Friday, August 06, 2010

Where's the DISCO?

Post Update:Corrigendum

Apparently I have been an ass. As Amrutash has very politely pointed out, my outrage got the better of me and I didn’t bother to dig deeper into the issue before ranting about it. For the benefit of others, I have pasted his comment which brings the matter into a more relevant perspective.

HT has worded it very nicely to make it sound sensational. I'll fill in what they left out / got wrong -- stuff you should've found out before writing a blogpost about it. 1) The quota is called Board of Governers (BOG) quota. 2) Its definitely not a "secret", pretty much everyone knows it in KGP (its definitely not hushed up -- I don't know why HT needed RTI to find out about it, they could've just asked around). 3) To be eligible for BOG quota, you need a faculty parent AND 4) need to QUALIFY in IIT-JEE with a rank (any rank) (unlike what HT has mentioned) (You need 60% to qualify for IIT -- that rule is for everyone). 5) You can apply only for MSc courses in Kharagpur (like geology, maths, etc) NOT for Btech or Dual or Mtech (In 2003, MSc math in KGP would've been ranks 4500+ -- these are seats which sometimes would anyway go empty because no one took it). 6) As far as I remember it was banned for many years, except for the years of 2003 and 2004 (where, 50 odd kids would have gotten through).
I know this as I was eligible.
I think the practice is on par with most schools having a quota for teacher's children (including schools which have a waiting queue for 2-3 years). Not that I am defending it, I am just saying that I don't think its on par with AICTE corruption. By comparing the two, you are doing a Qureshi. It was introduced, as far as I understand as an incentive for faculty with children in middle school to stay on with IIT KGP -- since school education faclities in Kharagpur used to be limited. We are talking about 80s here (Pre-factory era).
The simple reason why the news has received a swift burial is that its really old news. The practice was stopped in 2004. There is no BoG quota to protest now! Besides, there are way many more things worth protesting about in IIT Kharagpur.
A follow-up lies here.

Obviously my complaint about no one from the IIT community speaking up about this no longer stands. However the validity of the ‘rural argument’ can be debated. The discussion would be more nuanced but I agree its no longer a topic meriting much thought. Sigh. I will be more careful.

Original Post

When I read this article on the Hindustan Times about a secret quota for children of the faculty at IIT KGP, I was not unmoved. It existed till 2005 and was removed when the RTI Act was passed. The infallibility of the JEE process had always been one of those totems of a few things which still remained accountable in this country. Of course the process has been faulty at times as earlier events have shown. Stupid mistakes have been made many times before but they were invariably honest mistakes. This recent development is however a departure.

At the risk of sounding clichéd and derisive I don't expect systems to function in India and do understand that its ingrained in our Indian psyche to work around obstacles rather than remove the obstacles themselves. So news about corrupt administrators in AICTE or the MCI or even outrageous lapses in defence purchase or a zillion other scandals are so easily digested by our perversely permissive society, something I have failed to see in any other developed/developing nation. So it is kind of immature of me to share my indignation about this IITKGP affair which seem so insignificant compared to the daily barrage of thievery we hear about. But this ‘small’ matter is wonderfully indicative of the fact that the lack of integrity in public offices have nothing to do with the level of education the person may have received.

My five years at IITM did give me opportunities to look at behind-the-scenes activities of the administration. My initial assumptions that IITs are an oasis of committed and sincere professors, administrators and staff were admittedly naive. The administration did have elements which characterize any Indian bureaucracy anywhere. Ego-driven supervisors and dishonest individuals never failed to make their presence felt. But for every shifty character I could see two earnest ones. My eventual opinion was that the system while flawed usually worked to give positive progress. The guys actually running the institute had taken a pragmatic approach where they tolerated a few of the malevolent elements as long as that didn’t affect the running of the institution and its core objectives significantly. While it might not seem the best strategy to purists, I feel it's perhaps the only one which could perhaps work.

So this makes me extremely keen to see how the IITs respond to this admission of a criminal subversion of its admission process which in no way can be trivialized. This offence is impossible without tacit sanction from the rest of the IITs as JEE chairmanship rotates between the IITs every year. Left to the individual professors, I am sure a majority of them would denounce them in the strongest of terms. They have never hesitated to denounce the ‘quality’ of students which the newer JEE formats have supposedly resulted in. Dishonesty among students has always been efficiently investigated and resoundingly punished in the famous DISCOs (disciplinary committees) across all IITs. I hope I can safely assume that they will show a similar enthusiasm in demanding a more thorough investigation of all their colleagues who would have directly misused their position or indirectly facilitated it by remaining quiet.

Not surprisingly the news has already received a rapid and quiet burial. Apart from the downright stupid defence that ‘It wasn’t just me’ from one of the culprits which sounds more like Shaggy's next song title, no past or current IIT administrator has spoken a word. Some of the criminals remain at top administrative positions. Like anywhere else the heads have nodded and moved on. When I hear people sigh that if educated people were running the country and their institutions, we would see better days, I involuntarily start looking for baseball bats. No amount of education or degrees can change a human’s desire for status quo or self serving systems when in a position of influence.

Or to sum up in a typical IITM style with its love for succintness, " Kya fart hai!"