Plagued by Controversies

Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh
Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

It takes two to tango. To the prestigious St Stephen’s College, Delhi, it is the pair of controversies and nepotism that has spun the norm around on the campus. After the recent pandemonium around the suspension of a third-year philosophy student Devansh Mehta and the subsequent ban of an online college magazine, several allegations about the dubious nature of the principal of St Stephen’s College, Valson Thampu, have come to the fore.

According to these accounts, Thampu’s appointment in St Stephen’s College was flagged off as a questionable premise and was allegedly seen as an act of compromise. Terming the appointment as ‘fixed’, several other allegations raging from bias to his alleged bond with the high and mighty were made by Thampu’s detractors.

However, Tehelka, has in its possession a copy of emails exchanged between Thampu and others involved in the appointment process. In a nutshell, the emails strengthen the allegations raised by Thampu’s critics.

In 2007 December, some months after his appointment as Officer on Special Duty (OSD), Thampu announced his PhD to the world. So, when Thampu was appointed as the principal of St Stephen’s College, his staff moved the Delhi High Court questioning his doctorate in theology, a discipline neither taught at St Stephen’s college nor at the Delhi University.

Prior to this, a fact-finding enquiry conducted by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) concluded that theological degrees are not within the purview of the University Grants Commission (UGC). Similarly, Thampu’s PhD in theology from the Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHIATS), formerly Allahabad Agricultural Institute, also raised eyebrows. According to an RTI application, during his stint at the National Commission for Minorities Education Institutions (NCMEI), Thampu had not taken a single day off as ‘study leave’. He never sought permission for pursuing PhD either from the institute, the government or the NCMEI.

According to highly-placed sources, an alleged deal was brokered way back in 2007 between the then Bishop Karim Masih and Thampu due to differences of opinion between Masih and Anil Wilson, a former principal of St Stephen’s. It was then that the Bishop decided to bring Thampu as the principal of St Stephen’s. “Apparently, Thampu completed his PhD in theology in a matter of few months. This is against the assigned time period to obtain a doctorate, which requires at least six months of course work,” observes a senior faculty of St Stephen’s.

Another senior faculty at St Stephen’s says, “Through RTI, it was found that while at the NCMEI, Thampu investigated cases related to the Allahabad Agricultural Institute and passed judgments in its favour.”

Subsequently, the Senate of Serampur College (it is the only institution that exclusively runs courses in theology and comes under a Danish charter) clarified that the degree in theology was not recognised by the UGC under Section 22(3) of its Act. Furthermore, in 2008, the ncmei declared Thampu’s appointment as illegal. It held that the PhD in a relevant subject was a basic requirement to hold the post of principal. On 20 February 2008, the Delhi University wrote a letter to the chairperson, selection committee, St Stephen’s College, making it clear that a doctorate in a relevant subject is a prerequisite for appointment to the post of principal of a college.

In 2008 March, the UGC, in response to a query from a leading English daily, stated that degrees in theology were not recognised under the UGC Act. But, in a U-turn on 28 April 2008, the UGC issued a clarification that PhD in theology is a valid degree. It further issued a letter to Thampu stating that a PhD degree does not have to be in a relevant subject per se.

In July 2008, the Supreme Council of St Stephen’s College challenged the constitutional validity of clause 7(2) of ordinance XVIII of the Delhi University Act, which dealt with the selection procedure for appointing principals in Delhi University College. While the Delhi high court held in its judgment that the clause 7 (2) doesn’t apply to St Stephen’s College, it stated the qualification required to be the principal of a college in DU would apply to the college as well.

Adding fuel to the fire, another RTI application was filed by Ashish Joshi, the media coordinator of the St Stephen’s alumni association, seeking clarification on Thampu’s eligibility to be the principal. In reply, the College stated that the principal of a college is required to undertake some teaching work in the institution. It also stated that Thampu had not cleared the net and did not have an MPhil or a PhD degree in a subject being taught at the college.

Edited Excerpts From The Leaked Email

DATE: 17 MAY 2008, 10:11

(On lobbying against Anil Wilson, then principal of St Stephen’s College)

“This is an ex-Stephanian I met yesterday at the Amity Conference. You can liaise with him and become a catalyst for a re-grouping of well-meaning Stephanians so that the scene is not dominated wholly by the Wilsonian fringe.”

DATE: 30 MAY 2008, 06: 30

(On Anil Wilson)

“Anil (Anil Wilson) is the archetypal academic rapist. If anyone has gang raped the soul of an institution with ultimate brutality, it is that mafia don.”

DATE: 7 AUGUST 2008, 20:26

(Discussing protocol and procedures pertaining the appointment as Principal while applying for the same)

“Things to be done for the 16th of August 2008/ The run up to the appointment of the Principal.

Preparation for the Supreme Council meeting as a selection committee. (a) Send invitations to the three, if they are to participate. (b) A format for assessment, (c) the format of the appointment letter (d) the format of the appointment letter and the resolutions to be ready so that details alone need to be filled in. The screening, can be a matter of fact thing, aimed at eliminating those candidates who need not be subjected to detailed scrutiny. This should take as little time as possible.

A press conference can be planned for the afternoon. I would like this to be in CNI Bhavan. Since, there is a media adviser, I do not want to interact with the media except that in the rarest of situations when it might become imperative. At this conference, the bishop and members of the SC must state the unreserved support of the SC to the Principal.”


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