by Shujoy Dutta
You have to appreciate Reverend Valson Thampu. He is truly the Lindsay Lohan of the academic world. Somehow every few months he manages to make the headlines. First he took on the Church of North India on who gets to choose the Principal of St. Stephen’s college, then he had a spat with the so called Alumni association and just recently he detained Unmukt Chand from appearing in his exams due to a lack of attendance. We must give it to the Reverend. In each case, it has been a battle of principle. Like some fabulous bureaucratic manifestation of a primal spiritual urge.
Let us for a second discount the possibility that this is a covert ploy to get autonomy for St. Stephen’s from the pachydermic Delhi University. I‘ll leave that for the conspiracy theorists in Delhi 7. Let us instead consider the story as we know it.
Unmukt Chand, the new darling of Indian cricket wanted to sit for the college examinations but was detained by St. Stephen’s for lack of attendance. Before this could become the stuff of National Drama, the Vice-Chancellor played spoil-sport and promoted him to second year declaring his case – the rarest of rare. It’s taken the fizz out of what could have been a great debate and guaranteed channels tonnes of TRPs, and helped patch some truce between Nielsen and NDTV. But alas, common sense prevailed.
Just two days ago a part of me was saying, serves you right Unmukt. For believing that you could hang out with Dhoni & Kohli and then a few days later sit in the college café, make eyes at the girls in BA English and then saunter across Allnutt Court, sit for your exams, and no doubt use words like ‘recalcitrant’ and others that you record every day in your diary. And then go on to make megabucks at the IPL. Serves you right for believing that you could have it all in India. You should be happy you haven’t been sucked into an academia versus sports debate and a story on which academically inclined kid’s seat you’ve taken. But you lucked out. Kapil Sibal and Ajay Maken have ensured that you make it to second year. Well played.
But let’s keep the debate going. What happens when someone captains the runners-up team and doesn’t score a century in the finals? Remember Jaspal Rana? He won multiple medals at the Asiad and Commonwealth Games but had to shift mid-year to Sri Aurobindo College as Stephen’s wouldn’t let him sit his exams. Sandeep Sejwal faced a similar predicament. What will the good Reverend do when India’s handball captain comes back from the Olympics empty handed and wants to sit for his exam but has less than the mandatory 33.33% attendance as required by Sports Quota candidates?
To guess his stand you only have to read some of his quotes.
"Rules have to be applied. This isn't the answer to promote sports culture. It's a question of working within the system.”
"Laws are not written in stone; must respond to emerging situation. One important aspect of education in India must be abiding by the law; we must become a law abiding nation."
"We have many examples in the college where outstanding sportspeople have 85% attendance. Spurious culture is emerging where it is believed if you are good in sports, it is OK to neglect to studies. Principals must be given discretionary powers to help such candidates; that doesn't exist at this point in time."
And the legendarily metaphysical “"There is no way he can be promoted. The rules don't permit that. We've not detained him. Unmukt detained himself."
I’m guessing that unless there is significant pressure the handball captain will be disallowed from entering the examination hall.
So here’s the deal. Should a sportsperson who has spent months upon months in bonafide training to get into internationally competitive shape be allowed to take an exam for a collegiate degree? After all what is the big deal about a college degree – it’s only part of the great Indian white-collar job filtration process. It’s not like a whole lot of the college students care about what they’re studying. They just need the degree to get to the next level.
Or should we dream up another system – as respectable as some of our premier colleges that allow sportspeople of middling or exceptional ability to reintegrate into the job market when they’re done with their sports?
And what about the guy who just wants a regular life like his other mates, do the things they do, hang out in the places they do, even study some of the things they do when s/he’s not battling it out in some competitive arena?
Should we just say, “Tough! Rules are rules kid, you’ve detained yourself, you’ve made other choices.”
Why does invoking the written rule create such a greater sense of duty or righteousness? And the reflex argument that making an exception is like opening the floodgates of lawlessness? It’s almost religious in its structure: that if you haven’t walked the line of the devout, and said your two thousand “Present sirs”, you can’t enter the Promised Kingdom of the Exam Hall. Or is this just the case with Dr. Valson Thampu? Are other elite college principals more accommodating? Am I being unfair –was he just acting by the book?
Many leading academic Institutions the world over are examining their biases. In creating an artificial academic inflation of cut-offs, in celebrating Science over Fine Arts & Theatre and promoting hard-nosed academia over vocational courses. As a society we need to start doing the same now, if we want to achieve more than write code in C++.
I read recently in a study that one of the reasons why good people do evil is because they remove themselves from accountability, blaming the system for their actions instead. Dr. Thampu I hope, you’re taking notes.
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