Prof. Idichandy: Exclusive interview – Part 2


Prof. Idichandy

(This is in continuation with part 1 of the interview.)

Prof. V.G. Idichandy is one of the most recognizable faces on campus. In a career spanning more than 40 years at IIT Madras, Prof. Chandy has held numerous positions in the campus administration – Dean of Students, Deputy Director, Chairman – JEE and many more. He has played an instrumental role in setting up many of the institution’s current systems and is widely known for his camaraderie with students of the institute. He retired from the role of Deputy Director in October, 2011. He is a Professor in the Department of Ocean Engineering, IIT Madras. In this extensive interview, he shares his experience with the institute with T5E members Vinay Sridhar, Midhun Unnikrishnan and Nitish Garg.

On the JEE System

During his association with JEE, he made a general observation that a diligent student with good marks in the 10th and 12th did well after coming in to the IITs but that there was no correlation between performance in JEE and performance at IIT.

It’s a 12th std boy who’s writing the exam, what’s the point in asking him to solve M.Sc. level questions? This way we were purposefully driving them towards coaching institutes.

As the way forward, a suggestion was made that every board should select their top students; that is to say, those who scored more than mean plus two times the standard deviation, and ask them to write the exam.

We also suggested collapsing the two-part examination into a single objective paper that tested your analytical skills and comprehension.

The latter proposal was accepted, but the former was not, because the minister of the time remarked that the cutoff being based on statistical quantities was not something most people could understand. Instead, it was decided to insist on a first class. So only 60% and above were able to write the test. Prof. Idichandy was still not convinced.

We weren’t very happy about that, because the purpose wasn’t served.We had also decided to curtail the number of JEE attempts to two. There were people who stayed in coaching institutes for years together, till they succeeded; at that time there were people who were admitted to an undergraduate programme here even at the age of 28. Such was the attraction towards getting into IITs!

Views on Branches being allotted based on AIR JEE Rank

Another proposal was that branches should not be allocated on the basis of JEE rank. As he put it in his own words:

I’ve been fighting for this for a long time, I have not succeeded so far.

His explanation for the same was such: once you get into IIT after several years of rigorous exercise, you’d most likely be spent and exhausted; you’d want to relax and enjoy your first year. As a result, 30% of students fail in Physics, Chemistry and Math – these are all students who have cleared JEE.  So the idea was to not allot a branch on entry, but to give them time to prove themselves or earn a branch.

Admission into a particular branch need not only depend on an All India Rank.

Instead, he suggests, one could study basic engineering, understand what each branch has to offer, and then make a well thought out decision – maybe at the end of second or third semester; until then, they would all have common courses. This way they are also away from the pressures of parents as well as those of society, a society that believes only people in Computer Science and Engineering would survive. Aptitude for a branch is never taken into account at all.

The senates of every IIT had deliberated on this before, and it was almost decided upon a few years back, but then two IITs objected, and there was no consensus. This year, once again, it has come up as an agenda item, and will be discussed again.

He backed up the idea of a branch of study called General Engineering, which wouldn’t specialise in a particular discipline.

Why should every student who get into IIT go through the rigours of high funda mathematics which are required for design and analysis? Many students would be happy to choose such a stream – why should you do a specialised degree in Aeronautical Engineering if you’re intending to do an MBA afterwards?

A student undergoing this degree could choose to specialise in a suitable branch at masters level.

Unified entrance examination:

The pool of students writing AIEEE and JEE are almost the same; at least for the first five lakhs. He further questions the need for two separate entrance exams. A more important change that has come about is the adequate weightage given to 12th standard performance. The fact that a 90% in different boards may mean different things is being compensated for by calculating percentile instead of using the absolute marking – a lot of analysis is being done in this regard.

2013 students have been given sufficient notice regarding 12th standard marks weightage”, he concludes.

Regarding congestion and overcrowding

Prof.Idichandy was quite concerned about the facilities in the institute. He feels that  campus is being overtaxed by a sudden influx of people while it is designed to accommodate only 2500. Also in the Himalayas, there are cycles everywhere.

Single rooms have two people, double rooms have three people, bathrooms are an issue. This is my fundamental worry regarding this institute – the increasing population in campus.

In a few years, IIT Madras will house around 8000 students, of which around half will meet every day three times at Himalaya mess. With such a transition he feels that even a small spark can signal unpleasant reactions and it will not take much time for a mob psychology to build up.

I have no suggestion at all regarding problems like these; I’m at a loss. All of it was imposed without anybody being consulted in the IIT system about the increase in strength.

Prof. Idichandy also advocated the need for a satellite campus for IIT Madras. The problem here is that though we have enough land, we can’t use it.The crux lies in the fact that there is an existing rule regarding minimum forest cover that limits construction.

Regarding Eating Facilities in Campus:

I’m happy that nothing had blown out of proportion earlier because of the change in mess contractor.

He feels that was a very big mistake they had done. The idea behind having three independent contractors was that there should be competition; that there should be a choice of caterers and that they should work to provide better food.

He further delved into the attempts made to improve the situation like the introduction of swipe cards and hence to introduce a differential menu. The idea was that You can eat what you want, and pay then and there. There has been recent complaints about the deterioration of quality in food, services and common hygiene within campus restaurants, leading to many students going outside daily for food, he feels.

Caught In The Act

When Inquired whether 24 hour LAN cut really made a difference, he directed the question back :

I really don’t know, perhaps well meaning students such as yourselves should tell me whether you need 24 hours of LAN.

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