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August 29, 2009

Cotton College: hopes and reality — Amal Kumar Das

“Cottonians rule Assam” - so the dictum goes. Anywhere and everywhere, be it administration, education, medical, engineering, law, journalism, communication and certainly in politics, the presence of the Cottonians has been in the commanding height. Till the establishment of University of Gauhati, higher education in Assam meant college education and college education began with Cotton College in 1901. The glamour of Cotton College bewitched the youths in their teens who dreamt of becoming a part of the college; tradition and heritage built by successive generations leaving their footprints in the campus of the college

The name and fame of Cotton College spread far and wide. Even when the college was within the jurisdiction of the University of Calcutta, Cotton College shone like a star and stood by the side of famous Presidency College. But now when Cotton College has crossed centenary celebrations, a bizarre scenario has unfolded when light is dim. We can take a nostalgic view and reminisce on the light of other days, but the college, which was our destination, and before us of several generations, has fallen from grace, Cotton College does not shine among the top 50 colleges of India not to speak of among the best 10. What is more, the college that once enjoyed a position by the side of Presidency College; there stand St Xavier’s, Lady Brabourne, Ashutosh College, Bethune College, Scotish Church College, Maulana Azad College within the top 50 colleges of India. St. Xavier’s and Presidency College have the position within the best 10.

Best 10Arts CollegesScience Colleges
1.Loyola College, ChennaiLoyola College, Chennai
2.Lady Shri Ram College for Woman, DelhiSt. Stephen’s College, Delhi
3.St. Stephen’s College, DelhiSt. Xavier’s College, Kolkata
4.St. Xavier’s College, MumbaiSt. Xavier’s College, Mumbai
5.St. Xavier’s College, KolkataPresidency College, Kolkata
6.Christ College, BangalorePresidency College, Chennai
7.Presidency College, KolkataMadras Christian College, Chennai
8.Madras Christian College, ChennaiFergusson College, Pune
9.Stella Maris College, ChennaiSt. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad
10.Fergusson College, PuneSt. Xavier’s College, Bangalore

The above picture is presented by a survey by two National Journals “India Today” and the ‘Outlook’. However for convenience, the facts and figures are reproduced from “India Today” of June 22 Issue (2009).

Placewise distribution of the top 50 colleges is as follows — Chennai (A) 10 (S) 8, Delhi (A) 10(S) 8, Mumbai (A) 8 (S) 11, Kolkata (A) 5 (S) 6, Hyderabad (A) 4 (S) 6, Bangalore (A) 4 (S) 5, Ahmedabad (A) 3 (B) 2, Kochi (A) 3 (S) 2, Chandigarh (A) 1, Pune (S) 1, Jaipur (S) 1.

The above presents a picture that India’s best Arts and Science Colleges are concentrated in Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, closely followed by Ahmedabad and Kochi that also shows the emergence of Chandigarh, Pune and Jaipur. What is conspicuous the graph is dominant in the south with three centres of Chennai, Hyderabad and Kochi; Mumbai shines in the west with Ahmedabad and Pune; Delhi with premier position receives additional premium from Chandigarh and Jaipur in the north. In the east, it is only Kolkata and nothing but Kolkata that steals the show with expansion of base within the city. The graph ends there and does not move eastward when once famous Cotton College pales into insignificance.

Several yardsticks are applied in ranking the colleges. Cotton College was not downsized without reason. The century old college has certainly gathered some muscles with expansion of physical structure with the coming up of new buildings and yet the college lacks the basic infrastructural facilities. Although difficult to believe, the century old college does not have a playground. When the Newfield was taken over by the Sports Authority of India, the college authority meekly gave in. The hostels are dilapidated. At a time when some efforts of reconstructing hostels bore some fruits, the proposal was shelved for protest in the name of preservation of heritage buildings. It is true, hostel dwellers of the past might have some emotional attachment with the hostels they once lived in, but the fact remains, it concerns a specific group. To the general Cottonians, the overpowering Administrative Building that stood as a ‘Heritage Building’ for hundred years was more important. But when that Administrative Building was demolished, all were shy of raising voice against the action. Emotion is a part in life, but emotion is not to be allowed to fly so high that it embarrasses developmental initiatives. However there is always a meeting ground where perceptions of varying degrees can be reconciled.

But the issue that concerns the Cottonians enormously is the downward trend of the functioning of the institution. All are anxious now to bring back the lost glory. There are allegations of administrative lapse, negligence of duty on the part of some members of the teaching staff and HOD’S submissiveness too. Opinion varies on the role of the government. While it is alleged that there is interference of the government leading to facilitating backdoor entry of teachers below the mark that has adversely affected the standard, there is also an opinion that the government is indifferent to the needs of the college. To get rid of the hurdles, there is a suggestion to upgrade the college into a ‘Deemed University’. The status will provide autonomy to the college and keep it free from unwanted government pressure. The approach appears to be simplistic and falls short of positing a roadmap. Have the conditions of sustaining Cotton College as the government college become invalid or is converting the college into a ‘Deemed University’ – the only panacea to save this glorious institution from all ills? We need suggestions from the able and the experienced.

The college must have a vision. We are of the opinion that a committee of high standing educationists, administrators, noted intellectuals should be constituted to go through the entire gamut of the problems to suggest the steps and the roadmap to regain the glories of the past. The committee will study the problems of the college and also the way of functioning of some of the top colleges mentioned and spell out where the Cotton College lacks in. If needed the committee can also include reputed educationists from some of the aforesaid colleges for guidance. The committee will make observation on the status quo i.e. Cotton College as a government college to be maintained or the college needs upgradation into a ‘Deemed University’ status and if so, autonomy upto what extent, the system of fiscal discipline, existing loophols of recruitment if any, creation of infrastructural facilities. What we want – the confusion must be put to rest and the college must receive a direction to arrive at a position when Cotton College can stand ‘among the great’ – ‘The top colleges of India.”
(The writer is ex-Manager (PR) BRPL)

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