The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

#CandidateSpeak — On The Relationship Between the Alumni and the University

Transcribed below are answers given by the candidates in the Presidential Debate and Discussion organized by The Edict in collaboration with the Ashoka Alumni Association.

How do you view the relationship between the association and the university? Additionally, what do you think is the role of any alumnus towards the university, in our current stage of professional lives?


I think this is there in the minds of all of us right now. To define the relationship between the alumni association and the university right now — not disagreeing that we have been financially dependent on the university and moreover we have all came from the same ecosystem so we have emotionally attachment also. Right now at this juncture what is important is once we are trying to develop into an independent body, one that is even related to Ashoka but also has a distinct voice on its own functioning and even on matters which are pertaining to the university but do affect the Alumni. I think the first step is that we define a thumb rule — that what are our terms of engagement. How are we going to be engaged with the university and that is coming right from the preamble, right from the ethos of the Alumni Association. That it is about first the alumni — every particular Alum matters here. So if something in Ashoka matters to alumni — something going out in the media, or just being reported, but even if a single alumni feels about it, we have to go about with addressing that — giving every Ashokan a voice right now, because, lets accept it, right now we are stakeholders who are not invested in terms of funding the university, but we do have a voice in terms of having it like as an alumni who has studied there. As the previous batches are coming to the university in terms of mentorships and in terms of jobs. So at this juncture defining when we are going to interact, when we are going to say things.

Answering the second question, I think that all alumni are at different stages in their careers and their lives. But it’s not just about money or network. I think it ranges across 4 distinct classifications which I would put as individual alumni to the university in terms of money, talent, network and time. Some of us work as TA’s while others bring jobs here, some of us work in fund raising while others work with connecting our own organizations and building up the university’s upcoming batches base for them. Those are 4 distinct characteristics and moreover a single alumni should also be able to contribute even a single opinion. Like what I mentioned in my manifesto is about Alumni Hour where every single idea and voice should atleast get a platform to be heard and pondered upon. I think across those four areas — money, talent, network and time; and having a distinct platform to put forth opinion — that is how we play a role right now at this juncture as alums.

Simran Rana

So how alumnus have their relationship with the university is definitely one that feels homely and coming back home, which is why I think a lot of YIFs and undergraduates keep coming back to Ashoka in whatever capacity they can — as TA’s or ASP programs — because we can’t get enough of Ashoka and I don’t think that anybody has a better education experience in their years before because it’s so welcoming and you feel like everything that you say is heard which is why I think that most of us are more vocal than we were ever in institutions that we’ve been associated with before. And I feel that, again, like Parushya has already spoken very well, that none of us have very well established careers right now but I think that in whatever we can contribute, even if it is being a good connector in terms of “Oh I know this person from this batch and he/she will be able to help you” Just helping people meet people from other batches or just across our network would be a great way to connect with our university. And also that we should continuously give feedback to Ashoka and scaling up and every year they have new challenges and something that worked 6 months ago doesn’t work anymore — bigger classrooms, too many electives, not enough classroom space and I think the task force was one very successful thing, when it did work , and even if there is time when we should engage with Aniha, or any professor or even YIFs or UGs on campus in terms of saying what we think and keeping the conversation going.

Ashweetha Shetty

For me, I feel my hope for Ashoka Alumni Association specially was to be a really critical voice in shaping in the institution — a really critical voice. Every single decision we have to earn, for sure; but that’s what I feel is the relationship that I am hoping for — is to be that voice which will help the institution forward. I think we as alumnus know that things like diversity works in fellowship and we need to include people. These are things that we have seen so it is important for us to be that voice telling the institution that this is working and this isn’t and this is where we are.

I also feel that as alumnus where our contribution could be is that — especially when it comes to YIF — we are going out and doing great things, travelling the world, studying in different universities, and I think if we can get back those best practices to really build the institution and also contribute in any ways possible because this institution needs us as it has just been 7 years. Basically in terms of getting the best practices and contributing as much as possible in the initial stages to really build the institution, I feel that every one of us can do something.

Gaurav Mohta

I think the primary objective of the Alumni association should be to act as a bridge between the university and the student, the alumni and the community — to help alumni be connected to the university irrespective of where they are in their lives right now. That to me is the most important role of an Alumni Association. And when we talk about the relationship between the association and the university, I think the association needs to ensure that it is in alignment with the university’s goals and other priorities at any given point in time. For example, one very important point that Lav mentioned just now was that probably at this point in time the university needs us to go out and be the brand ambassadors, champion the university’s cause. So I think the association needs to be in the alignment with the university’s priorities and at the same time — this relationship is something which will keep evolving over time. For example, we are at a very nascent stage right now as an association and I don’t think we are in a position where we can call the shots on most of the things that the university does. We can obviously constructively engage with the university and the administration, including the founders, put forward our concerns and provide constructive feedback. But beyond that I think that at the moment, we are not in a position to drive decision making significantly. In probably eight to ten years down the line, we might be there, and that should be the target the Alumni Association council should work towards.

To answer the second part of the question. I think one of the roles of alumni is to be that of a role model and mentor to the current students. Being such a young university where the numbers are increasing significantly year on year — it is very important for the alumni to come back and give back as much as possible in terms of their time and putting in more efforts to get more internships, more ELMS, careers opportunities; and high quality ones — we need to be mindful of that as well. So I think along with that, like I mentioned in my response to the previous question, that they need to be brand ambassadors and champions for the university at this point in time.

Jasmine Luthra

So, I have seen that the university till now has been very forthcoming of the association. Likee if we go back and remember in April 2015 when the first Alumni event happened at Ashoka, it was the founders especially Pramath who got all of us together in the MPH, got us to brainstorm and start thinking about the Alumni Association. And that is where this idea germinated and then turned into an interim council and the first council and today we are here.

Even in the last 2 years as a council member I can say that the university has been extremely supportive. They have tried to involve the alumni in almost everything that happens on campus whether it is events or the orientation of the new batch or getting us as TA’s etc. You do feel that there’s always a space you can go back to. I also belong to a college in Delhi University but you know the kind of warmness and welcome type of a feeling you feel at Ashoka is very very unique. Now, coming back, we are in a very unique position because I believe we are one of the few universities in the world which is so young and has an Alumni Association. If you look at most of the Alumni Associations in other institutions they are usually composed of many senior people who are at the top of their careers. They sort of contribute in terms of giving direction and money etc to the organization. So in that sense we are at a very unique position and I think we have made a lot of progress in defining a role for ourselves. And yes, we are not in that position in our life that we can contribute financially very strongly, but all of us have gotten together and built this culture of giving back, as Parushya said, at an individual level, as a TA, in terms of getting our companies to hire at Ashoka, the ELM clients, work as council volunteers so on and so forth. So this role is sort of already in the making. We definitely have to work towards strengthening the show and making it more streamlined and ensure that every alum is a part of it. The other role I see for ourselves as alums of Ashoka and the Young India fellowship and the undergrad program is that we are also torch bearers and kind of the representatives of the university for the outside world. So how we conduct ourselves at our workplace, in our social lives, how we engage with other matters of the society kind of reflects back at Ashoka and we have to be mindful of how we conduct ourselves and contribute to building the credibility that Ashoka already has for itself. I would also like to address the elephant in the room. So, I know that in a lot of conversations I feel that line about giving back to the university or being involved in matters kind of blurs a bit and it transcends over to the administrative issues of the university which in the general sense are not considered “matters of the alumni”. But of course we won’t comply to that convention because we are not conventional. I really support it. I think it is great that we are critical of everything that happens at Ashoka and it just goes on to show that we support and love the institution. Our Liberal arts education is coming to play where we are thinking about things, critical about things and we want to be involved in each and every thing. In all these matters I mean. But at the same time we have to be a little mindful of this. Of our actions. I mean, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be critical, we definitely should be. But we should definitely go back and reflect and try to think as a community on how we want to do these engagements. Now one thing is to sort of point fingers, but the other thing is that harnessing on the diversity and the backgrounds and the experience that we have, we can get together, have honest conversations and actually build sort of consensus on especially the controversial and political issues. Just come together, collate our opinions, unpack and more meaning fully contribute to the discourse.

Lav Kanoi

2 words –symbiotic relationship. We are strong when the university is strong and the university is strong when we are strong. In our progress is the university’s progress and the university’s progress is our progress. Secondly, the other word I would use is a theme, so to speak, is family — a family of love, and pun intended. This is not to say that we don’t be, as Jasmine said and a bunch of others have also said, be critical. We do have our different opinions, we will create a different identity, but we will do this in a constructive manner. So the relationship of the association and the university is to be in a constructive partnership for each other. Play a shaping role, but within an ambit of the association. This is something that requires more conversation. Jasmine for example already pointed towards this issue, the elephant in the room she called it, about how we define the scope of the association. It has something that would be strange to have a say in — for example faculty recruitment. And there would be issues for us to not have a say in it. So someone had raised an issue of workers’ rights. In my year at the fellowship there was an incident that had happened, me and a bunch of fellows had gotten together and first spoken of these issues, and then the contractors were forced by the university to provide safety harnesses for the workers. So things like that are constructive kinds of conversations that we should and necessarily must have.

The second thing however, and the institution is supporting this, is for building a distinct alumni association, distinct identity, Because I think our founders, the administrative body, and the leaders that the university has had in people like Pratap, Shankar, Mahesh and the entire people who are leading the university now, and the remarkable founder cohort, is that they want us to be independent. And this points me to the second questions — What is the role of the alumnus towards the university? It is simply to be the best that we can be individually. We are the greatest, as it were, missionaries, advertisements, flag bearers — call it what you want of the university. So when we do what we do with heart, we will be upholding the university’s ethos. If this requires criticizing the university so be it, but we shall do it from a position of love and family. That would be my position on this.

We are deeply thankful to George Jacob from the YIF’18 batch for transcribing these answers.

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