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   January29, 2011

St Stephen’s of Tomorrow

K Natwar Singh

 Alas ! The future can’t be postponed. Hence it is necessary to plan the future of St. Stephen’s College. This great alma mater of ours cannot exist in isolation. The era of sheltered existence is over. We can prepare no master plan for life for life is a journey without maps. We can, and should come out with a well thought through future frame work for the college. The college faces a crisis of confidence. The invisible wings of angels might, from time to time flutter over us, but so often the green lights turn red.

I place myself among the non-prophets. Nevertheless I accept the inevitability of change. Here there is a problem. Change means progress, but progress is not inherent in history. This is a dilemma with philosophical ramification and need not detain us. We are required to be practical and realistic. Yet can we ignore to look for an inspiring vision. St. Stephen’s college needs not re-invention. It needs innovation, renovation and new awakening. In other words divine regeneration.

I am unable to look beyond 2021, i.e a decade from now. Certainly  the computer, the fax machine, the email, the internet, the web, the twitter, the face book will edge out the humanities or make them second class academic pursuits. Knowledge, will increase. The sunami of information will pour out, unstoppable. Missing will be wisdom.

At the convocation of Delhi University in 1923, the then Viceroy, Lord Reading said, “We shall welcome knowledge with open arms when she comes to our portals- but let us not make mistake of forgetting her bashful sister wisdom.”

How much past baggage should the college continue to carry? From time to time a depressing thought gets hold of me- are we, the elderly Stephanians not victims of nostalgic hypochondria? For more than a century the superiority of the college was unchallenged. No loner so. The lights of St. Stephen’s have lost their glow. The spark is missing. Without descending into pedantic punditry, I shall very briefly put down my priorities for the college for the next decade. 

1.   Reservations and academic excellence pose a problem which the college must face. Academic Mandalisation is a frightful thought. The minority character of the College need not be sacrificed, but it should not be over-emphasized.

2.   The number of courses the college offers is far too small. This needs to be increased.  How is this to be done if the college is short of funds? Many ex-students of the college fortunately are well to do, even wealthy. They should be invited to make generous endowments. These will be gratefully acknowledged by naming, a class room, residential block, dispensary, tennis and squash courts etc named after the donar. This list can be expanded.

3.   What should be the cut off point for the students that the college should admit so that the intimacy factor does not suffer? When numbers increase excellence suffers.

4.   Any idea of converting the college into a university ought to be abandoned.

5.   Expansion of college facilities, academic or sporting need not be confined to the 25 acres of the main complex. Grounds near Kashmiri gate could be utilized.

6.   During vacations- winter and summer the college could offer conference facilities. Seminars are a growth industry which the college should tap.

7.   Constitute an yearly Alnutt Memorial Lecture. The speaker should be an outstanding and well known individual. His return first class air fare to be paid by the college. The lecture should coincide with Founder’s Dairy.

 What will be the zeitgeist- the spirit- of India 2021. St Stephen’s inevitably will be influenced by it. Prosperity there will be, but not a pot of gold at the end of the rain bow. Man does not live but bread alone, is today considered an out of date, fuzzy dictum. Why, because over-valuation of the economic criterion has brushed aside so much of real value- Gyan, sheel, guna, tap, dharma, karuna.

Let me end this feeble effort on a sentimental note. My years at St. Stephen’s were happy. How does one define this Stephanian happiness. To me it is a degree of achievement- an achievement of significance, an inner achievement and deep rapport with a small world, in an atmosphere of comrade vie, a consciousness of purpose which gave meaning and value to our lives, in other words the light of St. Stephen’s. May this light be never dimmed.

  (Singh, an alumnus, is a former external affairs minister.)

 

Excellence Has No Substitute

Ved Marwah

 In the end, it is excellence that matters; belonging to one college or the other doesn’t. So, if St Stephen’s has to retain any impact on national life, the college has to think hard about how it can regain its reputation for excellence. This includes a concerted initiative of involving the alumni on various outstanding issues and I am glad that the college has started this process. I have no doubt the alumni will respond in ample measure.

(Ved Marwah is president of the St Stephen’s alumni association. He is a retired IPS officer and served as commissioner of police, Delhi and D-G, NSG, and later served as governor in three states. Email: vedmarwah@gmail.com).

