Teachers, perpetrate not this atrocity

Young people should know that it is incompatible with human dignity to be used as tools by others

By Valson Thampu

Teachers can do no worse than abusing the sacred trust in which young scholars are committed to their charge. Traditionally student-teacher relationship, like patient-doctor relationship, has been held to be sacred. High ethical standards have been enjoined especially on teachers.

Students are in a position of extreme vulnerability in relation to teachers. For one thing, tradition and the system invest teachers with almost unlimited authority. A teacher is king in a classroom.

For another, students are very impressionable. They trust teachers with their eyes closed, given the special relationship that exists ready-made between them, which is, as both parties forget, entirely due to the institution.

Student-teacher relationship is one of inequality. Teachers are in a position to dictate. If is immensely difficult for a student to go against the promptings of a teacher as they have to be together in the learning space day after day. Students, on the whole, prefer to avoid unpleasantness in the classroom.

Above everything else, teachers are in a vantage position to manipulate student sentiments by injecting a bit of misguided heroism into them.

Be that as it may, it has been extremely rare that students of St. Stephen’s College militated against the interests of the college. Not that it has not happened in the past, as I point out in my forthcoming memoirs. In each case the students pitted themselves against the college, they did so only as instigated by the teachers.

A spell of student disaffection to the college is currently brewing in St. Stephen’s. They have been coopted by certain activist teachers to toe the latter’s line.

Going by past experience, many of them could be brainwashed into believing that defiance of the governance of the institution is “free thinking.” It is also a familiar pattern that teachers decoy students into the spurious grievance that their ‘entitlements’ and ‘fundamental rights’ have been short-changed by the administration.

It is easy to misrepresent anything and everything as a student entitlement. That includes deciding how the institution should be governed and if it should do well or ill.

The college going autonomous is the current raging grievance. Reportedly the governing body of the college has taken a decision, by majority vote, to avail a legitimate opportunity the Government has, for good reasons, opened up to all eligible institutions. The status of autonomy is, thus, a distinction, not an infamy!

St. Stephen’s is not the only institution that is looking in this direction. For aught one can see, the students of no other college have the sort and extent of grievance that students of St. Stephen’s have been made to embrace. My 45 years of experience in the institution makes me avow that students of St. Stephen’s are, by nature and inclination, more loyal to the institution, if left to themselves, than the students of other institutions are to their Alma Mater.

It is important that students know what they have been misled into. Here is a small insight. St. Stephen’s is a minority educational institution within the ambit of Article 30(1). The Constitution of India confers on the college the right to be an institution “of its choice.”

The choice in this context is to be exercised by the management, which functions on behalf of the minority community. It is the management, not the principal by himself, that has taken the decision to go autonomous.

By defying this decision of the Governing Body of the college, under instigation by certain teachers, the students commit two gross and indefensible irresponsibilities.

1. They militate against the Constitution of India. As per the Constitution, the management has the right to decide what form and style of institution it chooses to run, provided it is exercised within the architecture of applicable regulations. This choice, in respect of minority educational institutions, is situated firmly and exclusively in the jurisdiction of the management. Neither the teachers, nor the students nor the karmacharis can claim or exercise any veto power in this respect. If the students have been persuaded to the contrary, they are grossly misguided. It is good for them to recognize the error and to mend their ways. Persisting with mistakes is not heroism but obstinacy.

2. They militate against the spirit of democracy. The contested decision was duly considered by the Governing Body and it was passed by majority vote. In a democracy it has to be deemed legitimate and above board. It is wrong and perverse on the part of teacher representatives –four out of eighteen members on the GB- to presume that things should happen only as they dictate, even if the majority opinion is contrary to their whims. Students must realize that they have been conned into believing, de facto, that “might is right.”

It is perverse on the part of teachers to lead their students into such anarchic and uneducated posturing. If the teachers think that they have a case, they should have the moral fiber to fight it out, without using students and karmacharis as crutches. It bespeaks of moral cowardice to want to fire from the shoulders of others.

The teachers of St. Stephen’s college, I have to say with a sad and heavy heart, are cutting a sorry figure. They haven’t articulated the ratio of their defiance of the Governing Body. What is their grievance? Let us say that the grievance is the financial implication. Consequent to autonomy, the financial burden on students could increase in respect of all new courses introduced. Let us consider this as an illustrative case.

What manner of teachers are these who do not know that this consequence is not within the choice of the college. It is the State policy. It is not as though St. Stephen’s is embracing autonomy to exclude students from the poorer sections of society. It is not the college but the State that counterpoints social justice with autonomy. Teachers say not a word about it!

What would be a mature and responsible approach on the part of the teachers to this aspect?

The fee structure could be formulated taking into consideration the need to offer free education to, say, 25 percent of the students.

During my tenure the issue of supporting students from economically backward sections of the society was discussed on many occasions. Once a decision was made by the Staff Council that faculty members should donate a small part of their monthly salary for this purpose. Not a single teacher did it.

Not only that. When I created a fund out of my personal income, these very faculty members clamored for the right to decide who should get it and who should not. So much for the passion for social justice!

This is the barely hidden reality. I would urge the students to find out how many of the faculty members, who today incite them against the college on specious pretexts, have a track-record of putting their money where their mouths are. Who has suffered the loss of a rupee for the sake of social justice. It is bad for young men and women to be led by the nose by people who are too calloused to feel the prick of conscience.

Young people should know that it is incompatible with human dignity to be used as tools by others, especially by teachers. Those who use students under their charge as tools are not teachers, but wolves in sheep’s clothing.

It’s prudent to learn to treat people on their merit.

I would fervently appeal to the teachers of St. Stephen’s not to perpetrate this atrocity on students. Pretend not to know that students are being corrupted by being used and abused in this fashion. Training young minds in the anarchy of unprincipled defiance –defiance even of the Constitution of India- is not education. It is perverse wickedness.

(Valson Thampu is the former principal of St Stephen’s College.)

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