The governing body of Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College accorded sweeping powers on Tuesday to the church and principal Valson Thampu over the prestigious institution, cutting back on student and teacher participation in a move that may snap its affiliation with Delhi University.
A slew of amendments to the 102-year-old constitution would allow the principal to take disciplinary action against students or staff irrespective of the governing body’s opinion, triggering a barrage of condemnation from teachers and former students, who accused Thampu of assuming dictatorial powers.
The governing body -- which controlled the institution -- will be rendered toothless as the college’s supreme council – that is dominated by members of the Church of North India and has no teacher representation – will have the final say in matters of student admissions and faculty appointment.
The proposed amendments also reduce the representation of teachers to two from the already existing four.
“At a meeting of the governing body convened at 10 am on Monday, the 30th of November, 2015 in the staff room of the college, the proposed amendments to the constitution of the college were considered in elaborate detail from every possible angle of consideration. The longest-ever meeting of the governing body lasted nearly eight hours,” Thampu said in a Facebook post. He is due to retire in February.
Thampu added the governing body also considered a variety of regulatory and empowering provisions and frameworks but it wasn’t clear if all of the proposed amendments were approved.
“The governing body found several of their observations valuable and the final outcome is richer on that count. The GB expresses its gratitude to the teachers concerned for taking this trouble,” the principal said in the post.
“The second special session of the governing body will be held three months from now,” he added.
As per the constitution, any amendment can be approved by conducting two meetings of GB within a period of three months.
This is the first amendment to the constitution of the college in nearly four decades and has surprised many DU officials, who said the college may lose its affiliation.
Set up in 1881, St Stephen’s is ranked among India’s best institutions but has been embroiled in an avalanche of controversies in recent months, many of which have been centred around Thampu, sparking calls from alumni and teachers for his resignation.
The principal has been at the centre of a storm since a student dragged him to court in April after being suspended for publishing an interview. The case triggered charges that Thampu was trying to muzzle freedom of expression in the college that has historically been known for a culture of debate and dissent.
In June, an FIR by a former PhD student at the college revealed a sordid case of sexual harassment by a member of the faculty that Thampu allegedly tried to hush up by intimidating the woman, igniting a torrent of criticism against him amid mounting calls for his dismissal.
The Supreme Court rapped the college authorities in July for what it called an unfair internal inquiry against a professor for allegedly making “defamatory remarks” against Thampu. The remarks were in connection with his handling of a 2010 sexual harassment complaint against the college librarian.