 

Envisaging St Stephen’s 2025-50

 

B. G. Verghese

St Stephen’s College was founded 131 years ago to give a fillip to modern, liberal learning among all classes and communities in India. It has since become one of the foremost colleges in India, turning out men and, latterly, women imbued with values, ideals and traditions that have bound all those who have passed through its portals. Many have played important roles in the life of the country.

The college’s core values, described in its founding charter as reflecting the Christian character of the college, are no different from those enshrined in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. These are “to secure to all its citizens Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression and belief; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation”. The sense of service, compassion and brotherhood embodied in these inspiring words have been the hallmark of the College through the past decades.

Starting out in Chandni Chowk with four students in a garret, then moving to Kashmere Gate and finally to its present campus, the College witnessed three stages of growth. It first consolidated its foundations. It next prepared for independence in the aura of Gandhi and C.F Andrews (though steering clear of active involvement in the freedom struggle), finally going on in the more recent post-Independence period to produce the men and women needed to realise the Idea of India as a plural, inclusive, liberal-democratic society.

Today, as it surges ahead as an emerging power, the country stands poised to enter a new era. It has yet to fulfill Gandhiji’s message that true freedom will come when we are able to wipe the tear from every eye, ensuring equal citizenship and equal opportunity for all. This will require imbibing new skills and convergent learning in a highly competitive world while striving to Be More rather than just Have More.

Though known for excellence, neither St Stephen’s nor any of its peers in India,, ranks in global listings of outstanding institutions. This is because of its narrow academic base - offering only nine disciplines- and limited laboratory and related infrastructural facilities. Its membership of Delhi University has been both a strength and a weakness, for it lacks the autonomy to experiment and strike out on its own.

The National Knowledge Commission has posited an exponential growth in higher education in India to create the knowledge base that will sustain the high growth required to eliminate stark poverty by 2020 and attain world standards in key branches of learning. The government has adopted this goal and is prepared to fund existing institutions as much as new ones to attain both the quantitative and, more importantly, the qualitative goals envisaged.  

The purpose of the draft St Stephen’s College Vision 2011 through 2025 to 2050 being unveiled on its 131st Foundation Day is to see where and how the College might position itself to lead the way in this great endeavour. Past traditions by themselves cannot build the future. Nostalgia has to translate into new aspirations with the wherewithal in terms of new courses, additional faculty, administrative structures, vastly superior academic, laboratory, library, hostel and other relevant campus facilities and arguably more space, with added numbers to create a critical mass for more advanced and varied learning. The alumnus and other friends of St Stephen’s College, scattered throughout the country and in distant lands, are willing to assist with ideas and funds but need a carefully structured vision, broken down into discretely phased projects to fire their imagination.

Implementing the vision document will require significantly large funding. The government may be expected to make its contribution but the alumni will, as elsewhere, have to be the mainstay both for programme funding as well as to build up a solid corpus. The fee structure will need upward revision. However, if pricing up education is not to price out St Stephen’s beyond the reach of the kind of scholars we would like to attract from  less affluent homes, provision will need to be made to endow more stipends and scholarships as well as prestigious chairs in different disciplines.  

The college chairman, principal and others who have initiated this effort envisage a democratic and transparent process that will result in a viable plan of action leading, hopefully, to St Stephen’s College becoming an autonomous institution if not a deemed university. This programme could appropriately be implemented by a manager supervised by a distinguished Vision 2025-50 council of trustees tasked to carry it forward in close liaison with the College authorities.

The future beckons. Stephanians, old and new, must steel themselves to the task.

(Verghese, a former editor, chairs the focus group on academic courses for St Stephen’s 2050. He was in the college from 1944 to 1946. The report is available at
 http://ststephens.edu/Vision2050.htm. Email:bgverghese@gmail.com)

 

 Master Planning for 2050

Amitabh Kant

Visioning is a challenging exercise. But executing that vision will be a far greater one.

Alumni all over the world are looking forward to contributing in this grand enterprise of rebuilding one of the great institutions of our country. Indeed, we have gained a lot from our college and now is the time to give back.

That said, innovation in our approach and our ability to anticipate societal expectations from courses and curriculum of the college will be of paramount importance. I am sure this exercise assume relevance to other great institutions in our country and their alumni.

