Monday, December 14, 2009

Good ol' College

How many institutions have you heard of where the Vice-Principal is suing the Principal who is suing the Governing Body. All this while the academic performance of the place goes tits up. I know this has nothing to do with the media, but I thought I would give this letter (OK, slightly biased) a bit of play. SSC gets a disproportionate amount of coverage, but still, this is freaking bizarre. Frankly, and I know some people might consider this anathema, but the best solution here might be to strip SSC of its 'freedom' and hand it over to Delhi University. While there is always a massive potential in India to f-up, but surely I can't get worse?
Oh, and I spent the weekend in Lucknow for a college friends wedding where I saw modern Rome being created in Sandstone. I really did not know India has so much sandstone, yes, I know a bit of tetonic plates and that large parts of northern India were underwater, but still, some parts of that city are bizarre. The kebabs still rock though.
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NOTE ON THE CRISIS FACING ST.STEPHEN’S COLLEGE

1. St. Stephen’s College, founded in 1881 by Christian missionaries, was never envisaged as a mere adjunct of the Church. Its stated objective was to provide quality education and to send out men and women of character who would contribute to nation-building. Among its teachers and mentors was Deenabandhu C.F. Andrews, a close associate of Gandhiji during the freedom struggle. For the last 128 years, the College has played a pivotal role in the field of higher education in the country, maintaining standards of excellence in teaching and learning, and fostering creative and pluralistic growth. Its alumni have played an important role in nation-building.

2. The Constitution of St. Stephen’s College, developed by its founders, and modified from time to time to enable it to join Delhi University in 1922 and remain part of it as a constituent College, maintains a clear and emphatic separation between the Church and the administration of the College. The twofold role of the Supreme Council (a subset of the Governing Body consisting of the Bishop and four nominees of Church bodies and principal) is to appoint the Principal and to oversee religious instruction and other matters pertaining to religious character. It has absolutely no role in administrative matters as per clause 5 of the College Constitution. Additionally, Clause 8 of the Constitution makes it mandatory for the College to follow all conditions of grant-in-aid (to the tune of 95% which St Stepsagarika.hen’s College, like the other colleges of Delhi University, gets from the Government), as well as all University Ordinances that do not affect its Christian character.

3. The Governing Body of the College has 18 members, and the composition is as follows

S.No.

Members no.

Description

Remarks

1

1-7

Nominees of various Church bodies, including the Bishop of Delhi, who is the Chairperson

One of these is a nominee of the Synod (highest all-India body) of the Church of North India, the others are from CNI Delhi Diocese, two being direct nominees of the Bishop. Five of these seven form a group called the Supreme Council, headed by the Bishop.

2

8

Principal

Must be a member of CNI, with a Ph.D. and at least 15 years of teaching experience in a recognized college. Selected after open advertisement and interview by the Supreme Council. Then he becomes ex-officio Member Secretary of Supreme Council as well as GB

3

9

Vice Principal

A college teacher with same qualification as Principal (as given above), appointed by Principal.

4

10

Bursar

A college teacher appointed by GB on recommendation of Principal (as per University Ordinance) OR Treasurer (as per College Constitution). The Treasurer has to be a member of the GB elected by the GB and could theoretically be different from the Principal. The potential clash between Univ rules and College Constitution (regarding the nominating authority for the Bursar) was averted by the GB all these 128 years by the practice of making the Principal the Treasurer.

5

11

One Alumnus

Appointed by GB

6

12

One appointee of Principal


7

13-14

Two University representatives

Professors from University appointed by Vice-Chancellor

8

15-18

Four teachers from the College

Two are by rotation and two by election by the faculty

4. Since 2005-6, when the then-Principal, Dr. Anil Wilson, went on long leave to take up Vice-Chancellorship of Himachal University, the College, which had to be administered through several interim officiating arrangements, has been going through a period of instability. These arrangements were as follows:

a. Dr. Jacob Cherian (August 2005-May 2007),

b. Rev Valson Thampu (May 2007-March 2008),

c. Dr. M.S. Frank(March 2008-September 2008).

