Dr. Sangal’s Interview

If humility, integrity and discipline are the highest of human qualities, Prof. Rajeev Sangal represents the very epitome of all humanity and human beings. An inspirational leader, able administrator, researcher and philosopher, his tenure saw IIIT-H from its humble beginnings to its meteoric rise to great heights. His absence will be a great loss to us all. We took this final opportunity to interview him, as our Director, before he leaves to take on the mantle as the Director of IIT-BHU.

1. You must have a lot of memories associated with this place. How does it feel to be leaving?

Yes, lots of dear memories. It’s not easy to leave, for I know so many people here. But as they say, once a baby grows up, one has to leave it to be independent, and so it is with IIIT.
2. There must have been a vision with which you took up the directorship of IIIT-H. How far has it come? What is left?

Yes, there was a vision. Visions are the guiding force. It is the light that beckons us in the right direction. IIIT-H is very well on that path, and I think we have done reasonably well.

3. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in the shaping of the college over the decade?

There were no obstacles as such. A big challenge was to convince people that an institute could be built with numerous flexibilities in academic programmes, with research centers instead of departments, a timetable to accommodate varied electives, balance between courses and research etc. Questions such as, “Will it be possible to redirect young minds influenced by advertisements and social-pressure towards broad education with humanities?” were posed. There were apprehensions, but we were able to carry people along.

4. IIIT-H is the only university in India to give undergraduates the opportunity to do research.

It must have been quite a challenge balancing the breadth an undergraduate programme is supposed to offer with research, that focuses on in depth specialization in a particular field…

In the beginning, I wondered how the conflict between the breadth and the depth, could be handled, but later I found out that in practice, there is no such conflict. During undergraduate years, a student has sufficient time to experience some areas in depth and yet be able to cover the breadth.

This can be achieved through properly designed curriculum and zeal of the student. In a typical program at a good institution there are 50% courses from the discipline, 50% from the rest. But, to get into depth, the scheduling of courses matters more than the number of courses. If the scheduling is proper, the breadth need not be sacrificed for depth. In research you need to get oriented towards the problem and spend time thinking over it. It is good if students get this exposure and inclination at an early stage. This is what we did at IIIT-H.

5. You have seen more than 10 batches passing out, what is the difference, in terms of attitude, behaviour or anything else, between the present set of students and the first set of students of this college?

All students are good (laughs). The first two batches of the institute did not have any infrastructure. It was like a bare tent, but the students were enthusiastic enough to live and work in any atmosphere. After some time, consumerism started coming and needs and demands grew. They were addressed. Today, the students are not consumers but good participants and proud owners of the place and we also have sufficient infrastructure.

6. Where do you see the college going after your tenure?

Last year, the Governing Council had asked me to continue for another term as the Director, but I declined. I agreed to carry on until someone else took over. Now, I was getting ready to step down and continue as a faculty member here. But the turn of events happened such that I was offered and I agreed to go to IIT-BHU. I feel very positive about IIIT-H’s future. We have laid a strong foundation for the institute. I’m sure that people will fulfill their responsibilities, and everything will work well.

7. Of all the different philosophies, what made you pick JV in particular? Who influenced you the most in this direction?

I was a Marxist at your age. There was a Naxalite movement going on in the country. Later on I got influenced by Gandhi. It is important to change people’s heart through non-violence, rather than force. I realized that while our society has its weaknesses, it has some strengths also. People continuously harp about the negatives. I see no harm in criticism but everything must be done in a balanced way. We need to build on our positives. These glimpses I got on reading Gandhi.

The faculty got upset in seeing that in the new batches the students were very self-centered. On pondering what could be done, someone suggested that we call good as well as successful people, who could give talks to students, as youngsters are driven by success. One of the speakers proposed to come for a week and conduct a workshop on Jeevan Vidya in November 2003. I thought I would attend the workshop for a few hours, but ended up attending all seven days! I found the concepts to be very novel. The workshop does not preach any dos and don’ts. It does not impose rules, but proposes ideas. At the same time, while starting from the individual self, it connects one with family, society and nature. In this sense, it talks about the complete system at the level of the world.

Anything that is part of education must be discussable; students should be able to experiment and verify it. And of course it must be non-sectarian. The faculty unanimously decided to have a compulsory course on Human Values from July 2005 as a part of academic curriculum.

8. You are the first director of IIT-BHU – a bigger university, bigger challenges. What are your plans there?

Big things do not scare me, I work upon small things and big things take care of themselves. Each place has its own strengths and weaknesses and one builds on the strength. Institute of Technology -BHU is a well established institute, which has now become an IIT.

Big things do not scare me, I work upon small things and big things take care of themselves. Each place has its own strengths and weaknesses and one builds on the strength. Institute of Technology -BHU is a well established institute, which has now become an IIT.

9. Do you plan to introduce JV there too?

It depends on the people there. If they want, then yes.

10. After getting the best placement results in the country in the previous year, this year placements didn’t go as well as expected.

Among other factors, lots of people cited the 8% rule as the reason for it. While the university needs money, should it be at the cost of a student’s career?

First of all, it is not clear whether our placements are worse. Secondly, it is optional for a company to follow the 8% rule, provided they come in phase two of placements. The industry should learn to bear the cost of education. Until that happens, education will remain very costly.

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