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(Not)able Alumni? Loyolites edited out of Wikipedia

On the Loyola School page in Wikipedia, there is a list of ‘notable alumni’. Er…there was. It’s gone.

More than a year ago, on 13 June 2011 to be exact, it was removed by Wiki contributor Lettherebelight. (Update: The contributor changed his username, following this blogpost.)

Reason given? “Criteria for inclusion subjective”.

Here’s the list that provoked deletion.

NOTABLE ALUMNI

Classes of 1968-79

  • Cherian Kalpakavadi (1974) – Film Scriptwriter
  • Joy Elamon (1978) – public health activist
  • Prathap Suthan (1977) – National Creative Director, Cheil Communications India
  • Pulickel Ajayan (1977) – Professor of Materials Science and Nanotechnology, Rice University
  • Rajeev Nath – film maker
  • Rajeev Trivandrum (1969) (aka S. Rajeev) – Executive Vice President, Asianet Cable Vision, Asianet Satellite Communications
  • Ramnath S. (1970) – Managing Director, Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation
  • Sangeeth Sivan – film maker
  • Santosh Sivan (1976) – film maker
  • Jose Degaul Pius (ISC 1976) – finance professional (overseas)
  • Santosh Rollands – President of Jesuit Alumni Association of India

Classes of 1980-89

  • Bipin Prabhakar – Professor, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University (Bloomington)
  • Parameswaran Nair (1980) – Associate Professor of Medicine, McMaster University
  • Rajiv Vijayan (1980) – Vice President (Technology), Qualcomm
  • S. Krishnan, IAS (1982) – Secretary, Department of Fertilizers, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, Government of India
  • Sreenath Sreenivasan (1987) – Dean of Student Affairs and Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Classes of 1990-99

  • Anand Raghavan (1993) – President, Asha for Education
  • Anil Shaji (1993) – Assistant Professor of Physics, IISER Thiruvananthapuram
  • Anup Kuruvilla John, IPS (1997) – former Police commissioner, Kozhikode
  • Vyasan Radhakrishnan, IAS ( Nagaland Cadre)
  • Chandrasekhar M. Nair (1995) – Assistant Professor of Information Engineering, Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Jishnu Dasgupta (1996) – bass guitarist and backing vocalist, Swarathma
  • Harikesh S. Nair (1994) – Associate Professor of Marketing, Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • Vivek Karunakaran (1998) – fashion designer; owner of the ”viia” label

Were the criteria for inclusion subjective? Were there some names that should not have been there? Yes.

But did it warrant the erasure of the entire section on the Loyola page? No. There are a few notable alumni who Wikipedia acknowledges unquestioningly, like Santosh Sivan, Pulickel Ajayan, and Sreenath Sreenivasan. There is no good reason to edit them out of the Loyola School page.

What’s the way forward?

Let us adopt the following criterion — if a Loyolite has a Wikipedia entry which is at least 3 years old, he makes it to the list on the school’s page. This criterion is objectively verifiable, uses Wikipedia itself to measure notability, and delivers information to the reader.

(“3 years” is subjective, but is proposed for a reason. Wikipedia content is monitored, and a three-year old biographical entry is in itself proof that the person is “notable”. By the way, Prathap Suthan and Sangeeth Sivan too make the grade, by this criterion.)

Do you agree with Wikipedia’s action? Is the proposed criterion satisfactory? Speak out!

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Psst…have you seen loyolawiki? It’s a new wiki-style encyclopaedia on just Loyola School. Students, teachers, alumni can chip in with the lyrics of a song sung in Loyola, an article on campus cricket, whatever.

 

 

 

 

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Update: As of 5 Nov 2012, the notable alumni section is back in Wikipedia. (A few days after the blogpost here, I used Wikipedia’s feature to ‘talk’ to Lettherebelight. Instead of responding to the proposed criteria, he/she deleted my ‘talk’ message, and changed his own username. I then raised this in the ‘talk’ page on the school, but nobody responded. After 10-12 days, I re-created a notable alumni section, and inserted three names.)

