Delhi University’s St Stephen’s College has issued “formal warning” letters to three governing body members for criticising and objecting to Principal John Varghese’s decision to include a member of the institute’s supreme council in the interview panel for the selection of students. The members are Nandita Narian from Mathematics department, N.P. Ashley, who teaches in the English department and Abhishek Singh of the department of Economics. The warning letters issued by Varghese has accused the academics of making “false and irresponsible comments to the media.”
The letter has also advised the academicians to “not repeat such irresponsible and unbecoming behaviour in the future”.
As reported, the Principal’s warning letter said the guidelines had been “duly reported” in a governing body meeting held on March 14 “in the presence of” teachers’ representatives. “In the light of the above, I am shocked to see that you deliberately chose to ignore the facts and your press release is a complete concoction, factually and legally incorrect, and therefore it is against the code of professional ethics and the ethos of this institution,” the letter stated.
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Speaking to NewsClick, one of the governing members, Nandita Narian said, “This warning letter is ridiculous. This is in reaction to a press release by us. The inclusion of the Supreme Council member amounts to the violation of the college constitution. And it has been said that the governing body approved the decision and the teachers accepted the guidelines. It is strange as we are a part of the governing body and we are not aware of any such decision. If we actually agreed, then that should be mentioned in the minutes but there were no minutes of the meeting circulated. The minutes are to be approved in the next meeting. We had objected this decision and we will also soon reply to the warning letter.”
What was the Decision that Elicited the Protest?
On May 13, during a meeting of the St. Stephen’s College Staff Council, Principal John Varghese announced that the interview panel for the selection of students for admission to the College would include a member from the Supreme Council.
The Supreme Council is a subset of “six members of the Governing body (Managing Committee), all members of the Church of North India”. The press release by the members of governing body underlined that, “The Chairperson of both the Supreme Council and the Governing body is the Bishop of Delhi, and Member Secretary of both is the Principal.” The Supreme Council is the in-charge of religious and moral instruction of students and of the College, and of all matters affecting its religious character as a Christian college of the Church of North India.
N P Ashley, another member of the governing body said, “The Supreme Council of the College has clearly no jurisdiction over the administration of the College. We don’t know the intention behind this but never in the history of the college has any non-academic person from outside the faculty of the College been a member of the interview panel.”
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The teachers have alleged that the decision was “in violation of the powers of both the Governing Body as well as the Staff Council”. In their press statement they said, “There is a clear conflict of interest in the Principal bringing in another member of the Supreme Council into the interview panel for admissions, as it is the Supreme Council that selects the Principal, and will also take a decision about the renewal of his appointment for another term of five years.”
The development has also been unsettling for the students of the college who see this decision as “unprecedented” and fear that it might pave the way for “backdoor entries” and “corruption”.
A student wishing anonymity said, “The decision is a brazen violation of the constitution of the sacrosanct institution. Bringing a non-academic person in the interview process certainly means they have sinister designs of opening the floodgates of backdoor admissions in our college. This decision has put our integrity at stake ad I fear if not revoked, we will never be able to say with pride that we are the students of the best college in the country.
The student added, “The Principal’s term is also getting over in a few months and maybe he is acting this way with an eye on his extension. The members of the Supreme Council by saying that the College is their property have gone way too far. It isn’t and let them note it. The college is ours. The reason why I want you to keep my anonymity is because in the past during movements like Pinjra tod etc, when students opposed curfews or any other decision of the administration, they were thrown out of the college. They want to crush dissent and you can’t oppose the Principal. He behaves like Hitler.”
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