CELEBRATING REV. DR. THAMPU’S FESTIVAL OF RETIREMENT
St. Stephen’s College bids farewell to her twelfth Principal (2008-16) today. Rev. Dr. Valson Thampu has passionately served the College for over four decades. He Joined the College in 1971 as a postgraduate student and thereafter served as a teacher, Chaplain and later as a Principal. He truly embodies the ideals of integrity, social justice, compassion and Christian morals.
Asked abruptly in 2008 to take charge of an institution that was dithering in neglect, the Principal had to, given the paucity of funds, pursue a graded and clearly planned programme of institutional regeneration. Some of the highlights are given below:
Given the antiquity of the College infrastructure and the meagre maintenance it can afford, urgent repairs and renovation were an imperative. The Principal knocked at various gates and managed to persuade a few alumni to help raise the required funds. It became possible to renovate the following facilities-
(a) The Chapel
(b) The Junior Common Room
(c) The Ladies Common Room
(d) The Cafe
(e) The Science Dhaba
(f) The Staff Room
(g) The Dining Hall
(h) All the lawns were laid afresh, vastly improving the greenness of the campus. The Sunrise Club and the House of Leaves – an open air green classroom in the College are a result of his green initiatives.
With funding from the UGC all roofs were repaired and renovated. With funding from certain alumni, the College library and all lecture rooms were air conditioned. A new power back up system was also put in place.
Five major undertakings need special mention-
(i) The campus walkways were extremely uneven, causing visually challenged students to stumble. On coming to know that two blind students tripped and fell on the campus road, the Principal decided to address this issue on a war-footing. The result was that the campus roads were paved with the best quality pavers. As a result we have the best walkways that any college can have.
(ii) The College Hall -one of the most heavily utilized facilities in the College, needed renovation and up-gradation of facilities desperately. With generous support from the alumni, it became possible to complete this project costing INR 1.7 crores. The renovated Hall is a blessing to the College community, something most people describe as “a miracle”.
The two utilities most significant for those who live on the campus are water and electricity. Hence-
(iii) The pipeline supplying water to various parts of the campus had been laid in 1939. It was corroded and blocked at various places and water supply was poor. The old system was dismantled altogether and new pipelines measuring over 3 kilometers were laid ensuring better and safe water supply.
(iv) The sanctioned electrical load for the College was 100 KV. This was grossly insufficient. The Principal has raised this to 400 KV, which is sufficient to meet the needs of the College for a couple of decades. This also meant that the old electrical sub-station had to be replaced with a new one.
(v) The Internet facilities on the campus were crude, expensive and inadequate. The Principal spear headed the establishment of an Internet Resource Centre comprising over 120 computers housed in two beautifully renovated, air conditioned rooms unmatched by any corresponding facility in any other college in the DU campus. The entire campus was, besides, Wi-Fi enabled.
(a) In 2007 when Rev. Thampu took over as Principal (OSD), 35 of the faculty members were adhoc appointees. No permanent appointments had been done since 2003. The Principal, realizing the serious harm this lack of stability was causing to the College, steadily pursued the difficult process of securing permission from the UGC, the MHRD and the University and about 25 permanent appointments were made in 2010. This was further supplemented by another 12 permanent appointments in 2015. The College today enjoys the sort of stability in faculty positions that it did not have for a long time.
(b) Another major initiative was the reform in admission procedures. Prior to the tenure of the Principal, admissions were an extremely clumsy process, all the work being done manually. The College has been able to significantly reduce costs in this regard. An application last year cost only Rs. 60/-, the cheapest in Delhi. St. Stephen’s pioneered the on-line admission process which is now the norm everywhere else. One of the most laudable features of the process is that it is wholly tamper free and admission are 100% fair and transparent.
(c) Up until 2008, there was not a single research project involving undergraduate students. From the time the Principal took over he began pursuing the idea of laying the foundation for a research culture from the undergraduate level onwards. In this he has succeeded eminently. Last year there were 6 research projects and nearly 75 students were involved in it, together with the faculty.
(d) Another significant change is the introduction of add-on courses, which never existed in the College. Some courses deserve special mention:
(i) Engaging with Unequal India -to raise awareness about the problems of the underprivileged and the oppressed.
(ii) An Introduction to the Arts and Cultures of India
(iii) Themes and Concepts
(iv) One of the most significant initiatives was the introduction of the “Citizenship and Cultural Enrichment” course open to the citizens of Delhi. This course elicited a tremendous response and 320 scholars in the age group of 18-80 registered for the course. It is significant for its outreach on the part of the College to those outside its familiar ambit.
(v) The philosophy of outreach was consolidated further through the “St. Stephen’s Public Lecture Series” to which the citizens of Delhi are invited. It is safe to say that there is no other college today more conscious than St. Stephen’s for its sense of social responsibility.
(e) The Centre for Translations was set up and is actively engaged in projects.
No wonder that the College has risen steadily in its rating nationally. In 2007, when the Principal assumed charge as OSD, St. Stephen’s was not listed among the top 5 colleges in the country in the India Today survey either for Sciences or for Humanities. By 2010, the College was at the no. 1 position in sciences and by 2013, the no. 1 college in both Sciences and Humanities. This is unprecedented in the history of the College.
There have been, besides, significant improvements in:
(i) The work culture of the College
(ii) Student discipline
(iii) Academic performance
(iv) Financial support and scholarships
(v) Campus access for persons with disabilities.
Science Block Becomes Science Campus
Undoubtedly, the greatest improvement was effected in what was known as the Science Block, which had remained neglected for a long time. The Principal set himself after transforming the place. Everything from landscaping to technology has been improved significantly. The labs are state of the art. All rooms and lecture theatres were renovated. This part of the campus now rivals the rest in its beauty and serenity. An investment of Rs. 2.5 crores was made to make this happen.
The following research centres have been established since 2008-
(a) St. Stephen’s Center for Theoretical Physics
(b) Centre for Gender, Culture and Social Processes
(c) Centre for Economic Studies
(d) Centre for Experimental Physics
St. Stephen’s was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in 2008. There was no money to disburse salaries. The Principal has, by carefully husbanding College resources as well as augmenting resources, taken the College to an unprecedented level of financial sufficiency. The management share of Rs. 75 lakhs per year is now being met; whereas previously the College used to plead the UGC to remit a lion share of it. Financially poor students are given assistance to the tune of Rs. 11 lakhs by the College. All visually challenged students are supported.
IV. Vision of the Future
In terms of the future, perhaps the most significant thing that Rev. Thampu has done is to create a Master Plan for the College, which it never had. He had to surmount inordinate difficulties in this process. No documents or drawings were available to him. With the help of Mr. Harminder Singh, all lost documents were replaced and a consultative process was initiated, both with reference to infrastructure development and academic diversification. The process that began in 2012 resulted, by 2015, in the approval of the Master Plan by the MCD. All possible development of the College is clearly spelt out in the Master Plan. This has enabled the College to apply for UGC funds and a sum of Rs. 5 crores has now been sanctioned for infrastructure and general development of the College.
The College expresses its gratitude to Rev. Dr. Thampu. He leaves behind, a great legacy. He proved how the pursuit of excellence can be achieved without compromising social justice. We wish him all the best in all his future endeavours.
Dear Sir, the entire college community joins you today in celebrating your retirement.
DR. RENISH GEEVARGHESE ABRAHAM
On behalf of the St. Stephen’s College Community
(Courtesy to Mr. Diljeet Titus, alumnus and currently member of the GB for consolidating all the developments done during Rev. Thampu’s tenure)