Batch 1984 sets an example

Batch 1984 sets an example

Kudos to the 1984 batch for planning and executing a series of efforts in Loyola. A news report last month talked of the batch

  • setting up a nature/spices club
  • donating virtualization software
  • sponsoring means-cum-merit scholarships
  • holding mentor sessions for students
  • organising medical camps, and health lectures
  • gifting cash to non-teaching staff of Loyola

On contacting an organiser, I learnt that the batch gifted Rs 20,000 to each of the non-teaching staff of its time; that the scholarship fund is of Rs 5 lakh, and future contributions will be added to the corpus; and that a medical camp was held on 4 August. In the last week of July, the 1984 batch had a wonderful reunion (25th anniversary of their leaving school), which included an audio-video show, ottam thullal, bharatnatyam, and skit. Teachers were honoured and their blessings sought in the traditional way.

It is nice to hear that Loyola old boys are braving opposition within their own batch and collaborating across continents to do things in school and society. The big challenge for Batch 1984 will be to sustain their interest beyond two years. Most voluntary, alumni activities by batches and individuals begin with a bang, and die out soon. While trying to organise activities, Batch 1984 will learn a few lessons the hard way. But that cannot be an excuse for doing nothing. Best wishes to 1984 on taking a step in the right direction. Hope more batches follow suit.

Idea-wise, most of these are unimaginative, though, and other batches should think harder. In its salad days, LOBA undertook many of these activities — cash to staff, medical camps, career talks, etc. Old students have been ever ready to finance scholarships, but few know that the LOBA Scholarship Fund often remained unused — teachers strained themselves to find a deserving candidate. In the 1980s, the school’s scholarship scheme worked (the school itself had one before LOBA entered the scene, if I recall rightly), probably because there were a few not-so-affluent students. The school, in those days, ran the scheme silently — typically, you would not know that your chum was receiving financial help from the school. If Loyola today has few poor students on its rolls, alumni desiring to finance the education of needy children, can establish scholarships for students in government and private schools in Sreekariyam.

When we decide to do things for the school, we rarely bother to first identify the school’s problem areas, or need areas. Quite naturally, we tend to think from our angle — our skills, our memories and expectations of the school, and our resources. Consequently, we end up with solutions in search of problems. This happens because there is no regular channel to communicate the school’s needs, or alumni’s expectations. There is no forum to exchange views freely, and arrive at a programme of constructive action. Meaningful interventions will result only after a series of interactions, and dialogue. From the school’s side, the lack of an Alumni Relations Office indicates a disinterest in tapping alumni on a long-term basis; from the old boys’ side, LOBA has reduced alumni meetings to food fests (porotta and beef curry parties).

Notably, unlike the 1977 batch which associates with LOBA, the 1984 batch is implementing its ideas directly. It is a bold move, and if you ask me, a wise one; resident sceptics of LOBA’s executive committee would have formed a sub-committee to kill such wide-ranging proposals. Interestingly, the school too backed 1984’s efforts. Is this is a signal for other batches to deal directly with the school? Or a signal to LOBA to pull up its socks?

Discuss: What are your thoughts on giving back to the school? How can you contribute? What prevents you from chipping in?

Inputs: Thomas Vaidhyan (1984)

The Club(bed)

Today, an LSE alumna’s e-mail landed in my Inbox. It spoke of an online petition by LSE and SOAS alumni disassociating those colleges from Varun Gandhi’s recent hate speech. What struck me was how institutions and fellow alumni rush to claim an alumnus as one of their own when the celebrity alumnus wins a Nobel Prize, but take another route when the celebrity sinks in infamy.

Unlike LSE, Loyola has few high-achievers among its alumni. (For a desperate catalogue, see the Wikipedia entry on notable alumni.) And the school itself isn’t ultra-savvy at riding the alumni horse. Probably the school doesn’t believe in the sport. But it is partly also because the school doesn’t have an institutionalised, well-oiled old boys’ network system to spot an alumnus doing interesting work, or one who is in the news. The school is out of touch with many old boys who studied in the 1970s and 1980s, and left Trivandrum. A few individuals, like Fr Manipadam and Joseph Uncle, are more enterprising, smarter and hence more up-to-date than the LOBA database.