(Kant, an alumni, is a career civil servant and associated with success stories in tourism and brand building. He authored “Branding India-An Incredible Story,” and is presently MD & CEO, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation Ltd.. Email:amitabhk87@gmail.com)

 

Your School and Stephen's 2050

Rohit Bansal

 

St.Stephen's College is arguably a bell weather on the state of traditional undergraduate education in India. The college has invited an organizing committee of alumni to help out with a vision for 2050. This team includes, among others, former governor Ved Marwah, chief election commissioner SY Qureshi, Delhi University Vice Chancellor Dinesh Singh, civil servants Amitabh Kant and Prajapati Trivedia, and journalist BG Verghese, besides Principal Valson Thampu and Dean-Academic SV Eswaran. Some of these eminent citizens have written for this special debate very kindly hosted by “Governance Now.”

 We are sure that the template under works interests the worthy alumni of all great undergrad colleges whose legacies are under siege.  

The college (spelt with a capital `C' in internal literature and unduly comfortable talking about its past) has the writing on the wall. The network thrives, but the old tie is frayed. The list of alumni with profound impact on national life may not last beyond the next 10 years. Most movers and shakers are already in their 50s and even 60s and 70s. Bench strength is suspect. The IITs have stolen the march by miles. Rather than read history, literature or philosophy at Stephen's, the best non-techies now flock to SRCC for commerce, or Xavier's, Loyola, Presidency, and the National Law School University.

 Economics and the science courses salvage some pride for St.Stephen's, but insistence on leaving 50 per cent seats for Christians has impacted both results and brand image.

 Not surprisingly, Global Inc., has been quick to desert the college. After a drought, two students this academic year got picked up by McKinsey. Two got Deutsche Bank (reported salary: Rs 40 lakh!). There wasn't much to rejoice: One student was common to both lists; all three were from economics.

 The sub-group under journalist BG Verghese has tried to draw the academic landscape of the college in 2050 (www.ststephens.edu). Should St.Stephen's focus on economics and create a centre of excellence around that catchment? Concurrently, what new courses would society and Global Inc. might want? Where would the University Grants Commission and the University of Delhi kick in?

 The Varghese recommendations is coordinating with another group responsible for the "master plan: 2050." They comprise policy wonks, an architecture firm, and folks like Amitabh Kant from the IAS, who presently handles project-management challenges at the scale of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. The groups are mandated to align academic requirements and physical infrastructure.

 Another team is tasked to propose the ethical architecture that right sizes the distance between the administration and alumni funds.

 Key alumni are donating time to organize February 1, 2011, as the day to start raising these issues before a larger audience. That day they will debate the master plan and in collaboration with “Governance Now,” use social media so that global endowments get interested.

 The big questions remain. Can more time be lost before the college's 28-acre campus is left to serve just 1,200 students? Should this number go up, and if so, how could this be done without pock marking the famous red-brick heritage building! Even if this is possible, is there faculty that's willing to bear the burden of new pedagogy? Also, what happens when existing faculty is asked to produce research that the market is willing to fund?

 Conversely, rather than mess up what some may say ain't broke, is itbetter that the present 30% of the FAR permissible under the relevant regulations was left untouched?

 "In an age, unprecedented in the sweep and scope of the changes it is spawning, responsiveness to stimuli is a sign of health and the secret of growth: St.Stephen's cannot be a stagnant stone amidst a flowing stream. Nor should it be a piece of deadwood drifting downstream," Revd. Thampu, the principal, has posed.

 The easy bit was to have an organizing committee. Next came the canvass. Then the sub-groups, crawling with talent. The next bit is about stamina, and retaining "visionaries who aren't maintenance people."

