If you think freedom of expression is endangered due to the presence of illiterate politicians or insecure leaders and ministers, think again. 20-24 year old Business school students have given themselves the license to gag their fellow mates. Not only do they have the power to gag, they also have the authority to punish.
A lot of you may consider this matter frivolous, but we need to bring it to light to prevent abuse of power by students who feel they can do just about anything since they are part of the much hyped 'Placement Committee'. Before we go further, we must be clear that this article does not wish to paint all placement cells/committees with the same brush. There are some placement cells that function with great maturity, transparency and professionalism. They are respected by students of their own school and by recruiters.
However, this case needs to be highlighted. On 1st August 2013, the InsideIIM Recruitment Survey 2013 was launched. You can read about it here. A student of the business school (an IIM) in question shared this link with batch mates on the world's biggest social network - Facebook. Sharing of this link on a Facebook group caused such heartburn to the students of the placement committee that they not only reprimanded the student but also humiliated the student by asking the student to apologize to the entire batch on email as punishment.
Everything about what happened here is wrong. Here are a few questions that one must ponder upon :
1) InsideIIM.com is an external entity and is not owned by any business school. Facebook.com is not owned by any business school. Who gives any person or institution the authority to gag any individual from expressing anything on any of these forums? And bear in mind, we are talking about sharing a link here. Just sharing a link.
2) Request all of you to go through the survey link and if possible take the survey. The survey is public. Anyone in the world can take it. Is there anything objectionable in the survey? Has any person, institution or a public figure been abused, attacked or do the contents harm the society in any way?
3) If the placement committee does not like an online free public survey, can they stop every individual on campus to take it? And can they start punishing people for it? There are multiple surveys done across the year on job preferences, salaries etc. by various agencies.
4) If the link was such a big issue, why couldn't the link just be deleted? Why humiliate a student? And for what ? For a sharing a link? For using facebook? Or for sharing a link/survey from InsideIIM.com?
5) The survey results will be announced publicly as done last year. We do not reveal campus level results publicly. And despite the gag, over 60 students from this campus (both the years combined) still ended up taking the survey (The survey is live for 15 more days and we expect more people to take it from this campus). Any student of statistics will tell you that 60 students from a campus is a decent sample size. So if we have to form an opinion on this campus' preferences, we can still do it. Will the placement committee now start asking each student to delete their registered account on InsideIIM.com or unsubscribe from our emails too? Or will access to InsideIIM.com be banned from campus now?
6) The survey is voluntary and an individual is free to decide if he/she wants to take the survey. What authority does the placement committee have to dictate an individual's free will? Also, answering a survey is not criminal, amoral, unethical or even anti-business school.
7) It is unlikely that any PGP handbook can have rules which prohibit people from sharing links. You may be able to prevent students from sharing proprietary data and prevent students from maligning institutions, people or events but there cannot be a law (definitely not in the IT Act 2000) that prevents students from sharing links of an harmless survey.
This behavior of the placement committee is surprising because many other placement committees have not only shared the link with their batch but also welcomed the survey and have requested us to share their campus' data with them. Some others have just ignored the survey but have not prevented anyone from their campus to answer it. We will also be sharing the results of this survey with at least 23 leading companies that recruit from top schools in India.
The larger point here is whether 22-24 year olds should have such powers. It also raises the question of the fear induced by placement committees. No one wants to be on the wrong side of the placement committee. It is not because of the several fines that students are scared. It is because no one wants to be discriminated against or be overlooked during the placement season. Especially, in this market. Placement committees at some campuses have indiscriminate powers and can intimidate in unfair ways.
(On a different note, try asking people about fines imposed by Placement Committees. On some campuses, students are fined for talking in a placement committee ordered meeting. Some campuses fine students for disclosing the company they get an offer from on social media up to 4 months after they get placed! They will all say they are competing against different campuses. The truth is that it is because of a bagful of lies they have told every company. It is supposed to be standard practice. It is not our mandate to question or advise how business schools should deal with companies. But we will surely protest and make an issue if access to InsideIIM.com is blocked on any campus in any form)
Our message to students is that please know your rights and privileges. Do not allow anyone to intimidate you unfairly. There are things you may be asked to not disclose for the health of placements on your campus and we respect that sentiment. We do not go around asking students to disclose privileged information. All our data on placements is sent by the placement committees. Be strong enough to stand up for yourself and do not allow yourself to be humiliated by any committee on campus.
Strangely, when we contacted the placements chairperson and the placement office of this particular school and highlighted this issue, they refused to apologize or express any regret on this particular incident. They said they will 'investigate' the matter and never got back to us after that. We sincerely hope administrations of premier schools of India prevent this kind of blatant abuse of position by students. A good first step would be to recognize that there is a problem.
Lastly, we just want to reiterate that the mission of InsideIIM.com is to democratize access to quality management education and everything around it. Whether it is sharing of ideas or sharing of important knowledge that can help anyone in the world to get ahead in their careers, we will do it. Knowledge that is consciously kept in elite circles will go out. No one has any monopoly on information or education. (We have been sharing interview experiences and tips to do well here. If anyone is preventing you from sharing your knowledge in the name of 'competition' let us know.) If you think you can be of any help to anyone in the world through our platform please reach out to us fearlessly. Contribute generously in this movement of democratization.
A lot will happen over the next few months.
Until next time,
(The Results of the InsideIIM Recruitment Survey will be available from Sep 10th 2013. If you haven't taken it, take it now)