Eventually, in September 2008, Rev. Dr. Valson Thampu was appointed regular Principalby the Supreme Council, after the due procedures of advertisement and interview, and his appointment was duly recognized (both in terms of qualifications and eligibility) by the Delhi University and the UGC. With this, the College community hoped that the college would enter a period of some stability, during which it could put its house in order and move forward with the collective energies and inputs of all its members to meet new educational and academicchallenges. This hope proved to be short-lived.

5. Within two months of appointing him, the Supreme Council appears to havechanged its mind. In November, 2008, it served him a letter putting him on probation (which allows the Supreme Council to terminate his services at one month’s notice) retrospectively. Rev. Dr. Thampu protested, pointing out it was illegal to change his terms of appointment retrospectively, apart from the fact that Delhi University Ordinances prohibit probation for Principals. The sole CNI (Synod) representative on the Supreme Council, Rev.Dr Pradhan, also registered his strong protest against the illegality and irregularity of a retrospective probation. At this point the Bishop and his associates attempted to drive Rev.Dr. Pradhan out of the Supreme Council and Governing Body. Thampu’s efforts over the next six months, to resolve the issue within the CNI fraternity, failed. In May, 2009, Thampu’s appeal was formally turned down by the Supreme Council, and in July 2009, he filed a writ in the High Court, challenging the letter of probation. The High Court stayed the Supreme Council from terminating his services, and the matter continues to be heard. An out-of-court settlement attempted by the Moderator (Head) of the Church of North India, in October 2009, failed as the Bishop reneged on the agreement that the letter of probation would be withdrawn.

6. There is much speculation about why the Supreme Council changed its mind about its own appointee. In his petition, Dr. Rev. Thampu alleges that he was asked by the Bishop’s emissaries for a hefty monetary donation which he refused. This is a serious charge, and the College community along with all stake-holders, the alumni and the University, need to know the truth about this. If true, this is an indication of the dangers to the financial and administrative integrity of the College.

7. Since November 2008, the Bishop and his associates have made continuous and systematic attempts to destabilize Dr. Rev. Thampu’s administration. These have included blatant procedural violations especially at Governing Body Meetings, doctoring and re-writing of Governing Body meeting Minutes, and undermining the functioning of members of the Principal’s administrative team with the aim to cripple the college administration. Matters came to a head in the meeting of October 28, 2009, in which the Bursar, Mr. Raghunathan, a bonafide member of the GB, was prevented from participating in its proceedings by an illegal ruling given by the Chairman. He left the meeting and facetious charges of financial mismanagement were leveled in his absence (even though audited financial data proves that since 2007, when Raghunathan was appointed Bursar by Thampu, the College has made a remarkable financial recovery).

8. In this meeting (which was adjourned and continued on 17th November, 2009), the office of Treasurer was taken away from Thampu and given to Nirmal Andrews, the Bishop’s nominee in the Supreme Council, thus departing from the 128 year-old convention of making the Principal the Treasurer. No plausible reason was offered for the change. While the arbitrariness itself is a serious problem, the decision has opened the doors for a major conflict with the University and UGC on the issue of who will appoint the Bursar. According to the College Constitution, it is the Treasurer who appoints the Bursar, whereas the University has sent strongly worded letters that it shall not recognize a Bursar who is not a nominee of the Principal, as stipulated in the University Ordinance XVIII. The rationale for the University’s stand is that the UGC grant-in-aid is public monies which may be handled only by persons so authorized to do so. Even the College Constitution stipulates a commitment by the College to fulfill all conditions of grant-in-aid given by the Government (see para 2 above). A conflict over appointment of Bursar might affect the funding given to the College by the UGC, which is not likely to allow its grant to be handled by an unauthorized person. Since the College gets 95% of its funding from the UGC, any withdrawal of funding by the UGC would threaten its very existence. Moreso, since the Supreme Council has never put in even the 5% maintenance expenditure that it is legally required to.

