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Of campus democracy and academic excellence: Students of St. Stephen’s College

April 25, 2013

This is a guest post by some STUDENTS OF ST. STEPHEN’S COLLEGE, Delhi

Over the past one year Delhi University has been subjected to significant changes in the name of academic excellence, and many more changes are in the offing, like an un-thought-out introduction of the four-year undergraduate course. Teachers and students who have voiced concerns (and protested) have been harassed and not paid any heed to. One can witness a general shrinking of democratic space, and the space for dissent within the university. It is almost as if democratic decision making is an enemy of academic excellence, and thus needs to be curbed! A sharp contradiction between campus democracy and a vaguely defined academic excellence has come up recently in some issues pertaining to St. Stephen’s College. In this article, we – some students of the college would like to draw attention to the injuries inflicted on campus democracy, and the questions thrown up about the very meaning of academic excellence in the process.   

Since the beginning of the semester, some students had collectively voiced their dissatisfaction over the 10 pm curfew for female residents in college (men have no such curfew time). They had demanded that the curfew be lifted, as it is discriminatory, and attention be paid to making the campus safer on the whole. Opinions had been divided within the faculty as well as students on the issue – some felt that the curfew was not entirely unacceptable considering the insecurities regarding safety of women within the city. The debate took a decisive turn towards being silenced a couple of weeks back due to an atmosphere of fear and insecurity among students in college due to various threats by the administration.

In light of the opinion against curfew, a General Body Meeting was organized in college on 25th March to put forth the demand. The Principal came to the GBM, and behaved in an extremely high-handed and authoritarian manner, terming the issue of curfew as a ‘petty grievance’ contrived by a few mischief makers. He made highly sexist comments proclaiming that men and women were not equal – they were different, like apples and oranges, like eggs and stones, and had to be taken care of differently. He refused to recognize the students right to voice their demand, claiming that they were mere guests and that he could force everyone out of residence and keep the buildings empty if he so desired. A student pointed out that women’s curfew is a traditional patriarchal gesture, a question he ignored. Since then, the most vocal section of the students has been targeted with threats of disciplinary action on the slightest of pretexts. Students have been called to the Principal’s office individually, or in small groups, and threatened with suspension from residence if they were not happy with the rules, by him as well as the hostel wardens. The Principal has been trying to isolate the ‘troublemakers’ by questioning their academic inclination.

A month before the semester examinations, the students have been told that they would not be granted hostel facilities next semester automatically. They would have to go through an interview process, which would take place on 22nd and 23rd April. The Principal himself would be conducting those interviews. Grant of hostel facilities would be based on academic excellence, contribution to college activities, and attendance. A new form for reapplication to the hostel has been brought out, asking vague questions about students’ contribution to college and asking them to specify if they disagree with residence rules. This constant uncertainty, coupled with a policing of students through the hostel wardens has created a sense of insecurity among students merely weeks before the examination. This seriously questions the Principal’s commitment to academic excellence. In the light of his claim of being a champion of the same, his treatment of a demand made by Mathematics (Hons.) students in 2012 may be noted. They had asked for an optional course, and since they were more than ten in number, according to the university rule, the college had to provide this option. The college refused to do so, asking the students to pay extra for a teacher if they wanted the course, citing lack of funds. In the very same year the college has gone on an extravagant facelift spree for no reason, importing grass worth 4 lakhs for the lawns. Whither academic excellence?

We are deeply concerned by the attitude of the Principal in dealing with dissenting opinion among students. The principle underlying such authoritarian behavior is disturbing. He is treating the college as his personal property and refusing to accept and engage with the voice of students in deciding how the college should be run. An institution of learning is meaningful to a society only when it is organically linked to it. That naturally means that all participants in the institution, whether students, staff members, or karamcharis, regardless of their location in society, have a say in matters concerning it. That is the basic principle of democratic functioning of an institution and it is being blatantly violated in St. Stephen’s College today. The wielding of disproportionate power by the Principal is running parallel to the same by the Vice-Chancellors of Delhi University and Jamia Milia Islamia. Education in India awaits a rescue from the hands of such figures.

