Ethics @IITB – Recent Developments

By Anshul Avasthi, Anukriti Chaudhari, Devendra Govil, Nivvedan S, Saaz Sakrikar, Sagar Sheth

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Earlier this week, all students of the Chemical Engineering Department were asked to sign an “Honor Code” drafted by the Department. Given that a lot of debates and discussions have already focused on the intricate details of the code, InsIghT questions the need for its existence and the possibility of better solutions.

Towards the end of last semester, InsIghT published a report which highlighted the high prevalence of academic dishonesty in the Institute (accessible from within the IITB LAN network only) and a lack of awareness regarding the possible consequences of academic malpractices. That said, it’s not as if the Institute’s current policies are perfectly suited to the prevention of said malpractices either.

Problems with the current system

In order to get some much-needed perspective on the matter, we spoke to a large number of faculty members across departments, most of whom believed that moderate to large variations exist in disciplinary actions taken across departments. While others refused to comment on the situation in departments other than their own, almost all noted that variations exist within departments and singled out the difference in attitude among professors to be one of the main reasons.

Many faculty members are hesitant in raising the issue due to different apprehensions, some of which are:

  • Severe measures could result in a black mark on the academic record of the concerned student forever.
  • Given that students are uninterested in their courses, it makes little sense to force them to repeat the course/exam.
  • They don’t want to be seen among the strict professors in their respective departments since such Professors are generally seen as unapproachable when it comes to BTPs and DDPs.
  • Making a big deal out of such incidents hurts student-teacher relations in the Institute, resulting in more harm than good in the long term.

Since a lot of us are interested in CPIs (possibly due to the importance accorded to them at placements), some resort to clearing courses by any means possible. Prof. Anurag Mehra from the Chemical Engineering Department thinks that this attitude, in turn, de-motivates faculty members who see no point in failing students who don’t want to learn anything to begin with. While this viewpoint itself is understandable, it results in an unfair, scattered distribution of punitive measures. Resultantly, some faculty members have raised the need for a uniform policy binding on the faculty members in order to ensure that dishonesty doesn’t go unpunished simply due to an invigilator’s reluctance to report it. Additionally, such a policy would ensure that Professors aren’t singled out as “strict” or ”unforgiving” since they wouldn’t have a choice in reporting the matter anyway.

Some faculty members have raised the need for a uniform policy binding on the faculty members in order to ensure that dishonesty doesn’t go unpunished simply due to an invigilator’s reluctance to report it.

Sadly, it seems as if the action taken once a student has been caught cheating depends more on their Department than on any other factor. It seems as if every department has its own firmly set norms (based primarily on precedent) which dictate the line of action to be pursued. Such inter-department variation could easily be solved with a little healthy discussion about the issue among faculty members.

In Summary

Given the current scenario, an overly strict Department is certainly preferable to an overly lax one. We also leave the question of fairness of the Honor Code to minds abler than ours. However, the one problem that should be evident to all is the increase in heterogeneity across departments an action like this will create.

The one problem that should be evident to all is the increase in heterogeneity across departments an action like this will create.

It also remains to be seen whether the creation of Chemical Department’s Honor Code will trigger a set of imitative responses from other departments. In case it doesn’t, students of the Chemical Department will be subjected to a higher set of ethical standards than the rest of us. In case it does, repercussions for unethical practices will only become more irregularly distributed than they already are. In InsIghT’s opinion, it simply seems as if an Institute-wide measure would be far more fair, and probably more effective. All in all, it appears that the Chemical Department’s initiative is a step in the right direction – one that someone in the Institute should have taken a long time back.

Meanwhile, a change in the Institute-wide policy is also in the pipeline. Last Wednesday, the Ethics Committee presented to the UGPC and PGPC a large set recommendations concerning everything ranging from proxy attendances to plagiarism in Project Reports. While it is too early to tell whether these will find their way into the Academic Rulebook, let alone how effective they’ll prove, our next Print Issue will cover the matter in detail.

InsIghT also believes that sustainable long-term change can only be brought about by a paradigm shift in the attitude of students at large. With this in mind, the ISMP has introduced a non-binding Honour Code modelled on one signed in most US Universities in order to attempt to make some inroads. While it is definitely a move in the right direction, the authors of the Code themselves admit that it’s only in the stages of infancy and intend to formulate a more detailed version for future entrants, with inputs from the entire student body.

In order to ensure fairness for every student on campus, the issue can only be fully resolved by an Institute-wide effort.

Ethics and Plagiarism are issues central to any academic institute, and a uniform code of conduct is something that IITB sorely needs. While it is heartening to see a number of bodies taking the issue to heart and tackling it to the best of their abilities – in order to ensure fairness for every student on campus, the issue can only be fully resolved by an Institute-wide effort as opposed to attempts made at a localized level. It remains to be seen what the ramifications of recent developments will be, but their presence itself provides hope that IITB will achieve an academic culture worthy of an Institute of its stature.