9. In the meeting of 3rd December, 2009, which in another significant departure from the norm, was held at the Bishop’s office-cum-residence, Rev Dr. Thampu was asked by the Bishop for a panel of names for the Bursar. He gave a panel of three names, all of which were turned down by the Governing Body without any reasons other than the personal dislike of the Bishop being offered. It may be noted that, as per the University Ordinance, the Principal is obliged to provide just a single name which the Treasurer is bound to accept. As a result of all these developments, the College has now being functioning for a month and a half without a Bursar during which period large sums of money such as arrears of salaries after pay revision by the Sixth Pay Commission are being disbursed. This is a serious violation of University and Government rules, for which the Governing Body must be held accountable.

10. The Bishop’s challenges to the administrative autonomy of the college along with his attempts to wrest financial control have fudged the lines between the Church and the administration of College. This has been ongoing: instances of encroachment by the Bishop and Supreme Council on purely academic and administrative matters, such as admissions (weightage for interviews, number of persons to be called, cut-offs, attempt to send ‘observers’ to the interview board etc), appointments (attempt to have a religion-based quota in teachers appointments), examinations (giving show cause notice to the Principal for questioning the Superintendent of Exams, Dr. M.S. Frank, on why he refused a physically challenged student the facilities authorized by the University), have been have been continuous and escalating. Rev Dr Thampu took the initiative to re-open the process of making permanent appointments to teaching posts after seven years of a dispute with the University, during which period, the college lost several talented teachers to other institutions. Now, the College is poised to make about thirty teaching appointments. If the Bishop and the Supreme Council are permitted to interfere in administration, there is a real danger that considerations other than merit will be playing a role in the appointments. This will have a long-lasting adverse effect on the academic future of the College. Moreover, if a duly selected Principal can be forced out for resisting unwarranted and unjustifiable interference, the chances of getting a competent, principled and independent minded Principal in future are bleak. Additionally, though the Supreme Council has never put in the 5% maintenance expenditure that it is legally required to in order to claim participatory rights in the management of the College, it is attempting to annex the College and control funds given by the Government. Notably, in his counter to Rev Dr. Thampu’s petition, the Bishop, while attempting to justify the exclusion of Rev Dr. Pradhan, the sole representative of the CNI Synod (the highest All-India body of CNI) from the GB (for supporting Rev. Dr. Thampu’s position on the probation issue), stated that “The Church of North India did not exercise any jurisdiction over the College”. This attempt by the Bishop of Delhi to marginalize even the Church of North India when it suits him is part of his efforts to replace all independent representatives of the Church of North India with his nominees from the Delhi Diocese of CNI. Several such instances of expediency and adhocism have characterized the Bishop’s actions, giving credence to the growing popular belief that he regards the College as a personal fiefdom.

11. There are two imminent dangers. The first of these is a proposed ‘enquiry’ into ‘college affairs’. The GB in its last meeting on 3rd December 2009, resolved to set up a subcommittee consisting of three members of the GB to identify a “suitable” retired judge to conduct an “enquiry” into “College Affairs” on terms of reference to be decided by the three. The following may be noted in this context:

a) All three are the Bishop’s nominees in the GB

b) No criteria for membership to this committee were offered.

c) Neither a University Representative nor the Member secretary – both of whom are conventionally included in such committees in the interests of maintaining objectivity and credibility – was included. At least a University representative ought to have been co-opted.

d) No basis for the enquiry was offered

e) No terms of reference were spelt out by the GB

f) No procedural guidelines were thought necessary. It may be noted here that the GB has so far has been extraordinarily cavalier about matters of procedure, which in fact are at the heart of regulated and accountable functioning.

g) No complaint about any aspect of college functioning had been tabled. On the contrary, the College’s remarkable financial recovery in the last two years and its transparently and smoothly conducted admissions (not a single RTI query was received) had been remarked on by GB members.

