Shubhang Ojha, Undergraduate Class of 2020
by Rutuparna Deshpande UG’23
It is truly a remarkable feat that this University has made me believe, numerous times in the past year, that we’re all side characters in an idiot plot. If you’re not familiar, an ‘idiot plot’ is where the central conflict is entirely due to the obliviousness of its characters—a conflict that would not have even occurred had the protagonists not been ‘idiots’. The Ashoka administration, the main characters, seem to be relentlessly stuck in avoidable crises of their own making. In the latest edition of this tomfoolery, the University discovered in a span of 4 days that they cannot have every single enrolled student travel to campus within two weeks. Students, the side characters, have always borne the brunt of collateral damage for realizations like these. It’s only fair for us to invoice the administration for the financial and mental distress they have caused us all during the pandemic.
This is quite a scathing indictment and it is not blind to the fact that we live in unprecedented times. Although, have we not been living through a pandemic for almost two years now? During the second wave, students on campus were asked to vacate within a matter of days. This time, the VC’s email informing us about changed plans came mere 10 days before the campus was going to open. Only on December 25th, the VCs Christmas email read: “…we are hopeful of a planned return to campus over the Spring Semester. We will strictly follow all Covid protocols but the spirit will be festive and very soon eye contact, we hope, will no longer be mediated through a screen.” On December 28th, we got an email titled: “Change in decision regarding return to campus and classes”.
The additional irony is that our own Prof. Gautam Menon had stated in an interview with Scroll.in on December 30th, “I think this is the start of the Omicron wave in India, which a number of us had believed would happen around early January”. In an earlier interview for the Hindustan Times, published on December 10th, Prof. Menon had said that “By January, we might see an increase in cases… there is no good news in terms of number.” So, it didn’t take an oracle to tell that by the time our campus would open, Omicron would have surged—then why did the administration think it good to call everyone back in two weekends, weeks before the official start of the semester? Why were Prof. Menon’s well-informed premonitions not considered?
According to emails by the Dean of Student Affairs, the University was to begin hybrid classes, allowing only doubly vaccinated students with negative RT-PCR tests to arrive on campus. MA, MLS, and Ph.D. students were going to be housed off-campus and a Covid care facility was designated off-campus too. Did a rise of 687 Covid cases throughout the country from December 25th to 28th render all this preparation inadequate, even for single occupancy? This seems bewildering, if not absurd, that the University did not see this coming. If there was a compelling rationale behind this, students were certainly not included in the decision-making process nor were we provided with an adequate explanation.
Money, time, and resources do not grow on trees. Students on financial aid, those living in abusive households, those without access to proper internet, etc. would have loved to know before booking tickets and making costly arrangements that things are not certain. It is not enough for the VC and DSA to forebode at the end of every email that their decisions are subject to change. Moreover, it is a blatant lie to insinuate that all is well in a cheery Christmas email and then ring the doom bells 4 days later.
If we look at the current Covid situation at the time of writing, physical classes and double occupancy seem out of question for a while. What about single occupancy for those under exceptional circumstances? What about the fact that students confidently pre-registered for offline classes? There were no answers given, only automated email replies by the Office of Student Affairs, which was conveniently on vacation till the 2nd of January.
As hopeful individuals, even if we were to expect single occupancy to be restored sometime during the semester, we have not been provided any timeline. For those like me who have requested for single occupancy to be considered on a case-by-case basis, it has been made clear that a response would only be provided in a few weeks and that there would be no movement until February. The default pattern of the administration, it seems, is to provide us with less than the bare minimum level of information in addition to perplexing inflexibility in their decisions.
Transparency, honesty, and forethought are not virtues the administration deems necessary in communication. To them, the lives of students are dispensable and disruptable. My single mother, who worked almost 24/7 all through the month to afford tickets to Sonepat does not agree. Like her, there are countless other parents, guardians, and students who have been caused immense mental and financial stress due to the administration’s frustrating mismanagement. We must hold the VC and her administration accountable and not let this pass by as an effect of an unpredictable pandemic.
To me, these misdemeanors fall just short of a civil suit and like any such case, we must ask for compensation in equal measure. It’s simply cruel to increase fees while disregarding us as equal stakeholders. Hence, the fees for Spring ’22 must at least reflect the fact that yet another semester or at least a part of it will be online. What we deserve is a fee reduction and not a hike for a severely diluted college experience. Charging us higher fees or even the unchanged fees implies that, in the eyes of the administration, the online Ashokan experience is the same as the offline one–which is unquestionably false. Currently, there isn’t any organized action for this cause but hopefully, the indictments presented in this piece should be convincing enough to inspire some.