“Christ University, I Came Seeking An Education, Not Institutionalisation”

Posted on August 31, 2016 in Campus Watch

Submitted Anonymously:

Christ University is facing the proverbial shit-storm. It’s being attacked by students – current and alumni – as to how restrictive it is with its policies. What started this sudden outburst was the sacking of a Social Sciences professor who sought to look into the interests of his students. Sure, a lot of his arguments could and have been refuted by arguments of the value of discipline in a student. Yet, I think that in this barrage of public hate mail that the university has been receiving a very fundamental aspect of the protest was lost.

A protest is an action expressing disapproval or objection to something. It was this very basic and fundamental right of ‘expression’ that seemed so alien to the students of the college that when we saw a bunch of students stand up for something, there was this sudden adrenaline rush that was palpable in every classroom. For students who are taught, nay, who learn to suppress their thoughts for fear of facing arbitrary setbacks that would affect our college and professional lives, this was the most courageous thing we’d heard of. The message was clear : We are tired of following your rules for fear of punishment; we are tired of keeping silent because of the repercussions we may face in college; we are tired of not being given valid reasons for the various compulsions that the university forces on us and in general, we are tired of directing all our energies to work around a system without being given reasons as to why the system functions the way it does.

What actually got the student population going was a blog post on the difficulties students faced in attending college on bus strike days since the autowallahs demanded prices higher than what one would have to pay in attendance shortage (one of them asked for Rs. 2500 from BEL Road to Hosur Road). And the traffic was so bad that even with the obnoxiously ludicrous amounts one doled out, the first hour of college would be missed. It was a valid reason since on numerous other occasions, Christ has functioned on Bandh days but since it only lasted for a day, we didn’t feel the pinch as much. We agree that this noble endeavour to impart its ‘world class’ education every day of the week is commendable but the article was only meant to highlight the dilemma students faced, especially the ones who travel from home and use public transport.

Yes Christ University, we understand that your ideals are lofty and you wish to inculcate a disciplined lifestyle in your students but somewhere along the way, have you forgotten the basis of your existence? The fundamental reason for which this most prestigious college was set up? We joined Christ University hearing nothing but praise for the vibrant culture and the creative academics it encouraged. We heard from seniors from various departments gushing about the opportunities they were presented with while studying in this college. Yet, upon joining the University, we found a rather mutilated version of the Christ University we all admired so much.

We tried, Christ University, we really did. We all joined this college with a spring in our steps and excitement at finally being exposed to an environment where we’ve chosen our path. And we tried keeping up the same positive attitude and enthusiasm. We tried for the first two years. We submitted research papers with content purely crafted by our brains and we read the greatest philosophers on topics ranging from political theory to human rights to why we need to follow the law at all. We did this even with the demands of writing quality papers for 6-7 subjects every semester. We struggled for weeks working on our papers only to realise that another kid who just downloaded a paper off the internet got the same marks as we did or more in most cases. Yet, we tried. Exams are meant to test one’s understanding on a subject but when all they look for in papers is rote representation of textbooks or bullet-points where the difference between a student who studies a few hours before the exam to learn the basic procedural laws from a bare act, and a student who’s gone in-depth and has been studying from day one because of genuine interest is about 2 marks, one really begins to question the effort one puts in for the very course they signed up for. One starts working around the system because hey, it’s less effort and we get more time to brood about the futility of our situation.

But this wasn’t so a few years ago. A few years ago, the Law department boasted of a stellar faculty and a small but decorated student population that flourished in the academic environment the college provided. They encouraged interdisciplinary studies that provided students with knowledge that can be used practically and applied to the arts as well as the sciences. They trained students to think critically and to question every academic statement made by a professor. I know for a fact that to this date, those teachers (who are long gone now) and their students still share a close relationship both professionally and personally. Now, you’ll be lucky to even recognise a faculty from the school of law.

Every year a new batch of teachers join and every semester, a set of them leave. We’ve had teachers come in for just one semester during which we either rejoice at how lucky we are to finally have someone who can communicate with us and encourage us to think for ourselves or we realise that they’re in the same situation as us – here to gain some ‘experience’ and a mention on their CV and to scoot soon after.

