During the course of discussions that followed the Bishop and Mrs. S.K. Parmar lecture series, it was suggested that I write a few reflections on the way Serampore College, as a full-fledged University, will be able to function in the interest of Christian Community, and for the benefit of general education in India. I have been, since long, suggesting that the Council of Serampore College, the College with its Arts-Science-Commerce-Theology Departments, Senate along with its affiliated institutions, and NCCI, on behalf of the Christian Community, move the Central Government to grant full university status (as a Minority Christian institution, along the lines of Aligarh Muslim University) to Serampore College which was curtailed by the Serampore College Act-1918, in recognition of its service to the people of Bengal in providing general education, and theological education to the Indian Churches, since last 200 years, with much dedication, perseverance and self-negation. The College will be celebrating 200 years of its founding in 2018, and this will be the most appropriate and excellent time to recognize the valuable services the College has rendered to the nation in the field of education- theological and secular.
It is not the case that Serampore is a University; it is but, through the Bengal Act of 1918, it is reduced to a theological university, granting degrees only in Christian theology, that too just to the Christians. Its degrees are open to people of other faith/ideologies/no-faith, but no step has been taken in this direction. The Act now needs to be fully utilized and Serampore should move to its full potentialities with the active help of the Churches, Christians and Government.
Present context: Two colleges with the same name in the same campus
The College never betrayed the missionary nature of its ministry in providing theological education in the secular context. At the time of financial crisis in late seventies of the last century, the College did not go back to its earlier course of action, under the same conditions, in the nineteenth century (closing down the secular section of the College, and concentrating on the theological education), but approached the Government for the support of the secular section under Pay-packet Act. This act of ‘kenosis’, on the part of the Council is not generally appreciated by the secular staff of the College, though they are the only beneficially of the move, and the theology staff was left out of the new agreement. Though both still exist in the same campus with some semblance of unity, they have their own separate existence.
a. Evolution of Serampore College (ASC)
It was in 1979, under the pressure to overcome serious financial crisis, the Council of Serampore College accepted Pay Packet Act, as offered by the Government of West Bengal. By securing financial stability to the secular departments, the Council of Serampore College, perhaps un-intentionally, accepted the division of the college into two –Serampore College (Arts-Science-Commerce). Serampore College (ASC) is now governed under the rules and regulations, provided by the University of Calcutta and the Government of West Bengal, through academic and administrative structures. Its teaching and non-teaching staffs, including the Principal, consider themselves Government employees, as they receive their salaries, benefits and other expenses from the Government. It funds are not meant for the expenses towards theology section and are separately maintained.
The ASC Department has its own Vice-Principal and Bursar, who virtually run the College, making Principal just the figure head, more so after Principals are appointed from other states than West Bengal who are not able to teach in Bengali, medium of instruction to most of the students.
b. Serampore College (Theology)
Serampore College (Theology) seems to be a redundant section of the College which does not have the security of the Government under Pay-packet Act, and still considered, for the sake of tradition and exploitation, a part of the unified whole as a department. It has a Vice-Principal, who does not have much authority to run his section of department as a college, which is fully controlled by the Principal. The Department of Theology, in fact, is the Teaching Department of the Serampore College (University), as such; its academic administration is under the Senate of Serampore College (University). It, at present, acts as if it is not that part, and considers itself as an affiliated college but without paying affiliation fees, and conducting examination for its students as the affiliated colleges do, contravening the Serampore College Act which has created Senate for conducting the examinations.
Its administration, however, is controlled by the College Council through the Principal who, in fact, is not the Principal of theology part of the College, as he is appointed under the terms and conditions dictated by the Government of West Bengal and University of Calcutta. His salary is paid as per the provision of the state Government for principals of secular colleges, overlooking the qualification of prescribed by the Senate of Serampore College (University).
In the past, the Principal was supposed to have a degree in theology which is now relaxed to none. The Vice-Principal of the Department is, in fact, only an academic administrator, executive function is looked after the Principal who is generally not theologically trained, and is not qualified under Senate of Serampore College (University) rule to be the principal or teaching staff of a theological college.
