Monday, March 31, 2014

A landmark Saturday in IISc

March 29, 2014 was a landmark Saturday at my employer, the Indian Institute of Science. It is the first time there was a Convocation, or what was effectively a Graduation Ceremony in the 105 year history of the Institute. I was present because my former student Dr. Monalisa Patra had traveled from Bombay for the event, and it turned out that it was fortuitous because Chairmen of Departments also had a role to play. They had to come to the stage for photographs with the dignitaries. It was quite a nice event, since the graduates had been requested to be in white and there was no formal convocation wear. It may be recalled that although Mr. Jairam Ramesh had talked about this as a colonial relic, elsewhere Mahmoud Mamdani had pointed out that the robes were borrowed from the Arab world, because on the day of graduation the highest sign of learning in the west was that they should look like a person from Arabia. The address by Dr. Kasturirangan would pretty good and had many interesting observations. Among other things, there are also plans for IISc's future, which appear to be time bound in his reckoning. These include reaching very high international ranking levels in 5 and 10 year periods. Such a thing would, unfortunately, appear to be phantasmagoric since achieving such goals would require investments on a scale that are simply not possible. It would require an overnight enhancement in all spheres, including teaching and research and inputs that I cannot see possible.

The same day we learnt that our Director, Prof. Balaram would be stepping down on July 31, 2014 due to his attaining the age of superannuation. I have been his Chairman for over five years and two months and I had the most pleasant experience working with him. I would always get an appointment when I sought one, and he would hear me patiently and was always supportive of every need. In his years, the Institute has seen enormous construction work, several giant buildings, new hostels on a scale unimaginable. In these years, the Institute has set up several new Centres, including one for Neuro Sciences, Earth Sciences and if I am not mistaken the Nanoscience Centre as well. In these years, the much talked about and celebrated Undergraduate programme has also come into being. (Prof. Balaram started his tenure some years ago, and I believe few months into it was the infamous terrorist attack in which several were hurt and a visitor lost his life. Must have been quite a traumatic event for the Director.) That is quite a fantastic amount of stuff to have packed into a few years. Congratulations to Prof. Balaram!

We also learnt that the successor would be Prof. Anurag Kumar from ECE. Prof. Kumar will have a lot of hard work ahead of him. Just as our country which has an enormous growth rate, and lots of problems concomitant to it, the growth of IISc must have generated quite a few problems. Prof. Kumar would require quite a few trusted advisers on who he would have to lean for advice and also to those he would need to delegate tremendous amount of responsibility. For instance, the enormous growth of buildings of the previous paragraph has meant a huge rise in traffic in and out of the Institute and in all corners. The streets are still pretty much the same, except for the ring road. These streets are shared by pedestrians and vehicular traffic. The first thing would be required is to have a masterplan to increase pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes, and segregation of fast traffic from slow. The Institute must take land from departments and expand all walkways. Then there would parking facilities. A master plan is needed for this and enforcement would be required. Many buildings require upkeep. Only an effort on a war footing can tackle this. And money is needed to run any war...As the first bunch of Undergraduates near graduation, at this time next year, a good audit of the programme would be required. What are its strengths and weaknesses? Should we consult experienced colleagues from IITs on such issues? I also hear about the Placement services. Prof. Kumar would have to deal with that issue as well. And so on...(there is a continuous litany of grievances from Chairmen such as myself, bills, accounts, schemes, ... ) And then Prof. Kumar would have to deal with the issues raised by Dr. Kasturirangan in his address. So here is wishing him luck!