Risk-takers necessarily become controversial: Valson Thampu

Risk-takers necessarily become controversial: Valson Thampu

St Stephen’s College, Delhi Principal, Prof Valson Thampu, is throwing a farewell lunch on Sunday.  He will vacate what he calls a “hot seat”. Only three professors applied for the job he is retiring from, according to him.

Speaking to Pratik Kumar of Deccan Herald about his 45-year long association with his alma mater, which he later went on to head, Thampu says all risk-takers necessarily become controversial. Excerpts of an  interview:
The challenges you faced as Stephen’s principal?

The main challenge was to keep the institution aligned to the vision of the founding fathers. Over the decades since the 60s, the College embraced social elitism, turning the institution into a bastion for extra-academic privilege.

The second challenge was presented by the reality of a pathologically polarised faculty. The College was a house divided against itself. In respect of this I could not make any headway.

The third problem was the meddlesome interference by a handful of influential old students who were opposed to my educational vision, as it threatened to compromise the social gloss of the institution.


Your response to criticism that you courted  controversies towards the end of your tenure?

Whether I courted controversies, or controversies courted me, or controversies were used as a weapon of blackmail and intimidation to make me fall in line, is something that time alone can tell. All I know is that there is no instance in history  of any one deviating from status quo or the interest of the dominant class, who has been spared from controversies. Most importantly, all risk-takers necessarily become controversial.

Why only three professors applied for the job of St Stephen’s principal?

There are two main reasons for it.  The eligibility requirements prescribed by the UGC are unrealistically impractical. Secondly, many feel intimidated by the hot seat.

You sparked a row by suspending a student e-zine editor. There were also questions about the way you handled the PhD scholar case. On hindsight, do you think you should have done it differently?

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that I would do differently in respect of these or any other controversies if I were to go back in time and handle them all over again.

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