Manifesto Reviews 2015-16: SAC Speaker, Aroon Narayanan

This is the seventh article in our Manifesto Review series, where we review the tenures of IITM’s Executive Wing (consisting of 10 posts) as well as that of the SAC Speaker, for the year 2015-16. In this review, we evaluate the manifesto of Aroon Narayanan, IITM’s SAC Speaker for the year 2015-16.

Note: The Manifesto Reviews team at T5E has made every effort to review the Executive Council in an unbiased manner and stay true to the facts, but it is possible that we may have made inadvertent errors. We request our readers to point out errors if any so that we may correct them immediately. Finally, we value your feedback! You can reach us at t5e.iitm@gmail.com.

Vital Statistics

Manifesto pointsNumberPercentage
Completed1757
Ongoing723
Incomplete620
Total30100

The same colour scheme is used in the review below.

The SAC (Student Affairs Council), which is one of the most important bodies in IIT-Madras, is a student elected body consisting of all the elected representatives: Institute secretaries, Branch councillors (BCs) from all departments, Hostel General Secretaries as well as Department legislators and Hostel legislators (the latter two groups from this year onwards as they are new posts). A SAC recommendation thus carries great weightage before the institute administration, because it enjoys legitimacy coming from the institute’s elected student representatives.

The SAC speaker is required to facilitate this process by conducting SAC meetings, putting forward initiatives & policies and ensuring that all important issues are discussed in SAC forum by the hostel and department representatives.

The duties of a SAC speaker are quite comprehensively detailed and we do not reproduce them in full here, but they include the following:

  • To convene and conduct the meetings of the SAC.
  • To prepare the agenda for every SAC meeting
  • To communicate the approved minutes of each Regular SAC Meeting and Special Meeting to the GSB.
  • To maintain and update the SAC session minutes; reports of all committees, sub-committees, Institute and Editorial Boards and executives; correspondence; and the Constitution and its amendments.
  • To keep a check on the membership of the councilors and executives, various committees, councils, other organizations and the various clubs.
  • To call for, compile and release to the GSB reports from individual members of the EW, campus editorial boards, hostel general secretaries, film club in-charge (Students), SAC itself and SAC subcommittees.
  • To be fully conversant with the Constitution and recommend a course of action to his or her successor.

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Aroon Narayanan, in his tenure as the SAC speaker has been able to complete almost 57% of his manifesto points with 23% ongoing, amounting together to a phenomenal 80%, and completes his post with just 6 points that couldn’t be completed. His tenure brought in some wide ranging and substantial changes to SAC, and we present a brief introduction to some of them below before proceeding to the main review points.

 

Structural Changes

One of his notable achievements was the sharp increase in SAC meetings from just 3 last year to over 17 this year. This year was also an important year for SAC as it underwent a lot of changes both in terms of structure and functioning. The face of the Student Affairs Council itself was changed, with Legislators now elected to SAC posts instead of General Secretaries and Branch Councillors filling these posts. These Legislators are elected solely for the purpose of legislation of policies, which is part of a re-envisioning of the structure of the Institute’s student governance set-up brought in by the Constitution Redrafting Committee, a Committee set up by SAC to revise the Institute’s 30 year old Students’ Constitution. At the department level, research representatives were introduced in all departments to reflect the fact that IIT Madras now houses more postgraduates than undergraduates. In the hostel-level governance, the elected Alumni Affairs Secretary post was removed in favour of a selected post. In academics, to complement the new curriculum passed by the Senate, a new Class Representative Framework was passed to systemize the process of feedback on courses from students.

Some of the most important new features introduced in the legislative and oversight side of the student government are mentioned here.

  • The Financial Accountability Commission was set up by SAC for the first time to investigate cases of student financial misappropriations, and the body took up its first few cases during this year.
  • The Student Election Commission, an independent body, was set up by SAC to conduct student elections in a fair and unbiased manner and the Student Election Code was passed to standardize how the elections should be conducted.
  • In order to standardize disciplinary action, Hostel Disciplinary Committee regulations were proposed. SAC has also proposed comprehensive regulations regarding student organizations within the campus.

Functional Changes

The functional aspect of SAC also saw a major upheaval. The number of SAC meetings, as mentioned above, went up from 3 last year to a total of 17 this year. SAC’s functioning was standardized by the passing of a SAC Operating Manual. SAC meetings were video-recorded and live telecasted to Himalaya and Vindhya. Publicity for SAC was introduced for the first time through posters, banners and a Facebook page. A SAC Portal was also incorporated on Students’ Portal to ensure continuity. For the first time, a fundae session for new SAC Councillors was arranged, with the Dean and previous Councillors in attendance, to ensure smoother transition and a freshie session was arranged by the Speaker’s Committee for current representatives to interact with freshies and give them an idea of how the Institute’s student government works. SAC also took the initiative to conduct a Townhall Meeting in order to facilitate interaction between the administration and students on the issue of mental health. Thus, several milestones were crossed this year, in terms of re-drafting of the constitution.

We now move on to introducing and briefly reviewing Aroon’s manifesto points.

Legislation

 

  • SAC meetings will be short and strictly bound to 2.5 – 3 hours, while frequency of meetings will be at least once a month.
    Status: Done
  • Agenda points for each meeting will be divided into sections and each section will have a timeline.
    Status: Done

The strict attendance policy implemented by him and adherence to the timings helped improve the attendance of SAC members and also to increase the number of meetings.

  • A SAC operating manual detailing some of the best practices or procedures followed over the past few years was compiled.
    Status: Done

The SAC operating manual was sent on Smail along with the MoM’s. The SAC portal created by him during his tenure contains the SAC operating manual along with the MoM’s of all meetings. 

  • SAC fundae session for councillors along with Ex-councilors, director and DOST.
    Status: Done

  • Formation of Policy Advice Committee composed of ex-EW and ex-SAC members, to bring in experience.
    Status: Done

The PAC contributed some important guidelines such as the independent student body guidelines and also HDC. The Constitution Committee of SAC worked for 8 months to redraft the constitution, and while SAC was not prominently involved, Aroon was involved with the committee on SAC’s behalf, as  re-drafting of the constitution was a major policy push from his part.

Some of the important suggestions put forth by Aroon are mentioned here.

  • De-linking of the hostel level and department level executive from institute level legislature, which now ensures the separation of Gen Secs and Branch Councillors from legislators.

In fact, when asked whether the introduction of the new legislator post at the hostel level and existence of HHS post ( Health and Hygiene Secretary) would leave the GenSec(s) with almost no duties, Aroon was quite vociferous in stating that this would not be the case. The Gen Sec’s duties would be lessened, but in no way diminished or reduced, in fact Gen Secs would still be left with the major duties of Hostel and Infrastructur and also conduction of hostel night. He also mentioned that introduction of Legislator posts would ensure better representation and concentration in SAC.

  • He suggested drafting a comprehensive set of rights of students guaranteed by the constitution and also setting up of a judiciary to protect these rights.
  • He also suggested that SAC should be given fiscal powers to decide budget allocations.

Standing committees with dedicated agendas, was also another suggestion successfully put forth by him.

  • Active councilors will be given recommendation from the dean
    Status: Done

This was implemented in order to incentivize SAC related work by councilors. Around 5 out of 55 councilors received recommendations from the dean.

  • Separate sac.iitm.ac.in email ids provided to councilors.
    Status: Done

This was done in order to facilitate easier online interaction among councilors, though instead of iitm.ac.in domains, smail domains were provided.

  • In-Depth Analysis: Standing committees like hostel committee, academic committee, etc. will be introduced.
    Status: Ongoing

Standing committees are permanent committees that will function in their respective domains and bring policy suggestions to SAC. Though Standing committees have been passed and introduced for next year’s SAC, it was not introduced for this year’s SAC.

  • Councilors who have direct stake in any specific agenda point will be specifically asked if they have an opinion, and given 2 minutes of uninterrupted time to speak.
    Status: Ongoing

This was however followed only for a few meetings.

  • Retrospect : The first SAC meeting will review the effectiveness of last year’s policies and  decide on future course of action.
    Status: Not Done

This was held in April itself, and some Ex-councilors were also present.

 

Of the students, for the students

  • SAC townhall meetings were conducted at Himalaya lawns, whenever any major issues were up for discussion.
    Status: Done

There was only one townhall conducted at CLT and the issue discussed was Mental health issues. SAC felt that one townhall would be sufficient and so only one was conducted to ensure maximum out-reach. It saw a good level of participation from the students.

SAC townhall on mental health
SAC Townhall on Mental Health
  • Details of councilors, including manifesto and voting record was displayed on students portal.
    Status: Done
  • Institute Body Orientation Session: Freshie fundae sessions for bodies like SAC and IPR were proposed to be combined and conducted.
    Status: Done

Due to lack of response from other institute bodies, SAC conducted a freshie fundae session (on SAC’s functioning and how to get involved ) which was well received with over 100 freshies attending.

  • Forms sent out to GSB for agenda points, sent back with comments.
    Status: Done

This was to ensure that the GSB felt more involved in the SAC process.

  • Video recording of SAC meetings to be carried out, and uploaded on students portal and FB group.
    Status: Done

Odd semester SAC meetings were recorded, however they could not be uploaded as promised, due to size issues. They are available for record keeping.

