Monday, June 25, 2007

Notes on College.

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!


thalassa_mikra said...

Very pertinent post. And you're absolutely right about the students at Stephen's making it the remarkable place that it is. I read an article by Ram Guha on Outlook online on the Stephen's scenario, so I have some idea of what's going on - basically that the hopelessly deluded souls at the Church of North India and Thampu want to kill the goose with the golden eggs.

But what's up with Columba's? What's wrong with the Jesuit fathers - surely not tainted by association with CNI?

Anonymous said...

What if everybody converts to Christianity? Why not, you had John Dayal, right?

Anonymous said...

Arre, even if people convert they don't drop their Hindu names.. There was a Amar Singh in Stephens recently, but he made it on quota, his never-used middle name - Immanuel!

simran said...

heard the 'reverend' speak on ndtv sometime back and was amazed at how politically motivated he seemed. as for the vicious gibberish, isn't there a way of moderating the comments before they get published? trawled through them yesterday and like a bad song, they're stuck in my head. if i want to read badly written bitchy tripe, i'll read b'lore times.

Anonymous said...
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W.T.F said...

Colleges in India are built by the hard work/stoned brilliance of their students and not their faculties.

This goes beyond St. Stephens.

I speak from my experience at National Law School which is supposed to be the best for law. Some of our students who are/arent entranced by the smell of their own farts are really phenomenal. Earthworms are more intelligent than our faculty..

however, i support dalit reservation because if

a. you're relying on the goodwill of christains to eduate your population

b. you think some 500 seats in a couple of colleges are going to raise millions of people out of poverty.

youre screwed.

letting a couple of dalits into college makes no difference.

my point is:

if we support the crazy logic of reservation to be true (as our political class does) then the constitutional provision to bar coverts from reservation is just weird.

dalit christains and muslims are as backward as dalit hindus. social discrimination does not end with conversion. there are separate churches, gurudwaras (a certain 'dera' pops into mind) and mosques for dalits.

additionally, christians are running the college. they damn well have the right to put christains first. it's their right under the constitution even if it goes against the fabric of christainity to recognize caste.

we need 30 secular (such an abused work) top grade under-grad colleges where kids can do drugs and think about life instead of jobs, at least, PRONTO, not to mention millions of schools that work.

anything less than that is bullshit.

I feel your pain at seeing your college being weakened but it's just part of the madness that VP Singh unleashed on us.

thalassa_mikra said...

WTF - except that the Christians aren't necessarily running the college - at least most of the expenses are being met by government money. St. Stephen's isn't a private college.

W.T.F said...

But it is a minority insitution.

Minority institutions are there to preserve minority culture and development. They recieve money from the government for that and they should. They are also more autonomous and hence, this being india, more superior to government colleges.

It was never intended that everyone will aspire to get into them.

It's like tomorrow the best schools are madrassas and then we expect them to admit only 15% muslims.

It shows the whole of mainstream education system run by the government has broken down.

John Mathai said...

It is important to remember that the issue is not about admission of Christian students but of creating another category of quota called "Dalit Christians" There is a case in the Supreme Court whther or not such a category can be a reservation category. Moreover, there is no viable way for certifying who is a Dalit Christian and who is a non-Dalit Charistian. If one looks at this closely one can realise that this new quota is merely a quota for bishops who will have the power to give dalit certifications. Thus it a programme for back door entry.
Also, there are two kinds of minority institutioins: those unaided and those that are aided. St Stephen's is fully funded by the State. The Church does not give it even a paisa. Therefore it can have only those quotas that are sanctioned by the State. Moreover this move will have serious repurcussions on the Christians themselves. So far in Christian colleges, as per law, minority seats are meant for ALL christians regardless of whether they are Catholics or Protestants or Baptists. Now, the door has been opened for a Catholic Christian College from having seats for Catholic only and keep protestants out and vice versa.

Muthukaruppan said...

Nobody thought of an OBC Christian for reservation ?