The principal problem with St Stephen’s

My undergraduate college, St Stephen’s, Delhi University, has increasingly been in the news for the wrong reasons. The latest, as far as I can make out, is because a few students published a newsletter containing an interview with the principal, Valson Thampu (the most controversial principal in the history of the college). As far as one can tell from public utterances, the problem is that he had demanded that they seek his approval of the interview before publishing, and they did send it to him, but when he did not reply in time, they published anyway. This was apparently an online publication, and was promptly taken offline, but a parody has since appeared. As of today, one of the students involved has reportedly been suspended.

Interestingly, Mr Thampu has been posting frequently on an alumni forum on Facebook that I am a member of, and perhaps elsewhere, justifying his actions. His latest, today (April 15), says

The eagerness to forgive must be met by the willingness to acknowledge mistake and to mend one’s ways. Else, we cheapen forgiveness and make it a cover up for chronic misdeeds. Valson

To which I felt impelled to reply as follows.

Dear Mr Valson Thampu : though I was not intending to respond to your outpourings on facebook any further, today’s news about suspending the student compels me to speak again. This student published an interview with you after giving you time to respond. In your universe, his failure to wait for you to respond was a “chronic misdeed”. In journalism, it is not acceptable practice to give the interviewee veto power in the first place. A journalist must be careful not to misquote but must not subjugate himself/herself to a powerful person. If you were uncomfortable you should not have agreed to be interviewed. But you need to remember that most of your students are legal adults, and you should be training them to function in the real world, not to lick the boots of their principals.

Meanwhile, thanks to this idiotic controversy that has dragged the name of a once-great college through mud, I came across your earlier writings:

From there I learn that wives should submit to their husbands because they are already “strong” and “empowered”, which makes me wonder which country you live in. I also learn that “parental deficit also contributes, in part, to homosexuality and lesbianism” — perhaps you would like to tell Vikram Seth to his face that his homosexuality is partly his mother’s (Leila Seth’s) fault. In the real world he, and she, and hundreds of homosexuals of both genders, have achieved vastly more than you will ever do and have made the world a much better place than you clearly care to.

A person capable of writing the above is not deserving of being a teacher in the most modest primary school, let alone principal of one of India’s oldest and best-known colleges.

I should say I don’t know Mr Thampu personally: he was a teacher of English and the chaplain when I was in college. The principal was Dr Anil Wilson, who sadly passed away a few years ago; I remember him as a man with a fair mind, a modern outlook, and above all, a sense of humour. I exchanged a few mails with him before he passed away, which confirmed these impressions.