Its financial responsibility lies upon the Council through donations from the churches and mission boards, and the department through collection of fees from the students. Students and staff often engage themselves in raising funds for the College.
This arrangement, of maintaining unitary structure of the College, had its own implications which were not, so far, properly addressed to, though some provisional adjustments, financial and physical, have been made. Much of the maintenance expenses, salaries of additional staff and responsibility allowances to the ASC staff are still paid by the Council.
There are parallel structures of administration with separately Staff Councils and Theological/ASC Committees with Faculty as the Management Committee for the internal management of the College. Though it has members from the all sections of the College, there is a tactical understanding of non-interference in other’s affairs in the Faculty. Principal, though, often monopolize the affairs of Theology Department.
The physical structure within one campus is now congested as it has to accommodate about three thousand students at a given time. The Council did not do anything to restrict the undue expansion, and the recommendation of the Faculty, for opening new departments, and courses were accepted without consideration of saturation point already reached. New departments could have been moved to a new campus. There seems to be an anxiety, on the part of the Council, to protect the original property of Serampore-Trio, therefore it does not seem to encourage ASC Department to move into main campus. There has always been anticipation that the Government may take over the whole or partial property of the College, if the existence of that Department is threatened. Theology Department, in the process, slowly lost most of its space, and prominence, to other departments. It has lost all its class rooms to ASC department, and its space in the library is shrunk to the minimum.
There is some preparatory work that needs to be completed before taking next step in approaching the Central Government and Parliament with the case of Serampore College. The College Council may be required to take initial steps to organize the College administration along the line of a functioning university and place in order a proper administrative structure. It has to move to eliminate the anomaly that was not yet taken care of, and allowed to exist, at the expense of the Department of Theology. The existence of two colleges with separate identities, denied so far, needs to be recognized, and two principals in accordance with the dictates of the rules and regulations of the affiliating universities need to be appointed.
Two different executive, academic and financial administration that is looked after by the two Vice-principals needs to be duly recognized, and can be given full autonomy in preparation of evolving unified university system. The infra-structure for the proper functioning of the faculties under the university-system can be introduced and different departments can be attached to them.
Some structure, incorporating administrative integration and preserving interrelatedness of two separate colleges can be evolved, which can be easily transformed, at a later date, into separate faculties of the full-fledged university.
My time in administration at Serampore was short, and I was left with little time for research and understanding the system. It, however, will help Serampore to resolve a few issues if it looks back into its history. It was not expected that University of Calcutta did not discuss the issue of affiliating a university (Serampore College) for its degree programmes in Arts and Science departments when it considered the application for affiliation from Serampore in 1857. It is not clear if Serampore College willingly forfeited its rights and privileges as a university under the Royal Danish Charter at that time; some research into the minutes and documents related to Serampore in 1857 may be helpful. Perhaps it did not; as it was clear during the discussion on the Serampore College Act in 1918 in the Bengal Legislative Assembly where the rights of Serampore College, as a university, to grant degrees in any faculty, was recognized.
One may look into the nature, and working, of the Faculty of the College which is created to look after the internal management and administration of the College under the Serampore College Act-1918. Was it meant to be only for the Arts-Science (later, Commerce added; ASC) Departments, leaving Theology as the separate faculty under the Senate of Serampore College? It seems to me that the Department of Theology, from the beginning was supposed to be the part of the Faculty of Theology of the Serampore College as the University under the new Act. Why it remained a part of the administration of secular College, and it’s Faculty, needs to be further probed. The anomaly that exists today needs to be wiped out. And this is not difficult to do.
