Coimbatore: Incidents during the past week at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Madras) have left me bewildered and worried. Not because a photographer colleague was assaulted on the campus but more so the way the institute’s administration is mishandling the development. As someone who loved following the highs and lows in the higher education sector for nearly a decade, I am rather concerned about the drift in the IIT Madras – from that of a liberal campus to an island of exclusivity.
The IIT- M was one of the few open academic campuses, notwithstanding the fact that it resisted social inclusiveness in the admission of students and recruitment of faculty. It was an institution where professors never waited for the elusive permission from the Director to talk to the media.
Ten years ago, I had to just call Deputy Registrar (Placement and Public Relations) Pattabiraman unmindful of what hour it was for a story. Almost instantly he would brief you the genesis of the issue. Later Prema Chakrapani took over from him and then it was Lt Col Jayakumar. Their style of functioning was never a hurdle for journalists. It was not a mandate to go through the PR Department.
Incidents during the past week at the Indian Institute of Technology have left many bewildered and worried.
In 2003, when there was a cholera outbreak at one of the hostels, I moved around freely at dinner time poring through the mess feedback records in which every second student had complained about the bad quality of food. Later, when I called Prof Gokhale, the then Dean (Students), he readily admitted that there was an outbreak. His successor Prof V G Idichandy, who retired as Deputy Director, too never shied away from commenting even on hostel suicides.
In 2008, when a PG student committed suicide I went along with a photographer and the hostel warden opened the room where the boy had hung himself. He also directed us how to get a ‘live’ photograph of the victim from the hostel records.
Even students were treated maturely. The IIT-M boasts of vibrant student councils whose office-bearers could put professional PRs to shame. The generous media coverage for their two annual fests Saarang and Shaastra is an example.
But there is a disturbing tendency now to function in exclusivity. The trend began when the previous Director M S Ananth started receiving negative media coverage over massive infrastructural constructions on the campus and questionable spending of alumni fund.
The latest incident where a professor is “missing” after assaulting a news photographer has led to loud talks of how to block access to journalists – described by some senior faculty as “scheming, insensitive, conceited folks”. Professor Bhaskar Ramamurthi, the IIT-M Director, must initiate steps to bury the hatchet.
(By D Suresh Kumar)