The telling composition of the committee, the visible absence of accountability, transparent rationale and procedure, promises a Kangaroo court, a perversion of justice, procedures and regulations and a witch hunt.

12. The second imminent danger arises from the recent appointment of an ‘interim bursar’ by the Treasurer, Mr. Nirmal Andrews on 11. 12. 09. This appointment is highly irregular since, according to the University Statutes, the Bursar has to be a nominee of the Principal (see para 8 above). However, on 11. 12. 09, knowing that the Principal was out of station on leave for two days, the Bishop and the Treasurer, Nirmal Andrews, appointed Dr. Eswaran as “interim Bursar”. Dr. Eswaran’s name is not on the panel given by the Principal and his appointment is therefore in clear violation of the University Ordinance XVIII, and has set the college on a collision course with the Delhi University and the University Grants Commission (UGC). The unconstitutionality of the move makes unmistakable the malafide inherent in the ‘enquiry’ into ‘college affairs’. The specious justification offered for this shocking illegality is precisely the highly motivated ‘enquiry’ into ‘college affairs’. It has been stated that a regular Bursar cannot be appointed because of the ‘enquiry’. It may be noted that the justification itself is highly paradoxical, since the difference between the functions or status of an ‘interim’ and ‘regular’ bursar have not been specified. It is also an irresponsible move since this illegally appointed person will handle government funds. It may be noted that though the ‘interim bursar’ did not have the Principal’s confidence, the Principal will be a co-signatory to all cheques. Further there is every chance that this appointment will be derecognised by the University, thereby endangering our UGC grant. The ironies of the situation intensify when those who are the source of the trouble institute themselves as troubleshooters.

13. The Bishop is actively attempting to crush all resistance from within the College. A majority of the permanent teachers had protested at the treatment of the Bursar and gross procedural irregularities through letters of protest addressed to the University and GB, silent poster-demonstrations at the venue of GB meetings and by insisting on proper procedures. These have been met with condemnation, criticism and threats of disciplinary action by the Bishop. In a fresh and deplorable attempt to silence by intimidation, the Bishop has singled out a senior teacher, Clement Rajakumar, who is a priest, and issued him show cause notices for “disloyalty”! Though this is ludicrous, it is of consequence to the future ethos and culture of the College. It would behove the Bishop to understand that a premier institution of higher learning must teach the value of dissent and integrity, rather than foster toadyism and opportunism.

14. It is of considerable concern to several members within and outside the college community that the Chair of the Governing Body is being transparently manipulative. Rather than committing illegalities cavalierly and expediently making up rules along the way thereby setting unfortunate and untenable precedents, the Bishop should abide by the University Statutes and established practices which have achieved an essential and carefully thought-out balance between the University and the College. It would be extremely unfortunate if St Stephen’s College or indeed any credible institution were to fall into unscrupulous hands or face disrepute and possible closure because of the whims and nearsightedness of a set of self-serving individuals.


Bikram Phookun(Physics), Vijay Tankha(Philosophy), K.P.Shankaran(Philosophy), K.M. Mathew(Chemistry), Sanjeev Grewal(Economics), R.S.Nanda(Philosophy), Karen Gabriel(English), Amrita Tulika(History), Anurag Malhotra(Economics), N.Raghunathan(Economics), M.C.Jain(Chemistry), Giti Chandra(English), Sanjay Kumar(Physics), Neelam Saxena(Hindi), Nandita Narain(Mathematics), Leema Paliwal(Economics), Arjun Mahey(Economics), Clement Rajakumar (Physical Education), Abhinav Gupta(Physics), A.Roy(English), and other concerned teachers of St. Stephen's College.


3 comments:

KMN said...

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Anonymous said...

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Horn Please!! said...

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