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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mamata rights Kolkata’s Presidency University’s wrongs!

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Shutapa Paul, / Last Updated : 22 Jul 2011 07:30:15 AM IST.

Hope has come back to life in Kolkata’s Presidency University. There’s a new-found exhilaration in the air; a much-needed rejuvenation of the iconic college is around the corner.
Thirty-five years of Left rule saw Presidency College, which became a university only last year, slip from being a centre of academic excellence to a base of mediocrity. All that is about to change now, thanks to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s paribartan (transformation) drive. A 10-member mentor group, headed by eminent Harvard Professor Sugata Bose and advised by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, is brainstorming on ways to restore Presidency’s lost status in time for its 200th anniversary in 2017-18.
This is not the first time that one of the oldest colleges in the country has witnessed winds of change. Established in 1817 by a group of 20 eminent scholars headed by social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the Mahapathshala wing of Hindoo College was started to provide a platform for Hindu men to study English. In 1855, it was christened Presidency College, thus opening its doors to non-Hindu students. The college became a beacon of liberal thinking; it was the first in the country to admit female students in 1897. A few years after the Left Front swept into power in 1977, Presidency College witnessed another slew of changes.
The Communist government started interfering in the policies and functioning of the institution from the 1980s onward. Professors were transferred arbitrarily with the justification that all the colleges of the state should benefit from their expertise. Several eminent professors left to join Jadavpur University while others quit the state all together. “After the Left came into power, they wanted to do away with elitism, so they introduced the policy of transfers. The college offered no scope for post-graduation and research and soon became a centre of mediocrity,” says Minister of State for Urban Development Saugata Roy who studied Physics at the college from 1964 till 1967.
A long decline began. The syllabus and recruitment of teachers were controlled by the ruling party. The Left Front also made sure student politics got prominence. When the Left Front-affiliated Students’ Federation of India (SFI) captured the students’ union in 1966, they started a movement against the college authorities’ decision to stop student politics, forcing the college and even Calcutta University to remain closed. Roy along with Finance Minister Amit Mitra revived the Presidency College Students’ Organisation. “We realised that we couldn’t rely on protests alone. Classes were started in a house on Lee Road which lasted for almost two to three months. Even the teachers helped unofficially. We were able to reopen the college in 1967 and even submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Prafulla Chandra Sen,” says Roy.

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