Excerpt 3 from Karthik Varada’s interview
by Arasu Arun
We had a grand vision for the students of our college which we worked hard for- each and every one should do well in academics and in at least one extracurricular activity.
Me: Let me ask you something. What would be the legacy of Karthik Varada’s Gymkhana? What was the biggest thing you planned here?
KV: Hm… We did focus on improving many aspects of college life – socially and academically. But there is one thing I would like to pinpoint. Many members of my Gymkhana and I dedicated much of our tenure to something that we held very near to us. It wasn’t anything that could be pulled off in a month, a semester or even an entire tenure – it required years and years of effort.
We had a grand vision for the students of our college – each and every one should be proficient academics and in at least one extracurricular activity.
Me: Woah! That’s deep. You actually wanted to pull off something like that?
KV: Yes. And we really felt we could do it. We had a well thought out strategy which evolved after hours of discussion. A bunch of us from the Gymkhana were very passionate about it. We spent weeks discussing the situation, the problem and how we could tackle it.
We started with Academic reforms.
The Academic Advisory Committee
“It was indeed a proud moment for me. I have never seen any student initiative spark such a positive reaction from the faculty members.”
[ACADEMIC REFORMS – START WITH WHY ]
We started by trying to recognize the problem. Why are some students consistently scoring high while others are regularly flunking courses? Why do some students attend all classes without fail while others come only when attendance is taken?
We knew we couldn’t do this just by discussing among ourselves. We needed to form a team with people from varied backgrounds for this and hold discussions among them. We recruited around a dozen people for the team. It consisted of both regular 10 pointers and those with many FRs. It also consisted of people from different branches and with different interests.
We felt confident that we could make good progress as a diverse team. We held many discussions regarding the problems students faced – why some didn’t attend regularly, why some only study at the last minute, why some fail despite hard work, and why some pass with relative ease.
I’m not gonna go into what exactly we discovered** among ourselves… as only the process is important.
Me: This sounds really interesting… what were the next steps you took?
[ACADEMIC REFORMS – LANDSCAPING]
KV: I also had some help from some faculty members. I approached Dr. MP Ganesh, who was taking a course on Organizational Behaviour for me, regarding this. He was very intrigued and agreed to provide me assistance in this.
We prepared a 5-10 page questionnaire for this purpose and gave it to many students to fill. This questionnaire consisted of questions regarding academic practices and preferences followed by the students. But, due to a lack of time, we unfortunately couldn’t give the questionnaire to students and use it.
Nevertheless, we felt we had a good understanding of what the problem is and why it is a problem. We’ve done the landscaping and we needed to start the groundwork.
[THE BIRTH OF THE ACADEMIC ADVISORY COMMITTEE]
Me: So.. with all these discoveries, how did you plan on implementing your suggestions?
KV: Well, we weren’t exactly ready for that, yet. We decided that discussing among the students was enough. We needed to get the other side in – the faculty.
I prepared my propositions well and approached the Director. He was very enthusiastic and eager to take this forward. He actually decided to form a team similar to ours among the faculty members. This team was called the Academic Advisory Committee **, and consisted of both the faculty and us, students.
It was indeed a proud moment for me. I have never seen any student initiative spark such a reaction from the faculty members.
[THE AAC MEETINGS]
The AAC held regular meetings. Considering the problem statement we had, there is no definite solution. We felt only gradual changes can be made to improve the academic life of students, bit by bit.
The faculty members were also as varied as the students – they were from different different and some were strict in grading and others were very lenient.
The meetings were very unorthodox. Like we gathered opinions and discussed among us, the faculty members also “Started with Why?” Why did they feel there is a big variation in motivation, attendance, effort and academic success among the students even though they are provided the same resources?
There were joint meetings between the students and the professors and they were very out of the ordinary. The opinions from each side were floated around and discussed openly. By openly, I mean that there was no beating around the bush – all of us frankly spoke our minds.
Imagine a bunch of students telling a professor in a meeting that his teaching style was boring and ineffective!
We were very happy with the responses of some professors. I remember a certain mechanical eng. professor who took our feedback very seriously and made rigorous changes to his lecturing style, assignments and tests. He even changed all of slides! But, like expected, there were also some stubborn professors who felt that it was only the students who much change.
Me: Damn… this is really interesting. And I’ve never heard of this before. What happened next? How is the AAC now?
KV: Well, after our initial round of meetings, we students needed to go do some more work based on what we’ve heard so far. But, alas, my tenure was ending. I entrusted the responsibility of the academic reforms and the AAC upon my succeeding Gymkhana. But I’m very disappointed to see that it wasn’t pursued any further.
This monumental task isn’t just something that can be accomplished by one zealous Gymkhana. My hope is that a future Gymkhana will take up the responsibility and carry our work forward.
Me: So cool. I hope it’s revived soon.
** For official documentation and reports from the AAC, including the questionnaire, drop me an email
— Arasu Arun