Master of Serampore College
The supreme authority of the College, as per the Charter granted by His Royal Danish Majesty, is the Master who was appointed by the King himself, and later as per the procedure laid down in the Charter and Statutes, and, as modified under, the Serampore College Act. Master is responsible for the administration of the College in all its activities. Sometimes, swayed away by the activities of the College as a Theological University, he may consider himself equal to the positional held by the President/Prime Minister/Governors/others, under University Acts, as Visitor/Chancellor; this impression needs to be avoided as it is neither historical nor rational or legal. Under the Act, the Master, and the Council, retains administrative authority over the College, and does part with a few which it delegates to the College Faculty for the good governance of the College. In the case of the Senate, all power of the Council with regards to granting of degrees-syllabus, examination, academic administration and conduct of any business thereof, is legally transferred to the Senate; it retain the power to confer the degrees. It may be noted that Council only has supervisory control; and not the Master in his individual capacity.
Council of Serampore College
The Council is the creation of the Charter to look after the affairs of the College. Though the Master can take decisions independent of the Council, it is provided in the Charter that the he does so in consultation with the members of the Council. Master is the President of the Council, and he validates the Minutes of the Council and all other legal documents.
The Council itself needs to be rejuvenated for the task of taking charge of the university system. At present, it is assigned to look after of the affairs of the College which it does so with much disinterest. The management of the College is taken care of by the Faculty which has now evolved itself as the replacement of the Council through delegated powers. Council needs to take its responsibility of the College in true sense of the word.
Minutes of the Senate have been in public domain since its very inception from 1919; but it is not so in the cases of the Council and the Faculty. It is a serious lapse on the part of these bodies which needs to be rectified.
It was in 1948, the members of the College Council, which was then in England, and dominated by the Baptists, took bold decision to resign and gave way to Indian Christians, and transferred itself to Serampore. Since Serampore College Council is a self-perpetuating body, it is expected to take measures in inviting members into its fold, who are professionally, administratively, and experientially competent to govern the affairs of the university in its various departments and faculties. Council, in recent times, through its bye-laws, have democratized its composition/constitution, it is expected it will go further, if need be, to reconstitute itself to meet the requirements of a university structure. The initial discussion can be taken to meet such an eventuality.
A thorough discussion needs to be taken up, and a viable administrative structure, necessary for managing affairs of different programmes of the university in all its faculties, should have to be evolved, and tested, in the departments that exist as of today.
The Senate is the creation of the Bengal Act and is responsible to look after the academic part of the university in its faculty of theology, conferring the degrees, though, remained with the Council. Academic and administrative functions were taken care of the Executive Committee of the Senate which was later ratified by the Senate. The Principal of Serampore College was initially appointed permanent President of the Senate which later resolved to have Presidents on term basis, giving opportunities to other members of the Senate.
The initial process, in evolving Faculty of Theology, was taken up when Board of Theological Education of National Council of India (BTE-NCCI) became the integral part of the Senate (first as BTE/SSC, then BTESSC). The Senate and its Executive Committee gave way to the formation of Committee on Academic Administration, Committee of Research, Coordination Committee and Committee on Church Relation, thus initiating a process of diversification of responsibility, a move away from centralized form it practiced so far. Dr. Rajaratnam, as the Master of the College, continued the process. Since he himself was an accomplished educationalist and administrator, his suggestions were taken seriously by the Council and the Senate, which, more than often, did heed to his suggestions. This process needs to be taken to its logical end, and university structures that are being used universally, be incorporated within Serampore System. This is not impossible as Senate is empowered to make rules for its business, and provisions within Article 13 of the Act has laid down the procedure for opening up other faculties within the structures of Serampore College.
Senate, at present, is a theological Senate. It has to evolve itself to accommodate other senates, representing other faculties, at present Arts, Science and Commerce. There are post-graduate studies now offered in some science subjects under University of Calcutta at the College. This may be further expanded to other areas after careful consideration and restructuring.
Senate, as per the Act, has elected President as the Chairperson, and the Principal, as just the Convener of the Senate. This has left scope for personal and legal problems, which had marred, in the past, the goodwill between the Senate of Serampore College and the Principal and the College, including its Department of Theology. This has to be looked into if the university structure has to be involved, including the possibility of the amendment of the Act under sympathetic and understanding Government and state legislature.
