Interview with DoSt: Reopening and Beyond

Design by Rohit Reddy

Amidst a flurry of questions concerning the reopening of the institute and the subsequent systems, procedures and restrictions, T5E sat down with the Dean of Students, Professor Nilesh Vasa, to understand the administration’s situation right now. 

T5E: Are there any circumstances under which IITM will be able to reopen with other IITs, even if the Tamil Nadu government does not issue a permit?

Prof. Vasa: The reopening of our institute is dependent on the instructions from the Tamil Nadu Medical Authority because the state government is responsible for making arrangements concerning medical requirements. It is essential for them to maintain uniformity among educational institutions across the state. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has permitted all IITs to allow research scholars to continue their work. However, due to the ongoing second wave and lockdown conditions, we will not invite research scholars until normalcy is restored and the COVID infection rate slows down to a safe level.

T5E: If the TN government allows colleges to reopen but does not allow us to open all our hostels, what alternatives do we have? Is there a possibility of students being allocated shared rooms?

Prof. Vasa: At the moment, we are not considering the allocation of shared rooms, given the uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 infection. Once we are permitted to open, we will start calling students in batches, in a phased manner. We have limited resources in terms of the number of single-occupancy rooms, so we will also encourage more day scholars. Keeping the possibility of a third wave in mind, we will be cautious in making arrangements for the hostel residents. In any case, two doses of vaccination before arrival is necessary and safer.

In any case, two doses of vaccination before arrival is necessary and safer.

T5E: What would the phase-wise reopening look like? Who is high on the priority list and who is low on the priority list?

Prof. Vasa: Final year students will be called first in the order of M.Tech. (Experimental), M.Sc. (Experimental), Dual-Degree (Experimental), MBA, B.Tech, and MA. We will incrementally include around 300 students at a time with the prevailing quarantine protocols. 

T5E: Since the batch of 2020 and 2021 would have graduated by the time we are back, how will we deal with their belongings and make room for the other students coming back to campus? 

Prof. Vasa: We have planned to pack their belongings and courier them to their residential address. We are also discussing our options with the Indian Postal Service to help us transport the belongings.

T5E: Given that you have requested us all to get vaccinated as soon as possible, are we looking to form a bubble of sorts? What does movement outside campus look like in such a case?

Prof. Vasa: We are looking to form a bio-bubble, which will take some time to form but can be breached easily. Since vaccination has an efficacy of only around 60-70%, we would have to be careful in maintaining the bio-bubble if the number of COVID cases continues to be high in the city. We also do not know whether the vaccines available now will have similar efficacy with new virus variants. In the second wave, the number of young individuals getting hospitalized was larger than that of the first wave. Hence, we will have to follow the protocols announced by the state medical authority meticulously. When the students are brought back, until we have the confidence of overcoming the spread of COVID-19 spread, we will have restrictions on movement beyond campus for all hostel residents.

T5E:  What are the expected protocols and precautionary measures a student would ideally be required to follow? What would be the options for dealing with facilities that cannot be restricted?

Prof. Vasa: Currently, vaccination is the appropriate approach to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, the efficacy of the vaccines and the emergence of new variants require us to be precautious and adhere to safety measures even after being fully vaccinated. We will be following the protocols and instructions periodically issued by the Greater Chennai Corporation and the medical authority. 

With regards to student facilities, such as the mess and the restrooms, it is not viable to increase their numbers due to limited space and resources. Initially, we will have to limit dining to two users per table. Due to this, there will be an increase in the slotting of mess timings. As we move ahead, we will try to increase the number of students per table to accommodate more students efficiently while also maintaining sufficient social distance. With asymptomatic and mild-symptom cases, it is a necessity to stick to the slot system. Take-aways are an option as well. 

T5E: Universities functioning in the pandemic across the world have been taking multiple COVID-19 tests throughout the semester. Tentatively, how often or how extensively would we test our students when we are back on campus?

Prof. Vasa: In the hostel zone, if one comes forward with the related symptoms, an RT-PCR test is advised. The Greater Chennai Corporation carries out the test at their hospital premises in Taramani free-off cost. When the number of cases administered in a particular hostel is more than three, the corporation conducts a compulsory saturation test for all the residents in the hostel. This approach has worked out well thus far with the limited resources available and has caused very minimal inconvenience to residents. 

Once a test is taken, one is isolated and food is delivered to the respective individual. One will be advised by the Institute hospital on a case to case basis. Restrictions and containment zones will be decided by the medical authority subject to the number of COVID-19 cases.  

T5E: Is there a possibility of a vaccination drive in the institute? 

Prof. Vasa: Given the high levels of demand for vaccines, we have not been able to procure them for the student body so far. It is thus essential for the student body to get vaccinated in their respective residences as early as possible. Currently, the campus houses Research scholars due to their work being of experimental nature. While we weren’t able to procure vaccines, we were able to coordinate and facilitate commute to the local hospitals in Chennai, in order for the scholars to get vaccinated. 

T5E: When we are all back in the institute, what are the options for offline pedagogy? How will the pending workshops and labs be accommodated within the next semester when called back?

Prof. Vasa: During the ongoing semester, it may be challenging to accommodate the pending workshops and laboratories. Hence, we may have to plan them for winter/summer break. An elaborate plan will be formulated by the academic section.

T5E: What kind of events can be conducted offline? How can student facilities be availed?

Prof. Vasa: For the placement and intern drives, a hybrid model may be appropriate. However, the respective advisors will be taking a call about the same. Many of the events can be conducted and attended online. For activities involving on-ground presence, movement will be restricted. Self-discipline in maintaining social distance and adhering to precautionary measures is always a necessity. Institute eateries will have restrictions on mass gatherings and a restricted number of outlets will undoubtedly be a challenging task. Alternatives open to us are takeaways and hostel deliveries. During working hours, the institute hospital will attend to regular prescriptions and mild sickness. Emergencies will be attended to post working hours as well. 

T5E: Given the restrictions, how would extra-curricular and co-curricular activities be phased into campus life? 

Prof. Vasa:  There may be restrictions on mass-gathering in less ventilated spaces. In particular, sporting facilities may experience some challenges. Nevertheless, many activities may be carried out in a hybrid environment. Campus life will have some restrictions, but self-discipline and precautionary measures can allow for many activities to be carried out without jeopardising the safety requirements. For instance, CFI activities that need to work hands-on may go ahead offline by following appropriate COVID-19 protocols. 

Campus life will have some restrictions, but self-discipline and precautionary measures can allow for many activities to be carried out without jeopardising the safety requirements.

T5E: Will there be a curfew, post return to the campus?

Prof. Vasa: We will be following the same restriction protocols as issued by the Greater Chennai Corporation. If there is a curfew imposed by the Greater Chennai Corporation on Chennai, it will be applicable on campus too. Food delivery services, such as Zomato and Swiggy, and grocery deliveries by various service providers will also be allowed according to the timings issued by the Tamil Nadu government. 

T5E: In the past year, how were students with internet issues accommodated?

Prof. Vasa: With the help of the Alumni and Corporate Relations Office, we created a Student Distress Fund for students without basic gadgets, internet facilities or internet connectivity. The fund has been used to loan out money to such students to buy a laptop of their choice, acquire internet facilities or pay for a good rental paying-guest space in a nearby town with good internet connectivity. The loan does not have any interest and can be repaid even after four years when they can. 

T5E: What message would you like to give to the students?

Prof. Vasa: Our energy comes from students being on campus. We want all of you here as soon as possible, and we want all of you to learn together in classrooms. So please get vaccinated at the earliest. Let’s pray that COVID-19 goes away and all of you come back soon.

T5E thanks Professor Nilesh Vasa, the DoSt, for being cooperative, accessible and amicable. We hope these clarifications answer some of your questions. But for now, stay home, stay safe, and get vaccinated.

  1. Anubhav Prakash

    amazing work, it is very rare for me to read such long stuffs, but the kind of questions t5e asked and the way Prof Vasa answered, it kept me focus. People say civil op, I find t5e the most op team in insti.

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