The debate on what is going on St Stephen's College has united the media elite, irrespective of their political inclinations to protest the craziness that Valson Thampu has wrought in college. While, I do not disagree, in principle, with the concept of 'affirmative action', Stephen's has taken a step too far. When you foresake the pursuit of academic excellence, not only will mediocrity result, you will reach a stage where even the elite of the 'minority' community that you are supposedly trying to benefit will stop considering the institution as one to send their children to. That is already happening with my school, St Columba's, where the philosophy of mediocrity imposed by the governing body has seen the number of IIT admissions nose-dive and forget that, there are very few students from that place who will make it to a decent college if it were not 'affirmative' action policies.
St Stephen's was never, ever a hotbed of academic brilliance - from the faculty that is. Even the teachers teaching there now are scary, not just the ones that taught me - including Valson Thampu and Anil Wilson incidentally. The two best 'Christian' teachers in my department left to join the University, so much for academic excellence, or fostering academic excellence within one's community. The college was, both in the time when my father and his friends studied there in the early-to-mid 70's to the time I went there in the late-90's was carried on the shoulders of its students - the college attracted some of the best and brightest students in the country not to go in for professional courses and that showed.
St Stephen's never 'taught' me much academically, even in the library, which I will still admit is one of the best in the University, I spent more time reading inconsequential books - to my course that is. But the stuff I did learn came from being around some of the craziest mo-fo's in the planet. Potheads, Alcoholics, Academics, Insatiable Libido Maniacs, and even the Dhaba Crowd for that matter. Most of these were the best students in the city and the country, and sure some of them fell into all four categories above at the same time and that is what made college fun.
Fair enough, I spent the latter two years in Residence and I had blast there, barely getting any studying done, but heck, I managed to get a very good grade in my second year despite appearing stoned for one exam and a fairly good grade in my final year despite not studying till the gory end. I'm not romanticising it, I really didn't study. Anyone who has ever known me, or knows me knows my proclivity towards slothfulness. But, see somehow being around some other very intelligent people, even if you're stoned virtually all the time, does keep your brain active.
I had the most insane discussions about all sorts of things sitting in my room in Mukarji East (the nicest, cleanest block). And if your brain manages to tick over and does not lapse into redundancy , it manages to do fairly well come exam time. Brilliance begets brilliance - or in this case brilliance begat a decent grade. And when you had a decent number of seats reserved for other communities, even they got carried along in the flow, the ones who came with the maximum 'relaxation' got left behind the most. I'm sure these people would have done fairly decently, in terms of finals marks in another college, but here they somehow fared worse.
Education has to have a purpose and that purpose does not have to be education for education's sake, because St Stephen's has always done a very sad job of that. It has to be academic brilliance, a chance to bring together a respectable number of very good students, who would carry the institution along, and most of the other students as well. It is still early days, and I won't like to make a call right now, but just like I don't think that my school will be in my consideration set for any children I might have, my college is going there, and I do feel a bit sad about that. Read Sanjeev Bikhchandani's piece on the matter, Sanjeev is a graduate from the mid-80's and went to IIM-A after SSC before going on to become India's most successful dot-com entrepreneur in terms of market capitalisation.
Anyway, on another note, I have said, this is my blog, if you have any issues with me which you post as comments, I will delete them. There ain't no democratic system here!