 (Bansal, an alumni of the college, serves on the above-stated organizing committee and is honorary executive editor of “St Stephen’s Who’s Who.” He is CEO and Co-Founder, India Strategy Group, Hammurabi &

Solomon Consulting. Email: rohitbansal@post.harvard.edu)

 

 

The antiquity of the Science Block

 

S V Eswaran

 During the last founder’s day service, names of those who served St Stephen’s College in different capacities and have gone on to higher life were read out. These included names like Samuel Joseph Martyn, lecturer in physics, 1891-1906, Khub Ram, old student, later Reader in physics, 1900-22, Dalip Kumar Roy, lecturer in chemistry, 1913-14, Charles Jenkin, lecturer in physics 1913-15 and Jitendra Nath Mitra, lecturer in chemistry, 1914-43, establishing clearly that there was a certain degree of representation of natural sciences in the college even in its early days.. In 1959, Dr. Sant Ram Anand, after retiring from the physics department, Delhi University, took over as Head of both the physics and chemistry departments in St Stephen’s. In 1960, Mr G. S. Bhatia and the late Dr. C. J. Raphael joined the college and after the retirement of Dr. Sant Ram Anand, the two of them took over as Heads of the departments of physics and chemistry, respectively. The old science block was built by the great architect Walter George, who was by then in very poor health and could barely see.

Prof S. K. Chaterji (Chemistry) served St Stephen’s briefly but soon moved over to the University department. Though they did not teach in college but both Prof. D. S. Kothari (the eminent physicist) and Prof. B. D. Jain (chemistry) were for long formally ‘attached’ to the college.. Soon after, Dr. N. K. Bajaj, the late Dr. M. S. Bhatnagar, Dr. R. N. Maini, the late Dr. Mohan Katyal, Mr. M. M. Bhardwaj and Dr. S. K. Vig joined the two departments. Dr. Tara Chand who later served as the Dean of Residence (for a record number of 10 years), Dr. C. N. Krishnan and the author also joined the faculty in 1968. The late Dr K. Swaminathan joined the college in 1969.

 Further recruitments to the faculty occurred when the honours courses in physics and chemistry were transferred to the colleges In 1970, the late Dr. D. P. Goel, Prof. V. S. Parmar  (later Head, Chemistry Department, Delhi University), the late Dr. M. C. Jain and Dr V. S. Chauhan (later Director, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology), joined the chemistry department. The physics department was reinforced by the appointment of Dr. R.K. Garg, Dr. D. L. Katyal, Dr S. K. Muthu (physics), the late Prof. Habib Kidwai, the late Dr. S. C. Bhargava (who won successive elections to the Academic Council of Delhi University) and the late Dr. Rajendra Popli (named after him, the Popli Memorial lectures have brought many eminent speakers to the college).  

E. C.G. Sudarshan, the famous physicist is said to have often enquired from Indian physicists attending international conferences “When did you do physics in Delhi?”(on the presumption that only if one had done physics in Delhi if one had made one’s mark internationally). Between 1970 and 1980’s the question got slightly modified and could very well have been: “When did you do physics at St. Stephen’s?”

Many students from the science block, both in chemistry and physics, have excelled in life. The leading science student from college is Dr Nitya Anand who studied in 1943-45 and later worked at Cambridge. He was the Director of the Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow and served as Advisor to Ranbaxy. He discovered Centchroman, contraceptive better known as ‘Saheli’. In his mid eighties, he is proud of his association with college. Prof A. C. Jain (Chemistry, Delhi University, Bhatnagar awardee), Prof N. Panchapakesan (resigned from I. A. S. and taught physics at Delhi University), Prof. R. Rajaraman (Delhi University and J. N. U, worked with the Nobel laureate, Hans Bethe) are all old students of the college. At that time, only B. Sc (Gen) courses were taught in college and the students were at times even seen carrying their apparatus to the university laboratories for the practical examinations. Only the old science block existed at that time. A very large number of the former students of our college are occupying major academic positions both in India and abroad especially in USA.  e g. Utpal Banerji (chemistry, now a famous geneticist at UCLA), Abhijit Saha (a well established physicist), Rajarshi Roy (physicist, University of Rochester) Ananya Majumdar (Director, Biophysical NMR, Johns Hopkins), Ms Charusita Chakravarthy (chemistry, IIT, Delhi, winner of the prestigious Bhatnagar award), Ms. Ipsita Roy ( Universisty of Birmingham), Bala Sundaram ( physics, chair, U Mass, Bostan), Krishna Kumar (Chair, Chemistry, Tufts University, Boston), Pushpito Kr.Ghosh (Director, Central Salt and Marine Research institute, CSIR, Gujarat, Bhismadev Chakravarthy  (University of Reading), Prof Shobhit Mahajan (physics, Delhi University), Dr Daksh Lohia (physics, who worked with Stephen Hawking) and Rajeev Shorey (President, NIIT University, Neemrana) to name just a few.

