that students could have some marks in hand for gradation if the examinations are not held. However, the senate again decided to go for offline mode of examination only due to the power shortage and the poor network issues in some areas, as complained by several students. Recently, it was realised that all the students could not be called back at a time in April. Students might have the burden of attending exams for both the semester together, along with that the pre-final year students would have the internships; keeping all this in mind, we will be having further discussions in the next senate meeting.
The distribution of marks:
MP: As mid-sem exams are cancelled due to the pandemic and sufficient time isn't available for conducting both mid and end sem, Senate decided to conduct one end sem exam of 80 marks 'weightage', with TA being 20 marks as usual. The Institute system for uploading marks is set for 50:30:20 for end sem, mid sem and TA, respectively. The Senate mentioned that increasing the weightage for TA and reducing end sem marks will cause technical issues. Hence, the Senate decided that 50 marks end sem of three hours will be done and then multiplied with 1.6 factor to get a weightage of 80 marks.
Clarification on the recently circulated Telegram message regarding online examination:
MP: I cannot discuss the proposals put forward by the Senate before a meeting happens so that I will pitch in only my viewpoints. The message sent by Dean Academics in the Telegram channel only discusses various possibilities regarding the examination, and we should wait for the official circular rather than jumping to conclusions.
Getting grievances addressed:
MP: If any student wants to contact me to get his/her grievance addressed, he can write webmail (117EE0382@nitrkl.ac.in) or text me on WhatsApp. As most of the CRs have my number saved, the students can reach out to their CR to get my number and text or call me. I do check the webmail regularly.
Final message by the Students’ Representative:
Recently, there have been cases of spamming the Director and the Dean's mailboxes regarding the examinations. Students should refrain from such activities as the Director and the Dean pay heed to the students' grievances as much as possible. Even you can reach out to me with the grievance, and I can assure you that I will appropriately represent every grievance in front of the Senate. It would be best to be patient enough and not believe in any rumour spread through WhatsApp forwards or mere hearsay. Avoid misinterpretation of the official messages, which tend to create havoc and chaos among the student fraternity. Always wait for the message from Dean Academics on the official channel, Telegram. I am sure that the administration will address as many grievances as possible, keeping in mind the limitations. The decisions are taken by the Senate, keeping in mind the best interest of the students, and assessing the issue from multiple angles, so students wait and not panic.
Monday Morning believes that the Senate is efficient enough to come up with what’s best for the institute and its students and wishes the Students’ Representative very best for their tenure.