  • SAC vignettes : Agenda details for meetings will be creatively printed out and put up on IP boards, at Himalaya etc.
    Status: Done

Half of the meetings were covered under this initiative, however, for the rest of the meetings posters were made and displayed.

  • Interaction with Speaker, SGS, HAS for half an hour of every GBM.
    Status: Ongoing

Though this was proposed to the SGS early in the year, due to some constraints only a few hostels like Brahmaputra etc could be covered.

The SGS didn’t reach out to the concerned Gen Secs in time for the GBM, due to which this could not be effectively carried out.

  • Insti online: A strictly monitored closed discussion/ queries / complaint group will be created on Facebook.
    Status: Ongoing

SAC’s FB page was created for the first time, in lieu of the discussion/queries page. This FB page initiated some discussion but was mostly useful for information dissemination to the student body.

  • Video telecast of SAC meetings via avenues such as LCD monitors at Himalaya, or students portal video conferencing link.
    Status: Ongoing

Video telecast was attempted for the first meeting only, after which it could not be carried out, due to the misplacing of a vital software. The next speaker has been charged with purchasing the required software, so as to be able to continue the video telecasting in his tenure.

  • LED boards in hostels, and LCD board in Himalaya to publicize meetings.
    Status: Ongoing

This was carried out only for a few meetings.

SAC Freshie Orientation
SAC Freshie Orientation

Checks on EW

  • EW members will be asked to prepare a strategy for the year in the summer and present it in the first SAC meeting.
    Status: Done

EW members were asked to prepare a presentation detailing their strategies and they presented the same during the first few meetings of the odd semester.

  • A form will be circulated with SAC members where they can ask EW members, the status of the policies passed by SAC.
    Status: Done

This will ensure that the EW members remain accountable to SAC and thus ultimately accountable to the GSB also.The questions raised by the councilors were answered by the respective EW members during the SAC meetings.

  • EW meetings shall be convened and documented every month and reports will be presented to SAC online.
    Status: Not Done

  • EW interaction sessions with the director shall be arranged once in a semester.
    Status: Not Done

There was not enough stuff to discuss, so it happened only a couple of times. Individual one on one sessions with director were held whenever any important issue came up for discussion.

Towards general progress

  • Agenda discussion meetings with SAC faculty advisor before every SAC meeting to incorporate admin views.
    Status: Ongoing

EW views were taken most of the time but the faculty advisors’ views were taken only a few times.

  • Data Analytics Committee will be revived. The focus will on targeted data collection, to complement SAC’s policies. For ex, the number of complaints received in each mess per week, library usage statistics each day and time of day.
    Status: Not Done

The Dean felt that reviving the Data Analytics Committee would be a waste of time and resources considering the relatively less amount of work to be done. Also the councilors nominated to the committee did not show enough enthusiasm.

Aroon says that considering that this committee has been attempted by 3 previous speakers, and none of them were able to make it work, he advises his successors not to waste valuable time in this regard.

  • Scholastic Outing: Short SAC trip on a weekend to TN Legislative Assembly when it is in session, to observe proceedings.
    Status: Not Done

  • Election Reform: For elections with multiple posts, electorate will be allowed to choose any number of candidates (MS/PhD Councilors); SAC posts which go vacant will be extensively publicized; elections will be held on weekends and polling will be conducted for 7 hours; election rules will be organized into a guidebook and released to GSB.
    Status: Done

Previously the electorate could choose only the exact number of people as the posts, which meant that they often had to choose people they didn’t even know. Aroon proposed that they should be given the option to choose lesser people as well, which was implemented this year under his tenure. The reject option for all posts was also implemented  under his tenure.

Aroon stands in the middle (fifth from the right) with his successor, Venkat, on his right.
Aroon stands in the middle (fifth from the right) with his successor, Venkat, on his right.

Aroon in his tenure as SAC Speaker has implemented most of his manifesto points aside from introducing new initiatives like the standing committee, hostel legislator post, new student body guidelines, etc, to name a very small number. Overall, counting in his ongoing manifesto points, he has a phenomenal success ratio of 80% with 20% of his points remaining incomplete (of which at least a couple were completed if not by him). He sums up his tenure as SAC Speaker in a quote, “Getting a policy body like SAC to function is an incredible lesson in convincing, negotiation, tact and diplomacy and my experience in SAC has probably contributed more to my growth, than I have to SAC’s growth”.  

We congratulate him on the successful completion of his tenure and hope to see greater heights achieved by Venkatraman Ganesh ,to whom Aroon passed the baton to, as the next SAC Speaker, for the year 2016-17.

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