It happens onlt at SASTRA

Location: Tamil Nadu, India

i am what i am and that whats i am

Thursday, May 04, 2006

it happens only at SASTRA

It happens only at SASTRA
Every year for many hundreds of students, their tryst with domed destiny begins the moment they confirm SASTRA as their choice. Their only redemption from this tumultuous decision is after four years. In my experience, I have seen students joining the college mostly out of societal compulsions rather than genuine academic interests. Which fool would have SASTRA as his lifetime ambition anyway? Often students join the institution with great expectations and aspirations, with little idea of what the college is like from a student’s perspective. I have heard stories of AIEEE students, with little or no idea where Thanjavur lies, joining the institution as one of their distant cousin or friend recommended it. Even married students (age being no bar at SASTRA) from states like Bihar join the college, for the plain reason they didn’t get admission in any other college. You ought to be Tom, Dick or Harry to get admitted at SASTRA. The purpose of this essay is to highlight the nuances and absurdities of SASTRA to the prospective students so that they contemplate their judgement after taking careful cognisance of ground realities.
To start with demographics, we have one the largest student enrolment in the country. Last year alone around thirty-one sections were arranged with the average strength being forty to forty five. That works out to be a whopping thousand four hundred. (Without including the Lateral entries and the part time students). We churn out nearly thrice the number of engineers than our contemporary NIT Tiruchy does. Quite true to the management philosophy that SASTRA is one big family.
Does ‘massification’ of education dilute its standards? In a way it does. Previously first years Biotech students had the mandatory two three-hour periods each week for Engineering Drawing. As population grew and drawing halls were fully occupied, the course was made a one-session affair a week with a separate tutoring class. The above example gives an idea about the tactics practised by the university to conceal its inabilities under the cloak of syllabus revision. The centralised Mid-semester exam system, organised by the Examination wing, was replaced by a mere localised department supervised exam system. The idea was to prevent question paper leakage and incidences of impersonation. But the outcome was that there was no need for a question paper leak, as the senior most professor who handles the subject will tell you the questions. It also highlights another serious issue that needs to be addressed. Due to the proliferation of sections, a good professor cannot handle all the sections. In a way students of other sections are denied the same opportunity or access to knowledge as their friends. Isn’t it tantamount to ‘academic apartheid’ and negation of equality rights to all students? Don’t we have the right to choose the professors of our choice?
The first thing that strikes any student visiting SASTRA is lack of any landscape worth its name. In fact one can count the numbers of trees within the one hundred and sixty acre campus. Buildings looks impressive from outside, but most of them were built in such a hurry, within the last two years, that one could find cracks and cervices on walls and ceilings. (especially Vishwa Karma Jyoth, named after the divine engineer of celestial gods). All buildings at SASTRA have a very funny name like VKJ for Mechanical block, Jeeva Chaitnya Vihar for Biotech, Sandipani Sadan for first year hostel and even Aagara Vihar for canteen. Maybe in the future our aquatics pool will be christened as Samudra Sadan. Our resident god man His Holiness you-know-who usually inaugurates any new venture in our college. Of late he is rather busy and college functions as though nothing had happened at all. Such unholy connections failed to deter students from flocking to SASTRA last year. This is a measure of implicit trust that the society has on SASTRA. The recent case of a deemed university being demolished by High court orders for illegal encroachment, shows how vulnerable these institutions are to ignominy and disrepute. Good name once lost is hard to gain back. Fortunately the integrity of the management has not yet corroded. The admission is mostly based on merit (there are seats for all) and there are a few incidences of students joining the institution by capitation fees donation. (You can bargain a lot especially in those not-so-popular branches like Civil, Chemical).
There goes an idiomatic saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In case of SASTRA it only last year we had a road network laid out throughout the campus (till then it was just a dirt track). The staff, especially in the T&P (Training and placement) department, speaks as though SASTRA is the BITS of South India (actually quoted by our Dean during our orientation). It is only big talk with little action. The placement record is abysmal with hardly two hundred getting placed last academic year (notice that SASTRA web page hardly reveals any placement statistics). Most of them are placed in software companies with little scope for other non-circuit branches. Our students are exceptionally good at the out the box thinking. When asked once what was a student’s favourite colour, his reply was ‘kalimark’! The ugly pangs of decadence are yet to corrupt the end semester examination system. It functions in a professional manner and any incidence of malpractice would be dealt with severe punitive measure. The funny part in SASTRA examination exercises is its evaluation. It’s worse than Tamil Nadu State Board evaluation. ‘Expect the unexpected’ is the buzzword. Since fifty percent is allocated for internals, one can easily pass the final examination with ease.
Students are the greatest assets for any educational institution. Indeed SASTRA is gifted with a talented pool of students who have brought laurels in National seminars, robotics competition, dance, music, debating and what not. Yet SASTRA has no permanent student’s festival of its own. The Carpe Diem, an intra-cultural festival, was a resounding success, yet it was discontinued this year. Sports infrastructure is non-existent at the college, apart from a big empty ground and an indoor basketball stadium. Our football team is yet to win a match in the last three years. This shows the pathetic state of sports at SASTRA. Perhaps in the future I am confident that things will improve. Hostel life is bliss. In the company of such enlightened souls, one would hardly guess the passage of time. By Jeppiar Benchmark standards, the freedom guaranteed to the students is much better. The students are entrusted with greater degree of freedom and in turn a few begin to act responsible (in tune with Hawthorne effect). You can bunk classes with no one to question, as long as the attendance ‘lakhsman rekha’ of 75 is satisfied. You can shag, fag and float on cloud nine as long as the Ghurkha saab doesn’t catch you. (Hot news: a Ghurkha eloped with a hostel girl recently). Canteens and student’s mess have been recently outsourced to private parties, and food is much better when compared to the previous college-run mess. The hardest hit by this ‘gastronomy revolution’ are the road side dhabas like SKT’s, Krithika’s, Appu’s etc (a pilgrimage to these food shops is a must for any SASTRAian.) Students from hindi-speaking states are the most studious lot in the campus (hardly any one of them has arrears), followed by the Goltis of Andhra. As usual the native Tamils are the worst of the lot (this is partly due to the inefficient qualifying exam system followed in the state). Smart chicks are rare specimens at SASTRA, and going by Malthusian standards, there are hardly a dozen or so in each year. Flirting is permitted for the fortunate few and couples dot the campus especially after 4:50.
To sum it up, one cannot describe the experiences at SASTRA as good, bad or ugly. The influence the university has on lives of each one of the students cannot be quantified on a measurable scale. Although the age-old veneration of guru-shishya parampara has long since disappeared in our society, I believe that a symbiotic social order must emerge wherein improvements and ideas are accepted both from the student and teaching community alike with due respect. Like any engineering system, the absence of any feedback loop would lead to disorder and disharmony. The students are the feedback loop for an educational institution to succeed. I am sure the university would rectify its inhibitions, and reach great heights, far greater than it had ever been. I would like to conclude this essay with a quote from Count Alesksandr Benkendroff’s description of Russia, which is equally apt to our institution too.
“….[her] past was wonderful, her present magnificent, and as to her future-it is beyond the grasp of the most daring imagination”.