By Shruti Singh:
It’s not every day that you wake up to an article in the newspaper about a plethora of controversies that your institute has been a part of. Tuesday morning was one such occasion. “TISS Director Resigns Over Issue of Review Panel Report” flashed in all the WhatsApp and Facebook groups that I am part of. The headline was alarming enough to motivate anyone to pry for details. Tata Institute of Social Sciences has earned a reputation for itself for being one of India’s premier institutes. The selection process is rigorous and the life after selection is even more taxing. In this light, a headline such as this sent the student population into a tizzy.
The article says that a group of academicians from across the country met last year to review the institute’s performance and quality of education in the last ten years, among other things, and prepared a report of the same. The national daily informs that this report is critical of TISS which is why the authorities have been attempting to suppress it from publishing. It also suggests that the fact that the review committee was provided with five-star hotel accommodation and a hefty remuneration reveals the institute’s desperation towards receiving an all praises report. As a student of the institute, it is not new to hear such speculative news. The campus in itself is a hotbed of rumours and speculations. The only reliable source that we have is the formal email which is sent by the Director to all staff members and students, part of which has been included by TOI too.
The expansion of TISS in terms of increased number of schools and research centres has been disconcerting to students, alumni and staff members alike. In the last ten years, the institute has introduced new courses and new teaching methods, while the number of teaching staff remains skewed. Prior to the ruthless expansion, the Mumbai campus of TISS had about 300 students in total, all of whom resided in the old campus which has four hostels – two each for girls and boys. All staff members too lived in the campus, making the environment conducive to holistic development of scholars. One of the ex-students, who now works with TISS as a guest lecturer, recalled her experiences and said that because everyone lived in the same campus, it felt like one big family where they all knew each other. There were lesser students in one class which took care of the teacher-student ratio. Students were not crammed inside hostel rooms. All this is a thing of the past. Currently, there are around 600 students enrolled in the School of Social Work alone. There are approximately 120 students in the School of Labour Studies, almost 200 students in the Health School and the numbers only seem to be increasing. The Masters course in Disaster Management fell under the School of Habitat Studies as a centre. Talks are going on to start a designated School of Disaster Management which will also have some new courses. While the greener side of the grass says that there will be new unconventional courses and students of the country will have wider options to be involved with the social sector, the not so green side suggests that the institute will run out of effective infrastructure to support increased number of enrolments.
Talking about the infrastructure, TISS boasts of an impeccable library with free high speed Wi-Fi which is the lifeline of all students. However, due to the increased number of usage, the internet often slugs. The hostel rooms are small and apt only for two people. Four people are crammed in them with at least one not getting a wardrobe to store clothes. When your institute is known for being academically demanding, living in such conditions challenges the wellbeing of students. There are no doubts about the popularity of TISS among social science students which seems to be evolving with each passing year. TISS admitted 900 students for the academic year 2014-16, which is a big number for any institute.
Now that we have discussed the problems, let’s talk about the TOI report. What is particularly disheartening about the news item is that it took the issue and blew it out of proportion by claiming that the Director has resigned. As part of the institute, we would have received such news from the Director himself before it reaching TOI, which we clearly did not. However controversial the issue of the review panel might be, the institute is known for being transparent and accountable. The grapevine around lack of funds from the Tata Trust and UGC makes one curious on how the institute is sustaining itself. These are issues which have the potential of wrecking havoc in the present and future student community of the school. Whatever be the future of the institute, it is safe to say now that the Director has not resigned and remains in office, and TOI should refrain from perpetuating misleading information.