Defining The New Normal : Director's Desk

Defining The New Normal : Director's Desk

After completing a glorious tenure of five years as the Institute's Hon'ble Director, Prof. Animesh Biswas stepped down from the Director's post last month. Prof. Simanchalo Panigrahi has been appointed as the Interim Director until the Ministry of Education appoints the new Director.

With the recent return of International UG students to the campus, there has been anticipation regarding the return of the rest of UG students.

Team Monday Morning got the opportunity to interact with the Interim Director of NIT Rourkela Hon'ble Prof. Simanchalo Panigrahi to discuss the reopening of the campus, resuming of offline classes and labs, an upcoming semester ahead, and much more updates regarding the Institute.

MM: How has your experience been as the interim Director of NITR? What do you feel about this authority?

Director: The appointment process was conducted in a short period. As the tenure of our previous Director, Prof. Animesh Biswas, ended, the MHRD ministry immediately directed me to take the responsibility of acting Director until the new Director is appointed. My experience for the last month has been a little challenging, and the work nature is entirely different. Previously my focus was only concentrated on teaching and research, but now there are a lot of sections that I need to focus upon, which at times becomes hectic. I also feel the faculty and deans are very cooperative, which to some extent, helps me.

MM: How have you been balancing your teaching and research work amidst the responsibilities of an interim Director?

Director: Currently, I am also taking the classes because I felt that I shouldn't relinquish my responsibilities as a teacher in the middle of the session. I manage almost all the classes and sometimes take some extra classes on Saturday and Sunday if I miss the class due to some meetings during the week. Academics are our primary goals, and classes aren't our load. They are an opportunity. I feel my students shouldn't be affected because of this interim director post.

MM: You have been serving as the Interim Director of the Institute for about a month now. What are the recent developments that have happened since you were appointed?

Director: Even though I have completed a month, I still feel like a small man for a massive post. Owing to the Durga Puja vacations where I was in incubation, I have been serving the Institute as the Director for around three weeks.

And regarding the recent developments, since the students (except for the PhD and MTech students) are not here for the last one and half years, I also understand the students' reactions that they are very eager to return to their alma mater. It is natural as NIT is their Alma Mater( Academic Mother), and the Institute also feels their absence. Had it been only a local institute, it wouldn't have been much of an issue. The covid cases in Odisha are receding, but since we have students from various states, we need to quarantine them as well. Therefore, calling them all at once is impossible, and it has to be done in phases.

First, we are calling all the final year students, and the next batch is yet to be decided between the prefinal years and the sophomores. We have given priority to your health. We understand that the students are fed up staying at home and want to spend time with their friends at the Institute. And this golden phase of life will never come back once you leave the Institute. Therefore I have initiated it by calling back the final years first, and we aim to get back to normalcy eventually when all the students return to the campus as the chances of the third wave are a bit remote.

MM: Can you give us a brief insight into the appointment process of an Acting Director and their tenure? What are the limiting duties of the Acting Director?

Director: The Director's job can be divided into three aspects, i.e. firstly academic, secondly administrative, and lastly financial. Although there is no particular directive, according to the notion, as far as the academic responsibilities are concerned, the acting Director's role is in no way different from a director. He has every right to put forth his vision, maybe in a more proactive way than the previous Director. But as far as the Financial constraints, it is ideal for him to wait. Usually, when a director leaves before that, he is not supposed to make any big decisions. Our period of stay might be around 2-3 months, and anytime the ministry can appoint the new Director. Therefore, decisions involving hefty budgets must be awaited until the new Director is appointed.

MM: How far has the selection process of the new Director reached, and when can we expect him to take charge?

Director: The selection committee was here on the 27th and 28th of October, and the interviews have been conducted. So we can expect the appointment of the new Director by January. The ministry will put them to work before the spring semester because they also happen to be professors in other institutes. We can expect them to join in the new year.

MM: Are the exact time decided when the students would be returning to the campus?

Director: We are calling back the final year students in December. I have made a committee to explore the possibility of calling other students, i.e. the pre-final years or sophomores, so I have also requested that the committee give a report. Since one of the hostels has to be spared for quarantine, we would have called all the students together if there had been no quarantine. We have also made a medical advisory committee because the members of the committee are the right ones to decide whether quarantine is needed or not and if needed for whom. If the committee can give us guidelines that the students from Odisha need not quarantine and the students from other States or risky zones need to be quarantined, in that case, we can accommodate a vast no. of students at once. We have also requested the medical advisory committee if it is possible to reduce the current 7-day quarantine to 4-day quarantine; in that case, we would be a little comfortable.

MM: What will be the Plan of Action for the upcoming spring semester?

Director: We plan to start the classes for the new semester in the first week of January. We will also be giving parents an option to send their ward to campus or not because not all students are equally comfortable returning to the campus.

We are also planning to go for a hybrid mode with both online and offline processes, but the end sem exams and practicals would be conducted physically from the coming spring semester. Those who opt for the hybrid medium would be called ten days before the end sem, and they have to complete their practicals and stay ten days after the theory exams for the practical exams.

Conducting the exams in the physical mode will maintain the quality of submission; otherwise, it would be a disregard to the good students. The decision on mid-semester exams for them is yet to be taken, but most probably, that would be conducted online so that they can visit the campus directly during the end semester exams. Therefore, as per the prevailing situation, we plan on this, but we have no control over how the future pans out.

MM: The Institute recently called UG international students back to the campus. How is the administration ensuring that covid protocols are being followed?