In the mid sixties, Dr John Haysham from Cambridge spent three years in the chemistry department of the college. He started an Association of Chemistry Teachers whose members met in college annually and had lunch or dinner together. He was instrumental in introducing semi-micro qualitative analysis, even designing the apparatus required for it. All other colleges of Delhi University teaching chemistry followed suit and the college served as a trend setter. Dr David Gosling from Cambridge followed Dr Haysham and taught physics in college for three years into the early seventies. His articles on Atomic Energy often appeared in national dailies. Later on, he returned to teach environmental chemistry and encouraged many students to join Cambridge for higher studies. The concept of Visiting Professors would, thus, not be new to the science block. ‘India Study Group’ from the University of Groeningin, The Netherlands and the ‘Biotechnology Study Tour’ from the Technical University, Delft, The Netherlands visited the college in 1990-91 and even held joint seminars.

The then tennis courts gave way to the ‘New Science Block’ which was blessed by the Bishop in 1973 and since then has been thus referred to. The science blocks remained largely an unknown/uncharted/undiscovered part of the college and the “Sciencees” or the ‘science types’ were often mocked at thus. In a recent issue of The Stephanian, Dr. Rohit Wanchoo, the editor indicated that the science students now were more visible in college life than students of the arts block. What with the gentler sex outnumbering their male counterparts in the science block, many young men found it attractive to locate the science block or its inhabitants showing preference over the back gates of Miranda House! Thus the new phrase “Artsies” was born.

 ‘Survival rates’ in sciences are higher than 50%, which is phenomenal considering that the funding was always very meagre. No improvement in infrastructure was ever undertaken. It is only the generosity of the outgoing Vice Chancellor, Dr. Deepak Pental and Prof. Dinesh Singh, an old student (who has since taken over as the new Vice Chancellor), that the college has received Rs. 2.5 Crores for improvement of the science block. Apart from the much needed repair of the flooring, etc. the chemistry laboratories are poised to become modular. 

This year ‘India Today’ rated the science courses in the college as number 1 in the country. This is duly recognized and acknowledged by Prof. C. N. R. Rao, Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister and founder, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore (“Ram Seshadri is the best student I’ve received in my life, send more like him from St. Stephen’s”) and is echoed in the I. I. Sc circles. In recent years, science students have received the prestigious Rhodes scholarship. Many have been selected for the Kishore Vaigyanik  Protsahan Yojana  (KVPY) fellowship  and the Project Oriented Chemical Education (POCE) award. The work of a student, Amritanshu Sinha, who passed out in 1999 figured in the Nobel lecture by his Professor from M. I. T. in December 2005. This is unheard of (and without a parallel) in the annals of science education in India.

During the last four decades, many new areas of science have developed like biotechnology, nanotechnology, materials science and Omic studies. Just like college has studiously stayed away from introducing commerce, we have never ventured into biology. Should it not be asked whether these have happened accidentally or a certain invisible philosophy has guided us? So far as commerce is concerned; it is easy to understand that ours is a missionary college with emphasis on higher values of life and spirituality, where commerce took a lower ranking. However, the question regarding biology needs a closer look. In the opinion of the author, subjects like microbiology, biotechnology and even for that matter nanotechnology, so many highly funded laboratories and centres (e. g. the IISER’s) have sprung up all over the country and even in the University and its colleges that our college will find it difficult to catch up.

The revised B. Sc (programme has a mandatory biology course added which is a departure from the traditional B. Sc (general) course This has led to a lot of difficulty for students who left biology in 10th standard. The outcome has not been very encouraging and the students have to struggle to keep up the pace. This surely has set up a bad example and college could be more cautious in introducing such half-baked courses. Dr V. K. R. V. Rao, founder, Delhi School of Economics, Vice Chancellor, Delhi University and later Minister of Education at the Centre wrote in the Centenary issue of ‘The Stephanian’ that “the U. G. C. should learn from the hundred year old experiment at St. Stephen’s College”.

