A fresh controversy has erupted as the teachers of the St. Stephens college have alleged that the increasing interference of the Church authorities in the college’s affairs may compromise the academic integrity of the admissions process.
The college had announced on Monday that its panel to interview students for undergraduate admissions this year will, for the first time, also include one member of the college’s Supreme Council, which comprises members of the Church of North India (CNI) and others nominated by it.
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Three teachers on the governing body of the college- Nandita Narain of the department of mathematics, NP Ashley (English) and Abhishek Singh (economics) have issued a statement condemning the shockingly illegal and unacademic decision taken by the principal John Varghese. As per teachers the decision to include one of the members of the Supreme Council was unilaterally taken by the principal without consulting with the teachers.
The teachers have argued that such a move is against the constitution of St. Stephens and in contravention to the Supreme Court verdict of 1992 in which it stated that the interview in the admission process can only be taken by academic individuals and not by non-academic individuals.
Brazening out the decision taken by the principal, Bishop Warris K Masih of CNI, who is also a member of the Council and the Governing Body(GB), said, “It doesn’t matter if it’s happening for the first time. The college belongs to us and the teacher representatives have no right to object.”
In the meeting that happened on March 14 this year, the Governing Body had taken a decision that CNI applicants go up from 22.5% to 25% of the total 50% seats reserved for Christians and that each department will have an entrance test for admissions. However, the dissenting teachers have denied having any discussions on these matters in the Governing Body meet.
Denying the allegations made by teachers, the principal has now issued a warning letter stating that what has been portrayed as a unilateral decision by the principal was taken by the Supreme Council which is the sole power to decide on the admission policy of St. Stephans, which is a Christian minority college. The letter further states that the said guidelines were duly reported in the Governing Body meeting in the presence of the teacher’s representatives.
In the letter issued to the teachers, the principal rubbished the allegations made by teachers saying they were “concoctions, factually and legally incorrect”. “It is against the code of professional ethics and ethos of this institute. You may take this letter as formal warning written to you and you are advised not to repeat such irresponsible and unbecoming behaviour failing which the college will be forced to take appropriate action against you,” the letter said.
The teachers have said that they will not back down from their demand. Claiming that the future and the integrity of the college is at stake, they said they will not relent. The teachers have maintained that the issue was not brought in the Governing Body meeting and hence it is a unilateral decision and not a consensus-based one.
However, this is not the first time that the college administration is foisting increasing interference from Church in the daily affairs of the college. In the past, the erstwhile principal Valson Thampu had moved an amendment proposal in 2015 in an attempt to seek augmented powers for the Supreme Council in the college’s admissions process and faculty appointment. The proposal, however, could not be implemented following a petition by 21 teachers in the Delhi HC.