The St Stephen’s standoff between Principal Valson Thampu and student Devansh Mehta gets messier. The student has now been suspended and stripped of a prize that he won. In turn, he has sued the Principal. Meanwhile, NSUI, the congress-backed students union, has now got in to the picture protesting outside the college, and burning effigies of the Principal. Link.

Meanwhile articles lamenting the decline of the Stephanian spirit have started appearing. Here is one.  A lot of the nostalgia is likely misplaced, in my opinion. From what I have observed and read over the years about St Stephen’s, it is not an institution that fosters critical thinking or free expression, or celebrates the liberal arts for that matter. It is an institution that has benefitted considerably from its ability to aggregate the urban cultural elite in India, much like the IITs aggregate the scientific elite. That, and not the education it provides, is the reason for its position at the apex of the educational totem pole.

To understand where I come from, do read these two articles, both articles written by exchange students from Brown University attending St Stephen’s, where they express surprise at the lack of academic rigour and the herd-like mindset amongst students – 1) An Indian Education 2) In St Stephen’s, students are as much the problem as the institution.

I am not sure how long this ability of St Stephen’s to be the primary aggregator of this urban elite will continue, especially in the context of the rise of what I call CBUs (Corporate-Backed Unis) such as Ashoka, Azim Premji, Ahmedabad University etc., which offer course curriculum and pedagogy that has breadth, and fosters writing and thinking skills to a far greater degree. This focus on pedagogy at these newer institutions is even stronger because they do not have access to the best students now; hence they have doubled down on curriculum and pedagogy even more strongly. Gradually, they will begin to attract students who would otherwise have gravitated to St Stephen’s or similiar Delhi University colleges.

While writing this, I couldn’t but think of a previous post of mine (Link) on the decline of ‘convent-education’ in India, with reference to K-12. Historically, christian-run institutions were at the apex of the educational pecking-order at both K-12 and the undergraduate level (Arts & Sciences specifically, as IITs dominated Engineering). Societal changes, the rise of new-age schools and colleges and an unwillingness to adapt are leading to these old elite institutions getting sidelined. These changes manifest more sharply in the K-12 scenario, but even colleges are not immune to these trends. St Stephen’s too will be impacted by these trends eventually.