By Abhishek Jha:
Two things that are to be immediately understood about the expulsion of the 73 students from IIT Roorkee: Firstly, that “merit” is not something objective or set in stone. It is in fact flexible and a meaningless collection of letters that needs to be broken with great exigency. Secondly, it needs to be understood that just fighting against the expulsion of these students or this particular regulation is not enough. A more fundamental change is needed in the very process of regulation making, one which is more democratic and includes students in the decision making process, as one notes from the cases of IIT Jodhpur, CBCS in Delhi University, FTII, etc.
Undemocratic Mathematics Of The Five Points
IIT Roorkee students are surprised to know that rules were tweaked last yearto include a criterion that makes it mandatory for students to score a minimum CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) of 5 to remain in the institute, although the administration claims that it had informed the students who have now been expelled. The 2014 ordinances and regulations that were referred to, in the notice informing students of the expulsion isn’t to be found anywhere on the institute website.
This new regulation was made during the last summer vacation by a Senate in the institute (which has no representation from students) without any consultation with students. However, Prashant Garg, the institute registrar told the Times of India that “The IITs are premium institutes and the rules regarding underperformance were clearly notified to students at the time of admission. ” The students have called the rule and the decision unfair because the institute uses a method of awarding grades that is based on a relative, statistical method, where some students are bound to fall below the five point bar. But in what discourse would the decision be unfair? The professors in the Senate understand the grading system fairly well. They know that even if all the students have understood a lesson, some statistical quirk (like most of the students scoring in a narrow bracket of high scores) can make one score below 5. This would be “mathematically unfair” if the Senate thought that leaving some students behind is wrong. But as the decision makes it absolutely clear, the system itself accounts for this unfairness by incorporating within its ideological framework the idea of “performance“.
The Deconstruction of Merit
To be sure, the “vision“, “mission“, and “core values” of IITs- proudly proclaimed on IIT Roorkee’s website – never even comes close to declaring “merit” and “performance” as any criteria for choosing its inmates. Three of its seven core values, in fact, focus on “social responsibilities“, “holistic understanding“, “respect and tolerance“. “Performance” is just what the administration has come to believe, on their own, as valuable.
If merit were to spread itself over all these “core values“, it would reflect the diverse abilities and interests of students. However, the administration chose to solely focus on grade points– necessitating emphasis on the decades old curriculum- to judge merit. This would not even cover the whole spectrum of people involved in technological work, forget about those working outside it. So much for “Holistic understanding, including knowledge of the human sciences”. For instance, if someone with poor grades does well in sports, music or is successful with a startup or heads the Students Affairs Council, they are considered “meritorious” by their peers. Among the various inmates, there appears to be no single metric on which a student’s merit can be judged. This shows how much of an empty signifier ‘merit‘ is.
No Place For Researchers?
It is interesting to note, that it is these professors that rue every year that there aren’t enough students opting for research work. However, did they not bring this upon themselves over the years with the increased emphasis and judging of students on grade points? Right from dorm-room allocations to course allotment, down to this cut-throat rat-race inducing regulation, their judgment is clear. CGPA is the only criteria which the institute cares for. In the packaged semester system, courses are declared redundant unless a minimum number of students opt for it. The students obviously opt for electives that are scoring, irrespective of what they would like to learn or what interests them, because ultimately it is the score that is going to make them market-worthy products of the institute machinery. Without any remedial classes or ones that enable students educated in vernacular languages to cope with the English medium of instruction, this machinery has chosen to just get rid of those who cannot or do not want to participate in the mad race. Mad precisely because this single minded obsession with the race does not allow for exploration or innovation but, to invoke a popular image, mandates following the crowd like sheep.
There is obviously a lot more at stake here than all those 73 students who have been dispensed like “collateral damage” in the churning of this machine that finds its undemocratic elitism almost enjoyable. An examination of the same is much needed.
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