The Pro- Vice Chancellor, Rajesh Garodia sat down with The Edict to talk about the SH5 debacle, updates on a new campus being planned, and much more. Here are some excerpts from the interview. The Edict: How is something like the SH5 situation possible in a campus where the administration knew the number of people who were coming in? Along with an influx problem, it was also an implementation problem — they did not finish constructing the building in time.
RG: It was a combination of things, a perfect storm. First of all, in terms of infrastructure of this nature, this is the kind of infrastructure which is typically planned a few years in advance. In anticipation of what should be the number of students, what would be our need, and how we want to grow, that building was really started in 2016. Typically buildings get done in 18-24 months. When it started, there were a few changes of plans and so it was supposed to take longer. But when it was originally started, we were supposed to be done much in advance. Then we were looking at the building to be done certainly by June so that we would have the building before the summer. As a university, we have a small project team. Then we have different contractors and project management companies – we have an ecosystem which does the construction, quality and stuff like that. One question about the delay was whether the student intake was something which went out of whack.So what happened was that our structural construction company which does the civil work, towards the end of last year was not performing, for multiple reasons. Eventually, we had to change the contractor midway. What happens with the student intake is that we don’t really decide in July how many students we are going to take. Because our admissions cycle, as you know, starts somewhere in October — next week is when Round 1 starts. In each round you get applications and you make offers. From the offers, not everyone joins. So from a 1000 offers maybe 500-600 students might join because by the time the results will come and some students might go to DU, or go abroad; students are pursuing a lot of different opportunities while they are in class 12. So we always had a vision based on the number of applications that have come and the number of offers that have been made that we would be somewhere in the range of 575 to 600. At one point we thought it might even be more than 625 because it all depends on the number of students who withdraw. Even the ASP student number is not a very clearly known number because students make a choice saying that they would come in for the 4th year but in the past, we have seen that some students don’t show up because they are going for higher studies or they’ve got a job. Similarly, there are some students who did not express their interest that they would do it and they come in later and we allow them. So the number of students is something that one has to estimate.
So anyway, what happened was at the end of the day if I was to just look at it based on the number of beds that we had and the number of students that we had. Before we get to that, the third thing we also changed was that we also looked at some of the special cases and the needs that we observed. Until last year, we had been struggling with you know some students required some special care, that could be the gender issue, that could be some health issue and stuff like that we had some special attention is required and so this year we also planned for some of those beds- three rooms to be quarantined rooms where students could go in if they had quarantine issue. So finally, for especially the girl students, we got to a situation where, based upon the numbers we were short of about 30-40 beds. The commitment that we had officially from our team, as well as our builders, was that the floors should be ready, they should be in a proper position, and the pieces the four floors which would not be ready was where you would still need to do the furnishing. But what we found was that it was barely ready, technically we did get the four floors ready before the ASP started. But it was just ready when the students were coming in. so there were a few things which were not fine at the time, you know, the smell of paint-
The Edict: Fumes were evidently there.
RG: Not fumes per se. Not a chemical reaction happening and the fumes coming but when you have any painting done if you walk into a freshly-painted room or some furniture that has been recently pasted, so from the paint and from the glue some smell.
So the challenge was that eventually if the same thing was done at least three-four weeks before that…But we were again racing against time to make sure that we do have beds. There were two things- one was that people do have beds so that we don’t have students coming in because it was too late now to cancel. Offers were already out. So basically the team worked hard towards the end of this day. At least in terms of making sure that the students are not without a bed. And in the process, obviously, we certainly could have worked better and we got the final thing- we found that there are certain pieces which needed to be rebuilt or modified, which would be done during the break time.
Interviewer: Right. So, while I understand that you really didn’t have much control over the mishaps that happened with the construction, even the accuracy of the number of people coming in…but once you knew, even two weeks before, how is it possible for the administration to put students in practically an unfinished building? And adding on to that, in retrospect, would you have done this the same way again? Would you have put the ASP girls in SH5, knowing what you know now? Or would you have looked at other means, say Parker or something like that?
RG: First of all, the thing was that until that time, we knew the higher floors would not be there, we knew the elevators would be a couple of weeks late. But in terms of the quality of the rooms on that floor, we were very very confident that it will come up. It was not about saying that we are putting up students thinking that it is going to be difficult for them. There was a couple of things that we knew- we knew that the elevator would not be there for a couple of weeks. In the room, the furniture, the pantry area…those were made. The two things that we knew will not be there- the elevator will not be there and the flooring won’t be polished. As far as the other facilities that are required in a hostel, we thought we would have it. So while the team was more focussed on getting the building done, many of these what you call the smaller snags…There were some snags that you always discover when you first live in a building. The first set of people will walk into the building and discover some things which might not have been accounted for. So some of those will always happen in a new building but there were a lot of avoidable situations and we could have done better planning.
To your question of, you know, if we knew that this would be the experience of the students because there would have been other plugs that we could have pulled you know, within the building how we could have optimised space further. We have to be smarter, and more process focused in terms of identifying what our constraining factors is, and when it will get released, so that we can make our decision in the monsoon semester. We need to get things done in terms of the new batch coming in typically by the end of June. We have to be prepared for growth, but we need to get the soft and hard infrastructure ahead of the curve, rather than behind it.
The Edict: Do you think this campus has a numerical number after which it cannot accommodate any more new people?
RG: Within this campus, and I mean this campus after all the construction has been built, this campus would have certain things that would have a capacity for less, and certain things that would have a capacity for more. Basically, this is not an optimal sized campus meaning it has accommodation for 100 students, classrooms for 100 students, and faculty housing for the amount of faculty required for 100 students. Based on what is coming up right now, our academic capacity, which is in terms of the number of classrooms, lecture halls and libraries etc, would be larger than some of the other capacities. There are certain factors that would be constraints, like the student hostels. Currently there are 8 floors of SH5 yet to be built, so that would be another 300 odd beds. In terms of classroom capacity, much more is going to get added. So as we plan for our next phase of infrastructure development, we would look at whatever is already here, and what is not here- that delta.
The Edict: Are you thinking of these stages of progression as a micro thing you deal with one batch at a time, or is there a long term vision?
RG: Oh no, there is a long term vision! Like I said, whatever is built now- the academic buildings, and the library that is going to come up is something that got started three years ago. Three years back even when half the classrooms were empty, somebody had the vision that 3 years down the line the college would need another set of classrooms. So even if you looks at the number of classrooms we have today, we have a more than adequate number with respect to the number of students we have. So the infrastructure works with a fairly long term plan. For example, at the start of this new year, the laundry was not able to cope with the additional 25% increase in the student population. It took them a couple of weeks to react to it. We have to get smarter in this kind of planning. It is obvious when the number of students increases, there will be increased demand for laundry, and this could have been planned for 3 months in advance. So I think our planning ability with regard to the micro part of it is something which needs to improve. That is something on which we are very clearly focused on right now.
The Edict: You mentioned something about acquiring more land. Can you elaborate a little more on that?
RG: Our current strategy plan is in the Rajiv Gandhi Educational City. We acquired a piece of land diagonally opposite to where we are right now. It is a similar sized plot which we in fact already paid for last year. We got it allotted to us last year. However, this is just the way the government works, it later came out that there is a national highway or a flyover that is going to be built on that land. We have been fighting the case in the courts and working with the various departments. Hopefully in a couple of weeks we will get a confirmation on the acquiral of the land. This will automatically double the size of our land bank. But what has happened in the process is- we had expected to get it last year, we have already lost 12 months of not having that land. So we are looking at that, as based on that we are looking at how it affects our long term plan. These are the types of conversations that we are having at the governing body meetings.