Should we not be futuristic in our thinking and quickly move into areas such as materials science, Omic (genomics/ proteomics) studies which would be crucial for High Throughput Screening (HTS), leading to the development of newer and more effective drugs for the forth coming era of personalised medicine, which is indeed the future. Similarly, materials science provides a very good platform for the two science departments (physics & chemistry) to come together and work on areas like organic electronics, which also is the name of a new department created recently in the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Delhi. These lead to organic thin film transistors (OTFTs), organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), better laptop screens which can be viewed from a wider angle and electronic gadgets, mobile phones, etc. The author has himself shown the use of natural products like the low cost Cashew Nut Shell Liquid (CNSL) for microelectronics, a crucial requirement for Indian Defence, an area still covered by the US sanctions.

Many research projects have been granted to college and students have done Ph. D while working in college. Work done in college has been patented and published in peer review journals.  These can be accessed using any search engine and even while ‘googling’ randomly. The discovery in college of a new reaction has led to establishing a ‘long lived’ (in picoseconds!) reactive species by laser flash photolysis done in a collaborative study with the Ohio State University, Columbus, U. S. A.  Work has been done with the Max-Planck Institute for Biochemisry, Munich Germany; Universities of Goettingen, Karlsruhe and Pharmaceutical Chemistry Department, University of Heidelberg, Germany. The use of Fast Atom Bombardment Mass Spectrometry (FAB-MS) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA using Matrix Isolated Laser Desorption  Ionisation Mass Spectrometry (MALDI MS) has led to a new crosslinker with uses in biochemistry and conducting polymers. Joint work with the Solid State Physics Laboratory, Delhi, DRDO, R&D) has led to work on microelectronics and with NPL on solar cells. Many new compounds have been made using the recently discovered ‘Click’ reaction and characterised using High Resolution Mass Spectrometry (HRMS) and Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (TOF-MS) at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, (CSIR), Hyderabad and their anti-fungal activity studied at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute,

Pusa, New Delhi. Work on “Green Chemistry” has been done in collaboration with the CSIR laboratory in Bhavnagar. Work on soluble Buckminsterfullerene [C60], Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes (SWCNT) using 2D- NMR techniques, Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy (FE-SEM) and Raman Spectroscopy carried out with IISC, Bangalore is already at a peer review stage. With the Sri Chitra Tirunal Centre for Biomedical Sciences, Thiruvananthapuram, Confocal Raman Microscopy has been used to study these substances. These are a part of Nanotechonolgy and Nanomaterials. Many of these lead to photovoltaics and the use of solar energy to produce electricity. Work done in the college could also be useful for diagnostics and cure of tuberculosis (under Open Source Drug Discovery, OSDD, CSIR) and dreaded diseases like cancer and HIV-AIDS. The day is awaited eagerly when our students and faculty can access all such sophisticated modern equipments on a routine basis (and not during a summer project alone).

 However, one hastens to add that the above reference to research output is to be carefully weighed against committed undergraduate teaching and being available for counselling of our students and encouraging them ‘beyond the classroom’, thus continuing and building on the long traditions and strength of our college. It may be interesting to note that the science block has produced many able administrators (Ajit Seth,  Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat), people successful in the industry (Bharat Tandon, of ‘SERICARE’; Debashish Mitra, of ‘Calypso Foods’), policemen who have been recognised and awarded (Neeraj Kumar, who also produced ‘Police File Se’, a popular TV serial), lawyers (Pravin Anand, Patent attorney), sportsmen (Loveleen Singhal, Swimmer; Rajinder Singh Hans, Cricketer, U. P., Ranji Trophy; Deepak Sharma, Cricketer, Haryana, Ranji Trophy, musicians (Rahul N. Ram of ‘Indian Ocean’) and many budding theatre artists. Ajeet Bajaj (old student, chemistry) successfully reached both the North and the South Pole! The science block thus continues the college tradition of imparting all round education. Hope in 2050, the natural sciences will continue to flourish in college.

(Eswaran is Dean-Academics at St Stephen’s and has taught Chemistry at the college for 41 years. Email: sv.eswaran@gmail.com)

 

 

Why a Vision 2050?