The Student Council here has been set up not as a platform to voice grievances and make changes but to communicate to the students the reasoning behind the Management’s rules and to put it across in the best manner possible. The discussions behind course plans, free hours and timings have been going on for so many years now that they’re not restricted to voicing grievances like “there isn’t enough soap in the toilets”, “our class has a broken window, it needs to be fixed”. We know this. We are aware of the rules that the University claims it has to follow as per the Bar Council rules.

Yet, all we ask for is a valid explanation for everything the University does without fearing the repercussions we might face when we do question them. For a college that claims it has the newest technologies and apparently forces teachers to use powerpoint presentations in class (even if they know their subject well enough to teach us without aids), where is the sense in not allowing us to use our laptops in class for taking down notes or even googling a basic doubt we have (which on most occasions now, the teachers are unable to answer)?

Christ University boasts of a WiFi network that blocks all websites that aren’t related to academics so there’s no way that we could use our laptops for other purposes. Are teachers so incompetent that they cannot control a class? Have you ever wondered why they can’t control a class? One of the reasons is probably because there are too many students. From a single batch of 60 students, to 100, to 300 to now around 400 students per batch (do you really want that much money, I mean come on guys)! How exactly do you think will we get a quality education when most of our teachers have only just recently graduated themselves? Apart from that, they are assigned subjects that they have either (a) Never studied or (b) Are the complete opposite to what they specialised in; while you claim that you wish to give them an opportunity to learn as well! So basically, we pay you fees for you to train a salaried worker? At the risk of our education? Wait. Forgive me, I’m a bit confused regarding the difference between a teacher and a student now.

I don’t get it. I thought we’re supposed to make best use of what we have and not force people to become what you want them to be – tailor made to fit your needs (or rather, to make up for your lack of quality human resources). Don’t get me wrong, there are several students who have done exceeding well for themselves, working around the system. But that’s purely due to their dedication and their commitment and not because of the management itself. They use the resources in the best manner and learn how to exploit the system without drawing attention to themselves. The smart ones. A common argument here is now going to be “they could do it why can’t you?”. Stop. That’s really stupid. You fail to realise that we are all not the same and when the majority fails to find any happiness or success in a college, that is a good enough indicator as to how well you are managing the state of affairs. Do not quote an exception. You claimed that we were making the same error of pointing out the exceptions. But now I’m talking about the general atmosphere of dissatisfaction that pervades the law school.

Yes. Have classes from 9 AM to 4 PM. Or 9.30 AM to 3.30 PM. Or whatever you may decide. Do it. As long as you give us what you promised, as long as you deliver the service we pay you for. Education was never meant to be commercialised. Unfortunately we live in a world where everything has been made a commodity waiting to be exploited. But if you can’t give us that education then don’t expect us to be appreciative of spending 6 hours a day in class learning absolutely nothing because neither do you allow us to read other books, nor do you allow us to bunk more than a few hours. Just choose one of them. I mean, confiscating a book one is reading during a free hour in class for a research paper just because it is not a library/academic book. I honestly do not understand this college sometimes. And I try. Really hard.

Impose all your rules and your regulations. We will follow them. We have been for all these years. But to loosely quote the social contract theory – individuals give up a part of their inherent rights to a higher authority in return for a promise that their interests will be secure. The moment the group of individuals believe that their interests are no longer protected or the promise made by the higher authority is not fulfilled, and that they are under a threat from the same authority, they have the right to take away that power or overthrow the authority. This is one of the basic theories that explain the basis of civilisation. So, Christ University, I paid for an education. Not institutionalisation.

Every year we see some teachers who come with some passion and hope to impart their knowledge to the students. And every year we slowly see the changes in those professors. Either they leave soon after, or they start turning into the people that they once feared – the Management. So nowadays, it’s a fun pastime to observe professors and easily imagine the Management sheaving through their papers with a big stamp that says-“Status: Institutionalised”. It’s terrifying to see people several years your senior being broken down, demeaned and insulted by authorities who know nothing about the subject but have top notch skills in “management”.

