Of Honour Codes and Electoral Reforms: SAC Meeting Review


by Bhargavi and Surajram

The third official SAC meeting of the academic year, held on Sunday, February 16th, opened with a proposal to implement an Institute Honour Code. Honour Codes are quite common in universities abroad, and the IITs at Bombay and Kharagpur have Honour Codes as well. The concept is that there are some principles that every student commits to, and he or she forfeits “honour” by breaking any of them. The first draft of the Honour Code (available here) has been written and the Code will be circulated among the students soon.

Fourteen students were originally involved in drafting of this Honour Code, headed by Arun Sudarsan, a 5th-year Humanities student and the MA Councillor. This number dwindled to three—two SAC members, Arun and Abhishekh, and Sai Venkatesh from the GSB—by the time the project was completed. It was proposed that an Institute Honour Panel be set up to look into violations of the Honour Code. Currently, violations of rules in various areas (hostel-related and academic-related violations, for instance) are handled by different committees/authorities. Setting up this panel, however, would ensure that all transgressions are handled under one body.

This panel is tentatively proposed to consist of seven members: two members of faculty, two members from the Executive Wing, and three members of the SAC. The members will be chosen from the SAC on a rotating basis. This Honour Panel will start by handling cases of violation which are presently handled by Part A of the Senate — the sub-committee that handles academic DisCos. Later it may be expanded to include violations of Hostel Disciplinary Committee rules. While the Honour Panel will have the power to prescribe punishments, the respective academic departments/authorities will be in charge of executing these decisions.

Next, the committee discussed a proposal to incentivize elected student posts—excluding hostel secretary positions—by giving these students a rebate on their mess fees. A report by the Ananthakrishnan Committee (formed to prevent student suicides and increase student well-being on campus) mandates the existence of a student body in every college that helps deal with suicide-related issues, and requires that this organisation be given monetary assistance every year, to the tune of 55 lakh rupees. Mitr coords, who offer counseling support at IIT Madras, qualify for this aid.

The Dean of Students argued that all members of the SAC council, and some others—the Webops team, the Mess Monitoring Committee, etc.—also do important work in stemming depression and preventing suicides and therefore were entitled to compensation as well. A suggestion was made that all elected student posts that had a clear application process in place be entitled to rebates. However, as hostel secretary posts did not fall under this purview, it was argued that this would lead to people favouring SAC and other institute-level posts over hostel positions. It would also lead to people applying for the positions solely for the sake of monetary benefit. The members decided to scrap this idea and use the money for Mitr activities instead of using it to benefit the Mitr coords. Paying students to help others was felt to be a bad idea.

The election schedule was changed to include nine days of campaigning (without affecting the overall duration of the election period). While the majority of students had voted against door-to-door campaigning, it was felt that campaigning was a necessary way for the candidate to make himself/herself known to the electorate.

One of the topics scheduled for discussion was reservations for women in elected posts. A survey conducted among the student body had generated an overwhelming negative response to the idea, from men and women alike. A few members felt that this was an issue that could not be decided simply based on majority opinion: if the SAC felt there was a need for reservation, it would have to be implemented. The council, however, postponed discussion on this issue.     

Another point that was reviewed at this meeting was voters’ right to reject all candidates for a post in the upcoming elections.  The proposal to include a reject button had been considered in the second SAC meeting and had almost been dismissed, but a committee (chaired by Vinay Reddy, General Secretary of Tapti Hostel) had been formed then for the purpose of studying the proposal again. Consequently, this proposal was accepted in the third SAC meeting. It was decided that the Right to Reject would be included in the upcoming elections, with the rationale that such a provision would improve voter turnout and grant freedom of speech to the electorate. The SAC agreed that, to reject candidates, at least 50% of the electorate should have polled their votes (that is, at least half the electorate should either have voted for candidates or exercised their right to reject, and this fraction does not include those who abstained from voting), and that at least 50% of the polled votes had to be in favour of rejection. If candidates are rejected in an election, they cannot appear for a reelection, and other candidates who are willing to contest elections will have to be found by the SAC and GSB. Additionally, the Right to Reject will only be applicable to elections for Executive Wing posts, as the voter turnout is quite low for student and hostel council elections.

The Instant Run-off Voting (IRV) system, which the SAC had promised to implement two years ago, came up again for discussion. The WebOps team said that a new portal would have to be built from scratch for this, and it cannot be done in time for this year’s election. While the concerns of the Webops team were acknowledged, the council felt that as this project had lain in the pipeline for two years, and had been promised to the students as part of the election manifesto of the Secretaries the previous year, it would have to be implemented somehow.

The WebOps team also informed the SAC that this could easily have been accomplished if work had started earlier. The Election Officer, however, had apparently put this project on hold, a fact unknown to the SAC members, who reacted with sheer amazement. Promising to resolve the issue soon, the two-and-a-half-hour-long assembly broke up.

Although the session started late, there were a few changes to the meeting structure this time round. For one, the agenda (and consequently, the meeting itself) was of a more manageable length, as opposed to the past precedent of overly ambitious ones. Additionally, in this meeting, two committees presented their findings and reports (the committee formed to study an Honour Code, and the one to study the Right to Reject). This is in addition to the committee that was formed to regulate committees, which presented its report in the second SAC meeting. All of these are refreshing departures from SAC tradition, and one hopes that this trend of improved efficiency will continue.


23/02/2014: This article has been edited since publication to include a link to the Honour Code that was drafted by the Drafting Committee, as well as information about the Right to Reject. It has also been modified to reflect the work done by committees in the last paragraph. T5E thanks Arun Sudarsan for pointing out discrepancies in the original article.

24/02/2014: A factual inaccuracy regarding the Right to Reject has been corrected. 

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