Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A crisis and the contrast

Are the odds of your survival and welfare higher if you are a Princetonian rather than a Lawschoolite? I don’t know. I am just a parent interacting with two premier institutions because my daughters happen to be there; one the country’s top ranking law school and the other an Ivy League American university.
Andre, Asawari, Zach and Catherine in Serbia
Asawari hurt her knee playing soccer on a rocky terrain while participating in an environmental work camp ( in the mountains of Montenegro on this 13th. A prompt communication and follow up came forth from all three….the program director, the associate director and the on-site co-ordinator. Within hours of her injury we knew the name of the town she was taken to for treatment, the doctor’s prognosis and the follow up plan. While the co-ordinator in Montenegro called us up on phone, the associate director touched base with Asawari from Princeton. The doctor at the University Health Services had been informed as per protocol and we continued to receive updates. The tone and tenor all through was one of openness, regret at the incident and an acknowledgment of responsibility.

Aqseer in Teheran
In Aqseer’s four years of tenure at the NLSIU( am afraid; there have been a few incidents. Because they did not concern her directly, we heard of them through secondary and tertiary sources. To be fair, the only two times I contacted the staff, Dr V S Elizabeth, Faculty and Dr R Venkata Rao, Vice Chancellor in particular, I received prompt and considerate responses. But I suspect that in times of crisis it is the student body that closes ranks amongst themselves and huddles around their own. I would be beyond delighted to be contested on this but my fear is that the official student protection machinery at NLSIU is nothing radically different from most other institutions in India.

We operate in India on a need to know basis in organizations dealing with the young. Most institutions follow a predictable pattern when stuck with a hot potato: step one, go into denial mode; step two, try and hush it up; step three, look for a scapegoat; step four, fix the blame and step five, wash your hands with Dettol soap. This is not to say that institutions in other countries are citadels of altruism and brimming with the desire to confess and come clean. 

It is in the projection, in public communication, in what is conveyed through words and body language that we paint the odious picture of a hidebound establishment, mulish in denial and focused primarily on saving their own skins to the point of being offensive and insensitive.

At the school hostel I assisted the warden in for five and a half years; I got a ringside view of the official protocol on emergencies involving students. It would be safe to say and is in no manner any justification that be it an IIT, an elite high school or an MBA coaching centre in the suburbs, the abiding survival philosophy is that of the Mahatma’s three monkeys….see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. And while you are about this, do remember to keep your “backs covered”.

The following exchange would not qualify as unusual in a typical educational setup:

“Sir, I am feeling unwell.”
“How come, you were fine moments ago?”
“Sir, I am having trouble breathing.”
“Your parents never informed us in writing that you had asthma.”
“Sir..sir…sir…my chest hurts.’
“Wait! There is no ambulance and the doctor is on leave. Hold your breath a while, we will have to call your local guardian…we are not equipped here to handle this. Go get your LG’s number!”

No, we are not prepared to deal effectively with medical and other emergencies in schools and colleges. It is not impossible to work out the mechanics of training the staff, putting together a protocol in place, setting up an adequate infrastructure but where are we going to get the all important empathetic, non-judgemental and responsible attitude from? 

How much does it cost? What price would you put on it?!

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