 

Valson Thampu

 

The hallmark of a living tradition is its capacity for critical self-audit so as to respond to the needs and opportunities of the given context. Needs point to opportunities. To see emerging needs, individuals and institutions have to look beyond themselves. Wholesome and relevant growth is a by-product of responding to needs within a self-transcending vision. Vision results from the light of yesterday and tomorrow illumining the service-zone of today.

St. Stephen’s College is a 130-year old tradition of unwavering commitment to excellence in higher education. The founding fathers of the College – five Cambridge Missionaries led by The Revd. Samuel Scott Allnutt, the founding Principal – who began their tryst with the destiny of India in 1881,despite the meagre circumstances of the inception of the institution – 3 hired rooms and four students in Chandini Chowk! – nursed a robust faith in the future of the College. They were sure that St. Stephen’s would be “one of the best colleges in India”.  

Size was not the prime concern of the founding fathers. They neither coveted nor despised size. Their over-arching purpose was to benchmark excellence in higher education within a transforming vision for the society. It is this vision, which has stood the test of time admirably, that accounts for the uniqueness of St. Stephen’s. The founding fathers had a dual focus in what they did. They kept St. Stephen’s and the country in focus. No wonder the tradition of excellence that St. Stephen’s embodies inspired a Charles Freer Andrews to connect the life of the College to the struggles, hopes and aspirations of Indians in South Africa and, later, in the British Raj.  

It is imperative to thumbnail this matrix at a time when St. Stephen’s is poised for a huge leap forward. Growth should not be mistaken for outgrowth. Authentic growth does not disown the soil in which the sapling has grown to be a majestic tree. To grow is to create space for a larger number, and a greater variety, of young women and men to benefit from a time-tested tradition of education, responding proactively to the multitudinous and multiplying needs of a nation. The insignia of appropriate growth is the enlarged ability to re-appropriate the core vision in a changed and changing context in response to the given needs with the country as the point of reference. That is why St. Stephen’s has a national stature and is readily acknowledged as such. It betokens the outreach of a community to the country as a whole with a view to nurturing responsible “citizens alike for heaven and for the earth”. (College prayer)

For decades now, the operative, albeit unwritten, creed in St. Stephen’s has been, “Do a small basket of courses, but do them as best you can.” Arguably, this is a laudable goal. The fruits of it are there for all to see. But we exist today in an age, unprecedented in the sweep and scope of the changes it is spawning. Responsiveness to stimuli is a sign of health and the secret of growth. St. Stephen’s cannot be a stagnant stone amidst a flowing stream. Nor should it be a piece of deadwood drifting downstream . . .

India is today poised for significant, even revolutionary, changes in the domain of education, from the elementary stage upwards. It is not an accident, I venture to believe, that this is spearheaded by an alumnus who is the Minister for Human Resource Development. It is my quintessential belief that St. Stephen’s has its own role to play in the waking up of the long-soporific genius of this sub-continent. In the very nature of things, this role of the institution can never be solely quantitative. Given our history and heritage, we have a mandate to serve as the leaven in the lump of our burgeoning educational enterprise. While the nation undertakes the revolution of broad-basing education, bringing down the bastions of exclusion, St. Stephen’s has a mandate to seek and advocate the meaning and purpose of holistic or total education. The physical growth of the institution and the enlargement of its academic basket have to be predicated on an compromising  commitment to its core vision and cherished heritage.

Some highlights of St. Stephen’s Vision 2050 are:

1.         The need to open up a time-tested tradition of excellence to a larger number of aspirants so as to enhance our contribution to nation-building.  We are a 28-acre campus, currently catering to about 1200 students. While we can be legitimately proud of the per capita academic and social space we offer to students, we also need to ask if we are responsive enough to the massive needs in the domain of higher education to the optimum extent. As of now we have used up only 30% of the FAR permissible under the relevant regulations!

2.         To facilitate a greater cross fertilization of ideas and knowledge. Inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary approach to higher education is already the order of the day! By limiting ourselves to a small range of subjects, we bottleneck the corss-fertilisation of ideas and expertise that would, otherwise, have enriched the learning process. Currently a Focus Group, comprising distinguished alumni, is at work to identify the new courses that the institution may add to its existing repertoire.

