Pesky-centenaryOn the last Thursday & Friday, my college celebrated its "sesquicentenary", arthaat its 150th anniversary. COEP (or as the reluctant postscript goes, "Now known as PIET") was the third oldest engineering college in India (after Roorkee & Guindy - though the head of the COEP alumni association claims it is the 2nd oldest). This post isn't an ode to its greatness. In contrast, it is about why hardly anyone I knew, from my class or in adjacent graduating years, was interested in attending this "celebration".
The main reason is that the function is essentially a back-patting exercise for the college biggies to indulge in. Undoubtedly, COEP has been a leader in technical education over many years. But talk to alumni and you will realise that most of the good things they derived from the place was from essentially student-driven activities and there is a sense that things could easily have been much better.
For those who do not know, COEP is essentially sarkaari in its running. But with a name and background that it possesses, it became the college of first choice in the area among engineering students. Unlike its "academics-only" perception among many people, COEPians usually have indulged in academics as an extra-curricular activity, having their days filled with lots of other activities. The college has done well at activities that have nothing to do with mundane engineering, such as Firodiya, orchestra, street play, debating, quizzing, sports (our football, cricket, hockey and several other teams were among the top ones in the city), magazine and so on. Of course, we had our regular share of University toppers & rankers. The point is not to strew laurels about, just to indicate that all of the above hardly included the contributions of the staff.
Ok, to more immediate irritants. The sesquicentenary celebrations seemed more like a fund-raising event among NRIs among the COEPians in the US. I did not attend any of the events, so I may be unjustified in speculating in this manner. However the appeals on the website for funds (and did the President of India come?) seemed clearly that way. The problem with COEP is that the college staff does nothing to inspire loyalty and confidence among its students and alumni and then expects to be cared for like a loved parent.
Most COEPians I know are quite proud about their alma mater; however this pride does not extend to most of the teachers. COEP has now become autonomous and become PIET. They have been cut from the past. Instead of basking in your greatness, please take this opportunity to recognise the gaping problems:
Hire better teachers: The biggest flaw in COEP: poor teachers. Autonomy seems to nowhere indicate that the college will spend money in hiring better teachers. Heads of Dept. have no confidence in most of their staff. Frankly, several profs. don't have the basic qualification to teach - they are here because they would not be good at anything else. Autonomy should not mean just the convenience of setting and correcting exams in-house. I had to re-learn all my basics after leaving college. I may be a bad student, but I know several others who did similarly, and they all were not poor students. The majority of teachers in COEP are either slow-witted or vindictive or unhelpful and so on. This is not a tirade, but an observation.
Bow to common sense in setting syllabi: Autonomy should mean more meaningful & dynamic contents in syllabi, right? Not if you are in COEP. Two years ago, I attended a meeting to guage views of alumni on drafting a new syllabus for CS & IT. None of our (as in all alumni present at the meeting) practical suggestions could be taken on board, for some strange rules demanded that the First Year be exactly common for all depts without variation and that one dept had to "export" a subject to another dept. in the Second Year and so on and so forth. Ideas on revamping practicals, project work and vivas could not be entertained. Bottomline: the status quo could hardly be breached. It was a waste of three hours.
Infrastructure: Funds are being solicited in the name of improving infrastructure. Instead of just spending on infrastructure like laptops for all and more bandwidth (all this seems just IT related infrastructure, btw), spend on getting better instructors. We had no infrastructure to speak of 4 years ago in our dept., unless if you were shooting an attack on a ravaged war camp. But all CS students could afford a PC at home to work with. We need better teachers, or atleast teachers who can operate the so called new infrastructure. I'm willing to wager that hardly anyone in COEP knows network or system administration, and I'm sure the college won't bother hiring anyone with that experience. Result: the new comps that have been purchased will be used as usual by peons to play Solitaire. The rooms are dusty and health hazards. What talk of infrastructure when the CS dept has no classrooms and is housed in what would best described as the outhouse of a bhoot bangla where even ghosts would have asthma in the dust.
Students going elsewhere: Very rarely does any COEP student do an innovative project of any kind during their undergrads. In contrast, there are always stories of such things from colleges like PIET & VIT. It points to probably more motivation for such things there and also a tradition. At COEP, we have been content to just do our "maaz" for being 12th toppers and go to the BC deriding acads. Not that we did any worse, but we didn't do much good as well. I think the best students no longer think of COEP as their top choice - in some courses, other colleges have stolen the show and with far greater justification.
The name: I wonder if the college management thought that Shakespeare is always right. Changing the name to PIET singlehandedly wiped out all the accumulated brand equity that COEP had earned in the past. All recognition among other colleges and universities and corporates has been made tenuous. People think it to be suspiciously the same as PICT or just a typo. Almost every alumnus who has spoken at a PIET/COEP function in the last year has blasted this decision. The decision is devoid of any common sense as far as I can see - just the whims of a few people who want to be seen as taking a forward step. What has changed beneath this superficial nomenclatural adjustment?
I'm more than a little peeved because I've known the place for 7.5 years now. To try making a difference, my friends and I gave much of our time in the last 3 years to teach in our dept. The realisation at the end of it was the place is a mammmoth that does not want to lift its tail to flick the irritant flies. It revels and wallows in its status quo. Autonomy is just new paint on a crumbling edifice. I won't be nostalgic because I go there every week. That's only for people who can be touched for funds without making too many demands. Last week at COEP was probably like a Karan Johar film tailor-made for his audience abroad where you shell out money unquestioningly and feel great about it.