But guys, take heart. Just because we are bad at marketing our alumni doesn’t mean that we are bad at everything. We are as good as LSE or Harvard, when it comes to alumni who are in the news for the wrong reasons. Our silence is so deafening that nobody can hear whether the celebrity studied at Loyola or not. I am referring to the curious case of Himaval Maheswari Bhadrananda, who was in the news last year for brandishing a gun in a police station in Kerala, after he was alleged to be a “fake swami”. Mathrubhumi newspaper reported that he studied in Loyola, but my efforts to find classmates who could confirm it failed. Maybe he studied, maybe he didn’t.

One of the dilemmas in running this blog is whether I should write about a notorious person, and add to his misery. Is it not better to focus on the honey in my ARChive, instead of stinging like a bee? So, I shall end with an anecdote that will instead sting the majority. About Loyola and Loyolites, it tells us more than Himaval Bhadrananda.

I do not recall the venue, date or time of this incident. And for obvious reasons, I am not mentioning the names of people involved (even though I remember who said what). A few years ago, at a LOBA session ahead of that year’s annual general body meeting, a discussion emerged on whether old boy Mr A should be informed. Mr B, a heavyweight in the alumni Association, insisted that Mr A shouldn’t be sent the notification or invited because Mr A had been implicated in a case of financial fraud once.

A few old boys asked: Was Mr A implicated or only accused? If he has finished serving his punishment, why should we punish him further by ostracising him? In any case, how does all this affect whether he should be informed of the meeting? Doesn’t every member have a right to be informed?

Mr B stood his ground and carried the day by saying, “The old boys’ meet is a social occasion where we participate with our families. In Trivandrum society, we have a certain standing. If crooks like him attend, we cannot come with our families. It will also reflect badly on the Association.”

[Himaval news clip — Hat tip: Sandeep K (1994)]

The Future of the Alumni Movement

The Future of the Alumni Movement

The school’s alumni movement reminds me of the main playground at Loyola. There, during lunch-break on any working day, you could find numerous groups of students playing different games. There were the senior boys playing football, and there were numerous smaller groups of smaller children playing football or cricket. Often the twain did meet, but after glares or gore, the glory of sport would continue.

Similarly, in the Loyola alumni movement, you can see the Old Boys’ Association playing their game, and smaller groups of Loyolites opting for corners of the field.

When people are thus playing to their heart’s content, I hate to be the messenger of bad news: this multiplicity of groups, the networks and all that are fine for the present, but they are inadequate for the future. Why?

Sounding the alarm?

To signal the end of the lunch-break, and the restart of classes, the school used to ring a bell. If the bell didn’t exist, students would have played for more hours, till they got tired and quit the field.

This is what’s happening in the Loyola alumni movement. There is no co-ordinating agency to perform the role of the bell, and volunteers (in OBA as well as other groups) who lose the initial enthusiasm, quit the scene. The remaining chaps do not know what to do, they too are tired, and they kick the ball around lazily. They don’t play for an audience, the spectators leave, and as time passes by, it becomes difficult to get enough spectators. In short, the game in town collapses or becomes a farce.

The absence of a co-ordinator hurts the movement significantly in another way: no one pays attention to the future. The players believe that they are playing for fun, not for achieving worthy goals. They are volunteers who play when they feel like it. Identifying goals for the future (how alumni can help the school), or constantly updating information about old boys, or building goodwill for the future (by sending newsletters, maintaining a website), are “serious” things for…well, somebody else. Bad news again — somebody else got tired and left the field.

Thus, when things have to be done, but are not done, the movement weakens. All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy.

Some of us believe that it’s a free market, and that one group or the other will emerge as the dominant player/game in town. That is possible, but unlikely, because the groups here are undertaking activities voluntarily, and limiting their game to their own small spheres. Also, e-groups and Orkut communities may grow in size and number, but after a while, their enthusiasm wanes.

