Against Academic Integrity: Stephen’s Profs on Church Involvement

Decision to involve the Church in the admission process at St Stephen’s College led to the protest.

3 min read

The recent decision to involve the Church of North India (CNI) in the admission process at St Stephen's College has led its teachers to vehemently lodge their protest.

College principal John Varghese purportedly announced at a staff council meeting on Monday, 13 May, that the interview panel for selection of students for admission would include a member of the Supreme Council, which includes six members of the CNI.

Teachers, who are members of the college's governing body (GB), in a statement, condemned the "illegal and unacademic decision taken by the Principal", saying it is in "violation of the College Constitution" and could "compromise the academic integrity of our admissions process."


Speaking to The Quint, Professor Ashley NP, one of the teacher representatives of the Governing Body (GB) who signed the statement, said:

“As for fixing the admission policy with regard to the Christian character of the college, it is the Supreme Council’s prerogative. So we completely go with that. But when it comes to regular administration, the college constitution clearly says that the Supreme Council has no role.”
Professor Ashley NP to The Quint

Concurring that such a move would run completely contrary to what is enshrined in the college constitution, Professor Nandita Narain, another signatory of the teachers' statement, said, "It would also be against the academic integrity of the interview process. Floodgates could open because of something like this where extraneous influences could come into a process, which is very sacrosanct to us. It is what really has kept the standards in our college alive."

‘Not a Private Shop’

Interestingly, responding to the matter, Supreme Council and GB member Bishop Warris K Masih had on Monday told The Indian Express, "It doesn't matter if it's never happened before. The college belongs to us. The teacher representatives have no right to object."

When questioned about the mandate of the college constitution, Masih, once again, told the daily that it "doesn't matter", adding that "these things" have been approved in the Governing Body. He further indicated that the rationale behind the decision was "concern about the 50 percent Christian students."

The remarks attracted condemnation, with Nandita Narain saying:

“The chairperson should be a little careful about what he says. But to say that the college belongs to them is taking it too far. This is not a private shop that it belongs to anyone. Plus, we should understand that we are a public-funded institution and governed by the law of the land and rules of the university.”
Professor Nandita Narain to The Quint

Another GB member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, opined, "There’s huge arrogance in this (statement of the Bishop). The college is largely funded by the government – 95 percent comes from the government and only 5 percent is contributed by the GB. How can the college belong to them? They are taking it as their own private property and we object to that.”


Principal Issues ‘Warning’ Letter

Later on Tuesday, Principal of St Stephen's College John Varghese issued a letter of 'formal warning' to Professor Narain, referring to the press release issued by the teachers. The letter termed the content of the release as "false and irresponsible" and “against the code of professional ethics and ethos of this institution”.

“I wish to bring to your notice that what you falsely claimed as the decision of the Principal is, in fact, the decision of the Supreme Council, which has the sole power to decide on the admission policy as the College is a Christian minority institution. Moreover, the said guidelines were duly reported in the Governing Body held on 14 March 2019 in the presence of the teachers’ representatives.”
John Varghese’s warning letter

Narain, in response, labelled the warning as an "act of intimidation to keep us quiet".

"He says that we have misrepresented the decision of the Governing Body. That the Governing Body had actually decided that the Supreme Council member will sit in the interview process. All three of us (who wrote the statement against the Church involvement) are 100 percent sure that that did not happen. And (even) if the Governing Body had decided it, the body has no right to take a decision against the Constitution of the college," she said.

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