This also involves the change of nomenclature of the officers of the Senate along the lines of other university. There was a time when Registrar of the Senate claimed to be the Vice-chancellor of the University; later claimed by the President of the Senate, and also the Principal of the College. In the same context, the Master sometimes claimed himself to be the Chancellor. These misconceptions needs to be clarified, and some efforts be made to make Serampore terms intelligible in the present context. We can adopt Indian terminology as applied in our academic circle, or look into the development that has taken place in the life of Copenhagen University through the centuries, upon which Serampore Charter was molded.
Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College (BTESSC)
BTE was the creation of National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) till late sixties. It had its own utility as an accrediting body for the non-Serampore affiliated theological colleges, as well as a forum for discussions on theological concerns in India to advise the Committee for Theological Education of the NCCI. Senate of Serampore College was the founding member of the Board (BTE). BTE-NCCI had semi-autonomous, then autonomous status, first with NCCI, later with the Senate of Serampore College. Almost all members from non-affiliated colleges later became affiliates to the Senate and the BTE-NCCI came closer to the Council/Senate of Serampore College, and, in the process, became a part of Senate (BTE/SSC; BTE-SSC; and BTESSC). The nature and characteristics of the Board has changed after merger, and now it is an advisory body to the Senate with church relations as its main function. However, there does not seem to have any legal status to this body, it is loosely related to Senate, has its own funds, independent from the Senate, though it uses the same legal apparatus as that of the Senate. As such, it is to be properly constituted and assimilated within the legal structure of the Serampore College (University).
Finances have been the greatest obstacle in the life and mission of Serampore all through. It is a fact that the College was the first university in region east of the Suez, much earlier than other universities were established in India, providing liberal education to all without any distinction of caste, color or creed. Yet, it could never able to function so because finances involved were beyond the personal capacities of the founders. They did try to invest their savings for the cause, but the failures of banks led to depletion of any hope of the actualizing their dreams. In their desperation, they left the College into the providential care of God and goodwill of the people in India, continental Europe and America. It was the people of India through their Government, took care of the ASC section of the College, and the people and churches in India and elsewhere looked after its theology department.
Departure of the Danes from Serampore, and the arrival of East-India Company governance, with neutral policy towards education and missionary endeavor, compounded the problems for Serampore Trio and their mission. The imperial takeover of territories governed by East-India Company in India after the Great Mutiny/Revolt for Independence also was not helpful towards the establishment, and functioning, of an independent university. College administration, therefore, preferred to subjugate its secular education to the will and policies of the British Government, while maintaining relative freedom for its theological education. This policy of the Council of Serampore College helped the College to continue with secular education along with theological education, as envisaged by the founding fathers, but with heavy dependence upon the government of the day for subsidiary. With the depletion of support from the home churches and mission boards, the finances became the main concern which could not be tide-over till now.
The insistence of the College in providing education in mother tongue was later manipulated by the State Governments to replace English as medium of instruction at collegiate level, and closing doors for the students from other parts of India, especially Christians, to take advantage of collegiate education available to them at Serampore. The resultant consequence of such a policy was disastrous for the Department of Theology of the College as its secular department closed a door for students from other regions of the nation. Closing hostel facilities for the secular section of the College, and leaving it only for theology students from early seventies, severed the possible link of personal and mutual contact with secular students, as well the a source of earning for the College.
The Council of Serampore College has to take the task of generating financial resources seriously and take steps to make College self supporting, even from the governmental support. It may have to move towards offering course which can be commercially viable. In the era of information and educational explosion, this may be a difficult task; it has only to find right kind of professionals with integrity, dedication and commitment, to serve the greater cause.
Time is short, and much is needed to accomplish before we move to propose the full-fledged phase of a university to Serampore College. It is expected that we take this proposal seriously and work for its accomplishment so that we can be able to extend the ministry of the Church, as envisioned by the people like Serampore-Trio, towards its natural goal.