It augurs ill for a society when its teachers behave like agents of anarchy. When the putative bearers of enlightenment begin to propagate darkness, there is a need to stare that calamity in the face.

The case of St Stephen’s, where a section of students and teachers have been staunchly opposing the decision of the Delhi University college’s governing board to apply for autonomy, merits national attention if we do not wish to be willfully blind to what is being done to the human stock under the pretext of education.

The University Grants Commission has a scheme for outstanding institutions to attain regulated autonomy, which is also endorsed by the University in question. The governing body of the college considers the scheme through a detailed discussion, in which four teacher representatives participate. Their views are heard by all, including two University representatives, who cannot be labelled as stooges of the management.

In the case of St Stephen’s, the decision to accept the scheme was taken by the governing body on a majority vote of 11 to four. The four negative votes were cast by teacher representatives of the college.Those who voted in favour included the two University representatives. In any context where the rudiments of democracy are tolerated, the matter would have rested there.

But in this case, it did not, despite the fact that about 500 leading colleges in the country have already adopted autonomy under this system and none of them have gone on record to say that they have regretted the decision. None has been cited by the detractors of St Stephen’s autonomy.

No rules flouted

How would self-respecting faculty members take a stand on an issue? I suppose it should be by understanding it within the framework of relevant rules and regulations. The teachers must protest – and I would have stood by them – if illegality of any kind was sought to be perpetrated.

If, on the contrary, the governing body has functioned wholly within the framework of applicable rules and regulations, the teachers should not go beating their breasts to students and karmacharis and unfurl the panoply of war against the college. This is undignified and infantile.

The regulations applicable to this issue are those of the University Grants Commission, the Delhi University and the special rights enjoyed by St Stephen’s College as a minority educational institution, as provided for in the Indian Constitution, which is supreme over all else, as the teachers should have known. They don’t seem to, which is a pity.

Article 30(1) of the Constitution confers on religious and linguistic minorities the right to establish and administer institutions of their choice. St Stephen’s, as a minority educational institution, is therefore empowered to become an autonomous institution, if it so chooses. Militating against it is tantamount to spurning the Constitution of India.

The Constitutional guarantee is further buttressed by the fact that the scheme opted for to attain autonomy is wholly legitimate and the choice does not, in any respect, fall foul of the law of the land in any respect. The conduct of the management, in this respect, is wholly lawful, whereas the stand adopted by the teachers is utterly untenable in the eye of law.

The agitated teachers of St Stephen’s have not cited a single rule or regulation which the governing body has infringed upon in taking this decision. As per the classification of St Stephen’s College as a minority educational institution, Article 30(1), and the statutes of Delhi University, the staff council has absolutely no right to sit over, much less veto, the decisions of the Governing Body.

Nor is the staff council competent to discuss any aspect of the work or the conduct of the principal. The Delhi University Act does not provide for a review of governing body’s decisions by the staff council of any college. And in St Stephen’s, the powers and functions of the Staff Council are restrained additionally by the Constitutional protection the college enjoys as a minority educational institution.

The autonomy issue, therefore, should not have been discussed in the staff council. The principal, in his eagerness to walk the extra mile, compromised the Constitution of the college and its minority rights, by committing this procedural lapse after being coerced.

Students misled

The teachers concerned have misled the students by splashing sentimentality over the issue to confuse them. The grievance cooked up and dished out to them is that they haven’t been consulted in the decision to seek autonomy. I don’t blame the students for not asking themselves, “Under what provision, in which statute, are we entitled to such a consultation?” They trust teachers implicitly, which makes it all the more condemnable on the part of teachers to mislead them as deplorably as they have.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, the principal consults the students after being mandated to do so by the governing body, and the students happen to not like the decision. Is the principal then not to proceed with the decision of the governing body? Does he have such a choice? Whom is he accountable to: the governing body or the students?

The teachers’ malignant motive in infecting students with this spurious grievance is only to deploy them against the principal. In the four decades that I have served St Stephen’s, I have witnessed this pattern. The teachers want to keep the principal destabilised and intimidated so that they can insulate themselves against accountability.

The man in the hot-seat reads the situation as hopeless and takes to a clever mix of quid pro quo and divide and rule. It is incredible how invigorated these teachers are when they are polarised into two warring camps and go for each other’s jugular.

In the present instance, the wind has merely changed direction. They have a common punching bag: the principal. But for this common enemy and hate object, they would have fought each other with the same zest – as they are wont to – except the media glare would not have been sought.

Weak arguments

Do the teachers have a defensible case against the college going autonomous? The answer is writ large over their strategy. If they had any confidence in their stand, they would not have sought the two crutches: karmacharis and students.

The worst is that the students are baited with blatant lies. If the college becomes autonomous, they have been told, it will be hijacked by the church. And that will be the end of their education.

Well, the church should not hijack anything, much less an educational institution. But, pardon me, the church does not have to hijack St Stephen’s; for it is a church-maintained minority institution according to the Supreme Court’s 1992 judgment, of which the teachers cannot be unaware.

The other argument they have propounded against autonomy is that fees will go up sky high. What is the basis for this silly propaganda? Where, in which document, is this dictated? The proviso is that all new courses have to be on a self-financing basis. This is part of the overall, most condemnable, strategy of the Central government, commencing from the second United Progressive Alliance government, to withdraw by indirection from higher education. The villain of the piece is not St Stephen’s. It is the State.

If the teachers had any sense of justness and common sense, they would have entered into a civilised discussion with the administration to consider how the financial burden that would arise in case new courses are introduced could be minimised for meritorious students from economically weaker sections. Not a word about that has been heard so far.

Grave concern

The social justice mask that some of my erstwhile colleagues are now donning is deeply suspect. None of them has any track-record of having put a rupee into this cause. They think commitment to social justice is a matter of making some noise. Using social justice as a hypocritical alibi is the height of deviousness. It mocks the poor. They are being merely used as an excuse, even as students and karmacharis are used as mere tools.

I implore all concerned to take a serious view of teachers corrupting students. They are envisaged to be character-builders, not character-killers. Most disappointingly, this issue is not addressed adequately in the code of conduct evolved by the University Grants Commission. Even the existing provisions remain a paper tiger. It has very few teeth and even those are never used.

Educational institutions must be zones of zero tolerance for teacher depravity. Attempts to use students as tools and weapons, misleading and inciting them with utter falsehood, must be deemed a crime more serious than ragging. Effective deterrence should be put in place urgently.

Efforts to spread anarchy in educational institutions by those who have covert political ambitions or psychopaths restless to be in the limelight at whatever cost to the institution must be curbed in their destructivity. Their fulminations must not be legitimised under freedom of speech! Lying to students is not freedom. It is wheeling and dealing. Students deserve to be protected from miseducation and pathological indoctrination.

This task cannot wait.

Rev Dr Valson Thampu is the Former Principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi