Starting this week, T5E brings you a series of discussions with Dr. L. S. Ganesh, Dean of Students, IITM, and Professor, Dept. of Management Studies, IITM, as part of what we call ‘The Dean’s Column’. We hope this will be a great platform for interaction and the exchange of ideas between the students, alumni and LSG.
A brief introduction: Dr. L. S. Ganesh was born and had his early education in Madras. After graduating in the B.E. (Hons.) programme in Mechanical Engineering at BITS Pilani, he enrolled in the M. Tech programme in Maintenance Engineering and Management in IIT Madras. After working at Air India, Bombay, he pursued the doctoral research programme in the Industrial Engineering and Management Faculty at IIT Madras, involving the application of time-series forecasting models and system dynamics concepts to educational planning in Tamil Nadu schools. Since 1987, he worked in the Industrial Engineering and Management Faculty at IIT Madras, then as Associate Professor till 1996, and then as Professor. The Dept. of Management Studies (DoMS) was established in April 2004 and he served as the Head, DoMS during 2004-2008.
He now serves as the Dean of Students of the Institute, having held several other posts, including Advisor (Cultural) of the Gymkhana, Professor-in-charge of the Cell for Professional Ethics and Human Values, and he is, for a second time, Professor-in-charge of Human Resources Development in the Institute. He also served as the Secretary, IIT Madras Alumni Association, as Adviser, Office of Alumni Affairs of IIT Madras and later as the President, IIT Madras Alumni Association (Chennai Chapter). He has been involved deeply with the conception, establishment, operation and guidance of C-TIDES, which has several noteworthy accomplishments in terms of student-led entrepreneurship in our country.
Dr. Ganesh is an accomplished rock, blues and jazz vocalist and rhythm guitarist. In his student days, he won many prizes in music competitions, debates and sports. Dr. Ganesh loves “work, meditation, philosophy, music and dreaming.”
Note: The interview has been edited slightly for readability.
Last year in retrospect:
I took over as Dean of students on the 6th of October last year – that was Vijayadasami day.
Our Institute was going through a very interesting phase, back then. We had a totally new team at the helm; we had a new Director, and a new Chairman, Board of Governors. You know about the recent changes in the demands on the IIT system. We had to increase student strength very sharply within a very short time.
As you know, our IIT is in a very unique location being positioned next to the Guindy Reserve Park. There are limited options for physical expansion. We have a value system by which we will not disturb one-third of the wooded land we have here. I think it’s a very good value system, because of the beauty, the charm and the goodness of the campus, in terms of its natural environment.
On the physical side, we face the challenge of accommodating our students, offering them hostel rooms, dining facilities, and a host of opportunities for co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. I’m not commenting now on the academic issues we face. That’s a related, but different ballgame. When we talk of academic programmes and academic infrastructure, it’s a huge challenge for Institutes like ours. So, I’ll be commenting on the living aspects, and not the learning aspects of life here.
A culture of fitness:
When we examine the living side, there’s the accommodation, the dining facilities, etc., to deal with, but, to me, what is more important than these is the kind of culture we have to bring about.
IIT Madras’ student culture, I’d say has been quite positive. Students continue to be very constructive. However, there are some aspects which we have to concentrate on. The first aspect is the culture of fitness and well being – physical and mental. Shall we say holistic well-being?
As we can observe, a vast majority of the students across different programmes of study could be much fitter than they are. I mean, one can see the students, their physical persona and understand that!
Look at yourself! (laughs) – I’m not saying you’re not fit. That would be unfair. But it is true that you could be much fitter than you are. Isn’t that true? Far better than what you are.
I’m not – please do not misinterpret me – I’m not saying you’re weak! (laughs). I’m just saying, if you look at yourself now, then — of course, I don’t want to use inductive logic and all – I think my observation is correct. You people can be and must be much fitter – physically and mentally.
So fitness is perhaps the most important criterion for all of us. But this leads to many issues. For example, one would quickly point out that we must have very good dining facilities. The kind of dining services we have may not match with our ideals of fitness.
One has to look at this point very carefully. Are we, indeed, giving the best dining facilities that we can? Now that’s a moot question because, you know, [of] the way the mess/dining system has changed in our Institute. Over the years, we have moved from a system completely operated by our Hostel Management to the contracting way of providing dining and dining services. Each system has its own pros and cons. So that’s just one part of the issue. We will meet the challenges in providing acceptable dining facilities to our students.
When we discuss about physical and mental fitness, there are many other constituent dimensions. The infrastructure and facilities we have for sports, games and fitness are enviable. Very few institutions have such wonderful facilities. We can talk of any kind of games and sports demanding a lot of physical effort.
Of course, one of the significant challenges in this is to get our swimming pool operational.
The swimming-pool issue:
As you know, there have been quite a few attempts in the past for repairing our pool. The current review of its status has shown that the repair works so far have (sort of) been good in the short run, but have inevitably thrown up nagging problems in the long run (short-term gain, followed by long-term pain!)
This leads us to the question, “What should our decision be regarding the swimming pool?”
Our swimming pool is a major resource in our campus. It’s a near perfect infrastructure for physical fitness. So we (meaning the Deans’ committee) considered the viewpoints of various stakeholders – Administration, Engineering Unit, Gymkhana, students, well-wishers, etc., in an integrated manner and decided that it would be wiser for us to take a long-term view than repeat with short-term repair and again face problems within the next two years. So, we collectively felt it would be wiser to take a long-term view, so that in the next ten to fifteen years we will benefit from a problem-free facility.
There were many alternatives we considered, but we realized this was the best decision under the given circumstances. Hopefully, in the next 12 to15 months, we will have our swimming pool up and running. I do agree that students who are currently in IIT will not be able to enjoy the swimming pool during this period, but you now know the reason. We’re taking a long-term view rather than a short term view.