3.         To identify the infrastructural, technological and financial needs of the College necessary for the fulfilment of the present renewed vision and to meet them within an appropriate time-frame.  This will be done in tandem with the vision for the evolving academic vision for the College. There is, besides, a need to set up a substantial corpus and endow it towards meeting the shortfall between the UGC grant (95%) and the approved expenditure which currently stands at Rs. 65 lakhs.

4.         To institutionalize the participation of the alumni in the educational robustness of the learning milieu offered in the institution.  Stephanians are making outstanding contributions to the academia in various parts of the world. Several of them are keen to return for varying periods to catalyst the academic ferment afoot in the College. Every effort will be made to facilitate the participation of the maximum number of the alumni in this process.

5.         To set the institution on course for the next 40 years or more by developing a Master Plan. Focus Group comprising some very dynamic and experienced alumni is at work on this in a time-bound fashion. And they are also working in sync with the Focus Group on Academic Programmes.  The Master Plan outlined thus will be unveiled on the forthcoming College Day (1 February, 2011) when a large number of the Alumni will have the opportunity to critique the Plan and to suggest modifications/improvements in the suggested Plan outline. After this exercise the Master Plan will be firmed up and it will then guide the development of the College campus for the several decades to follow.

6.         To begin the process of shifting the institutional gear from teaching to teaching enlivened by research: As a constituent College of Delhi University, St. Stephen’s is bound by the regulations of the University in respect of our academic reach and fetch. Given the work-load (not a happy expression, really!) on each teacher, incorporating and fortifying a research culture, in what is essentially an under-graduate institution, is an uphill task. Yet, if St. Stephen’s is to contribute to, and not merely warehouse, knowledge the requisite provisions have to be made. It is proposed to institute professorial chairs with primary focus on research in certain chosen departments.  This arrangement could cover other departments over time.

7.         To establish a think tank for ensuring the continuing relevance of the institution to the unfolding destiny of the nation and to infuse substance, on a continuing basis, into our identity and stature as an institution of excellence in the national scenario at the present time. The insignia of a healthy and lively institution is its keenness to seek continually. This seeking ensures the undiminished relevance of the institution and the services it offers to the nation at large. This also deepens the bond between the alumni and their alma mater.

8.         To ensure that St. Stephen’s remains a wholesome intervention in the intellectual, social and cultural progress of the nation,  remaining faithful to its core vision, and to undertake informed advocacies in words and deeds to attain that end.

Put simply, the quintessence of “St. Stephen’s 2050” is the commitment to making this bench-mark institution a greater blessing on the nation. At the heart of our vision is a universal goal that we cannot afford to willingly compromise, much less abandon: to facilitate the fullest, all-round growth of the young women and men entrusted to the institution, year after year. We, in St. Stephen’s, believe that they are an invaluable part of our national resource potential. They are, in promise, the arms of service that St. Stephen’s would extend, in course of time, to the nation and to the world at large. That being the case, it should be unacceptable that the education we practise limits itself to mediating knowledge to a comparatively small, privileged set of students. Arguably, St. Stephen’s gets some of the best students from all over the country. The opportunity to nurture a few more of them, thereby enlarging our contributing that much more to the national stock of human resources, is both welcome and exciting.  But this will make good sense only if we inculcate in every Stephanian a spirit of national responsibility so that they  may use their knowledge, skills and resources to serve our society, solving its problems and empowering its latent potentialities to be activated, developed and expressed for the good of the entire nation. “St. Stephens 2050” has to be St. Stephen’s 1881, pursuing the sort of academic and infrastructure growth that the founding fathers would have engaged with, if they were guiding the destiny of the College today. They were visionaries. Visionaries are not a maintenance people. To the visionaries who founded St. Stephen’s in 1881 education was a movement. Every authentic movement is predicated on contextually-proactive, life-enhancing changes for which ‘transformation’ is the technical term. A movement dies when morphs into a monument. A monument exists for its own sake, insensitive to its context. Growth and outreach are alien to the ‘monument-model’ of stewarding an institution. “St. Stephen’s 2050” is a reminder and a celebration that education, as posited in the history and heritage of the College, is and ought to be forever, a movement . . . Ad Dei Gloriam!

(Rev.Thampu, alumnus (1971-73), is the Principal of St Stephen’s.
Email: vthampu@gmail.com
).

 


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