Director: Regarding the calling back of international students, Prof. Nihar Ranjan Mishra is dealing with it as this decision was taken before I joined the office. We have maintained a strict quarantine of 14 days. Even inside the Institute, we direct the students to obey the covid protocol, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Because we know that we have to coexist with covid, and we have to make these protocols a part of our lives.

MM: Recently, we saw a dip in the NIRF Rankings of NIT Rourkela. What steps is the administration thinking to take to regain the top spot at NIRF rankings?

Director: Various factors determine these rankings. I believe this dip can be due to the switch to online mode. The student-teacher interaction could not be at par due to this. Research at the Institute also faced backlash due to the pandemic. The instruments also got affected because they were not put into proper use and stagnation affected them.

Geographical location and perception are two metrics that might have affected the rankings, but we couldn't have done much about it. Because when it comes to students' perception, they consider students from the first year who have not yet seen the campus, and it made the whole thing problematic.

MM: What are the infrastructure problems that are currently restricting the return of students from all the years? What are the measures that the administration is taking to address the issue of the unavailability of a single room?

Director: We are trying to allot each student a single room keeping the covid protocols in perspective. And this is causing a shortage of rooms if we consider calling back a lot of students at a time. Another major factor is the decision of the local administration. Once the students come back to the campus, we are trying to make sure that they don't go out much. Due to the stringent rules that we have adhered to, NITR has been one of the safest places in Rourkela, and we wish to continue that once students come back.

On asked if the hostel room allotment can be done before the arrival of students at the Institute, the Director said-

 I will convey this to the hostel committee and let you know after a discussion over this. Only if the mandatory quarantine for the native Odisha students could be lifted it would have been much easier for us to resume college offline.

MM: Two committees have been set up to reopen the college, one to oversee the return of students in the autumn semester and the other for the spring semester. What decisions have been taken so far by these committees? Can we expect the participation of the student community in the committee?

Director: The final years are coming back, and the notice regarding the same is out (click here). The committees which have been set up are exploring the possibility of calling back students from other batches in a hassle-free and safe manner. Headed by the Dean SW as the chairman, it is open to the students' feedback to help us decide whether the pre-final years should be called first or the sophomores.

MM: The global alumni meet has been shifted to August Next Year. How is the Institute planning to organize it?

Director: Since students were not present on campus, we had postponed it deliberately. We wanted to conduct a lot of events that wouldn't have been possible without the students.

MM: What has been planned for making the Convocation for the batch of 2021?

Director: The Convocation for the 2021 batch will happen tentatively in the 2nd or 3rd week of January. We will call all the gold and silver medalists along with all the PhD students. The rest students will be given their degrees online.

MM: What are your plans on establishing better industrial partnerships with the Institute related to research collaborations and setting up funded labs in the Institute?

Director: We are encouraging industry-student interaction. We already have FTBI for the startups. Some departments are inviting professionals from the industry to take sessions for the students. This is also one of the significant factors in deciding NIRF rankings. But students not being on campus hinders the process.

MM: How is the Institute planning to implement teaching in regional languages in the curriculum according to the new National Education Policy(NEP)? Especially with the diversity of students, our Institute has

Director: I believe that unless the study materials are present in these languages, it won't be a very effective move. Teaching in regional languages is also something that might be hard for educators. We will try to improve by recruiting people for this and by modifying the curriculum accordingly.

Implementation of NEP is something that we are trying to bring about as soon as possible. It will open up a lot of possibilities for students. Students can complete their degrees and courses at their convenience, and the Institute can award certificates accordingly.

MM: There have been issues regarding the Six-month internship; many students pursuing their Masters are facing difficulties with the guides. What steps is the Institute taking to allow students to pursue it without any hassle?

Director: I was not aware of the fact that reputed companies are dropping out of the internship process at NIT Rourkela because of the lack of provision of 6 months internship. I will discuss it with Prof. UC Pati and take the issue forward as the placement of students should be prioritized at all times.

MM: Fees for the current semester are yet to be taken, and there have been no clarifications from the Institute regarding it. When is the Institute planning to collect it?

Director: Currently, I don't have any information regarding the same, but I will contact the concerned authorities and let you know.

MM: What is your take on having a student body that can voice students' concerns considering that other premier institutes have permitted such panels?

Director: The student representatives can pitch this idea in the senate meeting. And we will ensure to take this issue forward.

MM: Despite numerous pleas, the senate meeting minutes are yet to be published on the official website. By when can we expect it to be published?

Director: The last meeting was ended halfway. The discussions will resume on Friday, and then we will publish the minutes of the meeting on the website. Since this senate meeting happened offline, we could not ensure that the student representatives joined us.

MM: During the tenure of Prof Animesh Biswas, SAC had the position of Director's Nominated General Convener, which was later discarded. Can we expect the position to be revived under your tenure?

Director: I will contact the Dean Student Welfare and let you know. The voice of students should always be taken into consideration.

MM: Did you have any change of perspective on any issue pertaining to the Institute after you became the interim Director?

Director: Once NEP is enforced, the students will be able to see visible changes. All I can say is to wait until we come up with the decisions after the senate meeting.

MM: What changes would you like to implement in your tenure?

Director: I would ensure that academic processes happen in a proper manner. We are planning to retain the students who submit their thesis until their defence is over by offering various incentives to help us maintain the instruments. This will help us in tackling the issue of shortage of technical staff. We will also try to prioritize classrooms and research labs equally.

MM: What message would you like to give to the students and the readers of this article?


NIT Rourkela can be thought of as the academic mother to all the students. The administration regrets the absence of students as much as the students regret not being on campus. We hope to see the campus booming in near future again.

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