Christ University is a mere autocratic shadow of what it used to be. The Christ University which was once so well-loved (and maybe still is – I cannot speak for other departments) and looked for students with innovation and creative ideas. It looked for the sort of teacher-student relationship that would encourage creative thought. But now, the only thing I can compare it to is Hogwarts under Dolores Umbridge’s dictatorship. Looking for certain ‘safe spots’ in college is like looking for the Room of Requirement.

I don’t agree with what a lot of comments that have been made about the security in college because personally, Christ has always been a safe college. The article that had been published regarding sexual harassment was not intended to indicate that Christ University is an “unsafe place” for girls, it was to indicate that in spite of such acts by certain individuals – no action has been taken against them and they still rein free. Personally, I have never faced any issues with the guards who are often good natured, especially Car-Park-Moustache uncle who is the nicest.

While it is agreed that the intention behind the laws that were framed are perfectly valid and justified, also – as had been highlighted time and again – something we agreed to upon joining the university, what is the point of having them when they’re always implemented arbitrarily subject to conditions of your parentage, religion, region, language or connections? It does nothing but mirror the society we live in today where yes, of course, laws are established but no real or valid implementation takes place because the ones with power, influence or those on good terms with the Management always get away with no repercussions. While the hundreds of other students look on helplessly, waiting outside cabins of teachers for hours on end, begging -literally begging for a return of their phones or their books. Where is the dignity in that? Is that the sort of lifestyle you wish for your students to live? To bow down to an arbitrary authority that functions on a whim? What is the point of educating several generations of lawyers when unfair practices are blatantly evident in our daily routine?

We’ve been trained to be submissive to authority not because we agree with what they do, but because we are so tired of wasting our time arguing with them only to be presented with the same excuses over and over again-only with the additional reward of facing arbitrary attendance shortages.

It pains me to say that I enter college just 10 minutes before the bell rings and leave as soon as I get down the building not daring to spend a minute more in its confines because of how the Management treats the students. Okay, you can treat us like we’re no better than the flatulence emitted by an overfed cow but when you show a similar attitude towards our parents – well, that is something that we all have a problem with. If you expect any respect, you need to understand that you also need to respect the parents who send their children to the university. Basic and common courtesy. Instead of taking ‘Holistic Education’ classes for us, maybe you should think about taking them for the Management. We are starved of the common decency that is expected to be shown to us just by being of the same species. If we have grown wayward or unruly or protest against anything you enforce on us, it is because you have made us this way. To the extent that even thinking about joining another institution makes one cringe for fear of the treatment one may face there.

It’s indeed a sad truth I admit to students from other courses when I say that whatever I have learnt over the past few years at this college, they would be able to do the same with a good google search and a few months of free time. Because the system in place is such that we indulge in rote learning. Because anything beyond that takes time – time which is never appreciated or rewarded -and soon after the exams, we forget whatever we have learnt. The system that manipulates us into believing that any independent thought that even mildly deviates from the established norm is wrong and makes us question ourselves to the extent that we have given up on speaking up is something that needs to be addressed. It isn’t okay to function on fear. It isn’t okay to live in an educational environment where even our subconscious actions are now guided by that fear. If you believe that your reasons are so valid, it shouldn’t be an issue to address them publicly. Parents and students alike would appreciate your statements. Instead of internalising the process with threats and sly insinuations and scaring us into submission.

The saddest thing of it all?

The Christ University campus is such a beautiful place. One walk through its boulevard is enough for you to fall in love with it. The Knowledge Centre is a place where I’ve found quiet and comfortable solitude on numerous occasions. In fact, just coming to college early in the mornings or even an hour after college has ended can be one of the most gratifying experiences of all your time at the college.

I need to explain. This is not a hate message. Maybe it started off with anger. But this is ending with genuine regret that I’ve spent so many years of my life at an institution that never respected me as an individual and saw me as nothing but a register number. Where we were nothing but facts and figures that could be added to flow charts to publicise to the world the number of students it hosts. That I’ve doubted myself over and over again forgetting why I even chose this course with all the nonsense that has been thrown our way. Do you still want us to work around this system, Christ University? Do you really care about your students’ mental state of mind, their educational satisfaction? Or is it only about reassuring our parents of our safety and our “moral turpitude”?

We’d like some answers, Christ University. Because THIS is the burning issue you need to address.

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