Tomorrow, we can do fantastic things for the school and the community. Or maybe tomorrow, we may need to come together for a cause. Who has the credibility and the reach to bring us together? None, at the moment.

For a healthy future, the alumni movement probably needs to drop anchor in the school, and shed its voluntary character. The school should set up an office, generate funds (from alumni and the management), employ professional staff, and run the alumni movement. Universities abroad and MBA institutes in India have adopted that model partly because they realise that the schools themselves will benefit by promoting alumni relations.

The Loyola alumni movement needs a school bell.

Products and Services for Loyola Alumni

Products and Services for Loyola Alumni

Last week, we launched a Loyola search engine here at loyolites.com. Users searching anything related to Loyola School, Trivandrum will now get more relevant search results. You will no longer have to wade through pages of Google results because, instead of searching the entire web for your keywords (search terms), the Loyola search engine will give you results from a specialised search of blogs and websites of Loyolites. It’s powered by Google and to start with, digs 55+ blogs and websites. Try it yourself.

The Loyola search engine is a product/service that improves our lives in a simple and small way. It is not the first of Loyola products, but it highlights the potential and likelihood of a new generation of products for Loyola old boys.

Generation 1 Products

The earliest Loyola alumni products were the newsletter and the directory, both launched by the Loyola Old Boys’ Association (LOBA) between 1990 and 1992, when P.A. Murukan (1984) was the secretary. Since then, the newsletter has invariably appeared twice a year. The revised editions of the directory have been less frequent. Bringing out a revised directory is a mammoth task, one that calls for a Pradeep Kumar (1974) to lead and accomplish. An online version (partially revised) appeared in July 2004, but is no longer available on the web.

Gen 1 products were initiated by the Association, and were used by LOBA members of various batches. These products emerged in an era when people looked up to the Fat Man to deliver the goods. If one or two Loyolites had an idea for the alumni community, they would approach Fat Man, and after deliberations among office-bearers, Fat Man would either accept (and implement) the idea or reject the idea. If the idea was rejected, Little Boys would go home, instead of implementing it on their own. Because even though LOBA members did not account for even 1/3rd of the students who studied at Loyola, the Association was synonymous with the Loyola alumni movement.

Generation 2 Products

Somewhere in the late 1990s, things changed. As the economy liberalised, people became confident of trying things out on their own; looking up to the state went out of fashion in India. In LOBA’s case, more than the social environment, it was probably technology that ushered in a new era. The internet made it possible for Little Boys to ignore the Fat Man.

1988 batch logoIn several batches, one or two Loyolites created e-groups. Little Boys did not bother to pitch the idea to Fat Man; they just set up the groups and started exchanging mails. As the internet became ubiquitous and more Loyolites joined the infotech industry, e-groups mushroomed and buzzed with activity. Some batches (like 1988, 1991, 1998 and 2001) set up their own websites.

These Gen 2 alumni products/services were initiated by one or two individuals, and were aimed at serving their own batch. An exception was the 1991 batch’s website, but that too was set up initially for the batch, and was only later extended to the entire Loyola alumni community. The ‘batchward’ sentiment of the era is also reflected in the rise of batch names. Boys of Seventy-Seven (BOSS – 1977), Ninety-One Batch LoyolitES (NOBLES -1991), Knights (1988) and Sabse Aage (2001) became prominent.

Generation 3 Products

And now we have Gen 3 — products initiated by a few individuals, but for the entire Loyola community (and possibly beyond). The Loyola search engine is an example, but not the first of this kind.

Loyola School Trivandrum community at OrkutThe earliest Gen 3 products were the communities of Loyolites at Orkut, which helped old boys get in touch with friends, including seniors and juniors. The Loyola School Trivandrum community, the biggest of them, was set up in 2004 by Christophe Manshoven (2001) and handed over to Deepak Madhusoodanan (1996). Note the inter-batch co-operation without mediation by LOBA. loyolites.com too sprang up in 2007 at the initiative of a few individuals of different batches, and serves all Loyolites; it was neither conceived nor implemented by LOBA.