We shall end with a note on the meaning of academic excellence. We believe that academic activity and theoretical debates cannot be disconnected from larger social debates and changes. Our classroom discussions, of patriarchy, equality, and democracy, stand in clear contradiction with the views expressed by the Principals and his supporters in the college administration. We believe academic activity is fulfilling when it is practiced in engagement with struggles in society and is integral to the process of dialogue and development. The snuffing out of the latter is not compatible with academic excellence. The kind of distortion of the meaning of academic excellence that is happening in the college and in the University as a whole, calls for a concerted challenge by all democratic and progressive sections of society.

From Kafila archives:

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2013 7:52 PM

    stop thinking about sex and start studying, children!

    • Aarti Sethi permalink*
      April 30, 2013 8:25 PM

      I’m a little bemused by this comment. Have you read this piece? No, really. Go back and read this piece. What reading protocol leads you to claim that a 3000 word essay on democracy in the university is about “sex”? And further, even if it were about “sex”, why would that be a problem in the least? Too frivolous for you I suppose? Isn’t the policing of young people’s bodies, especially young women’s, by self-appointed patriarchs in the administration precisely a site of struggle? Who made you a guardian of chastity, and why on earth would you wish to be?

    • SupernK permalink
      May 8, 2013 1:11 PM

      They are not children, as per Indian law (maybe you have knowledge of them) they are adults. & yes adults think about sex & yes they have every right to think of and have sex. Your ignorance and puritanical thought process suggests that you are a DU teacher.

  2. SupernK permalink
    May 8, 2013 1:09 PM

    I wonder why Indian women put up with this. I wish the bright women of Stephens would really take a stand. a) Stop living in the hostel. b) pool in your money and share an apartment outside. c) Get part time jobs to pay the rent (like youngsters do all over the world).d) If possible, Join a college that doesn’t discriminate against women Religious and patriarchal bigots will only change their ways when the money stops trickling in.

    • Anonymous permalink
      May 18, 2013 10:15 PM

      unlike Europe, jobs that can pay for apartments are hard to get buy, and apartments are much more expensive that residence anyway. maybe it would be wiser to say that students must regard this hostel facility as vital and fight to make it better. also, a bunch of students leaving hostel just means that there’s no one inside hostel to fight for this, since people who have no problem will continue to live there and there are a fair number of them as well. Also, realistically, a lot of parents will not agree to let their children stay outside of hostel and though they are adults, there is both an economic constraint of parents as well as the constraint of being dependent on parents for this education. Also, there are very few colleges that don’t discriminate. Nevertheless joining them wont stop the discrimination that does exist in the colleges we’ve left and patriarchy won’t disappear just because a particular few choose to ignore it by going someplace else. i feel it would be much better stay in the situation and fight it, because leaving that situation won’t mean its eradication.

    • May 23, 2013 8:20 AM

      No, don’t cede the field of battle to the hidebound patriarchs.

      Stay in the dormitories, and stand and fight.

      It will be tough. It’ll be a long slog. You will often wonder if it’s worth it. And it will take a generation of women to succeed.

      But it must be done.

      Indian patriarchy is very definitely the seedbed in which grows all manner of disturbed and perverted thoughts about the rights of women, and from which spring some of the most heinous crimes against women which have shocked the world over this past year.

  3. Muskan permalink
    May 20, 2013 2:49 AM

    You guys think this is bad? Most Engineering colleges have a curfew of 8 or 8:30. I’m in Indira Gandhi Institute Of Technology, Kashmere Gate (which is 10 minutes away from Stephen’s) and I have to get back by 8. It is absurd. We have even more rubbish rules like the compulsion to get the leave signed A DAY before (before 5:30 PM of the previous day) by the RESIDENT warden or we can’t go home. Another one, no food delivery after 8PM either. You don’t want to eat the mess food? Suck it up, but no deliveries. We have almost no potable water at most times and everything is broken or just barely hanging on. We have protested. Nothing ever happens. And you know what they’ve done? Made us into a Deemed University. We are now Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University. Well Done Dikshit, another hollow “University”.

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