The shift from Gen 2 to Gen 3 too has been driven by technology and how people use it. Today, tools for creating small products are available on our personal computer, and the expenses involved are negligible. Preparing an audio-video feature on Loyola no longer calls for signing a deal with a TV production company; if you or your friends are talented and tech-literate, it can be readied over a weekend. I think we’ll see more Gen 3 products coming from tech-savvy Loyolites who are in college: they have ideas, they are enterprising, and they embrace technology.

What product/service can you create?

Memorabilia and other alumni products

T-shirts, posters, coffee mugs or any of the merchandise typically produced for universities in the US and Europe? How about a Loyola alumni letterhead that old boys can use to write letters to teachers? Heard of the guy who created a “Cheer Loyola Sons” ringtone? Why not offer an MP3 collection called “Songs of Loyola” for download? Students of Loyola, why not publish the LENS on the internet? Why not sell a CD of the school magazines? Why not…

Contrary to beliefs, it does not take much time to create a product. It took me only one day to set up the Loyola search engine. It may have taken me 25 hours (spread across months) to set up the system for the monthly e-newsletter; it takes less than two hours a month to deliver the service.

Why would you create a Loyola product? For the sheer fun of it. There are bonuses in store too. If your product is offered free (like my blog or the e-newsletter), you’ll be happy when a Loyolite calls you from London to say that he enjoys using your product. If your product is sold at a price, you can earn a few bucks. In my experience, there’s a vast pool of Loyolites eager to consume Loyola products. There are buyers waiting for sellers.

In the past, people expected Fat Man to do things, and complained whenever Fat Man failed to. Today, Little Boys take the road less travelled, and oh boy, hasn’t that made a difference! So, think of a Loyola product and run with it.

I look forward to hosting a “Loyola Shop” at loyolites.com in 2008.

What’s your idea, mate?

Post Your Comment

Digitising the School Magazines

Yesterday, the 2007 school magazine was released in the school assembly. While trying to get the PDFs for uploading here, I was reminded of a mail I received in January this year.

Karthik (1999) wrote to me and suggested that we digitise the school magazines — make past issues available on a CD or for download. This idea has been around for a few years. Considering that technology is available next door, costs have fallen, and there are a large number of IT-savvy Loyolites, I am surprised that this idea remains an idea.

What are the obstacles?

Ambitious. Yes, but that does not deter fools like me from rushing in.

Unwise? Probably. And that is my worry.

I remember that in 2004, the OBA offered to send the latest issue of the school magazine to old boys, at a price of Rs 100. In the end, less than 20 out of the 1000+ members sent orders. To those of us who had argued for re-starting this service, it was an eye-opener in estimating demand.

Couriering school magazines is a simple service and involves negligible cost; it is ok if there are only two orders for the magazine. On the other hand, digitising school magazines is less simple and fairly expensive. It involves at least two months of intensive networking to get the school magazines from the 1960s to 2007, and then a month to get them digitised and packaged. In addition to time and energy, there is the cost of digitising. A back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates the required investment to be Rs 50,000.

Two models

I can think of two ways to move forward.

Model 1: Voluntary group donation. In this model, a few Loyolites will put in time and energy, while a few others will donate money. Since everybody is volunteering, nobody expects monetary returns. The advantage of this model is that no single individual is worried about the demand — it does not matter if in the end, only five people buy the CD or pay for the download.

Model 2: Enterprise. In this model, a few Loyolites will put in time, energy and money. They bear the financial risk, sell the product, and may make a profit (or loss).

In the past, old boys have tried out the first model. It worked well for the lobaglobal website in 2003-04 (when the 1988 and 1993 batches put in money, and the OBA put in time and energy), and the Joseph Uncle campaign in 2007 (when alumni across batches put in money, and two old boys of 2001 batch put in time and energy).

For digitising the school magazines, should we try out the second model? Are there any entrepreneurial batches out there?

Or if we are sticking to the first model, are there two or three batches who will put in the money?

Depending on your response, we will take this up now or later.