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Is UGC Turning Higher Educational Institutions Into Prisons?

By Ambrose Pinto S J

24 September, 2015

If the recent University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines for security of educational institutions are followed across the country, one can be sure we will turn institutions of higher education into prisons of slavery and subordination than centres of thought and freedom.

Instead of raising men and women of creativity, freedom, critical thought and independence, the “Guidelines on Safety and Security of Students On and Off Campuses in Higher Educational Institutions” will have young people emerging from campuses as adolescents filled with fear, willing to do the biddings of the establishment, incapable of standing up with independent thought and action.

The guidelines invite the police to patrol college campuses. They have asked institutions to erect boundary walls that can-not be scaled easily, a fence of spiralling barbed wires that can be surmounted on the wall so that unauthorised access is prevented and a biometric way of marking student attendance so that no proxy attendance is possible.

Also included are suggestions to install CCTV cameras and the examination of bags and other belongings of students or visitors, manually or by metal detectors, to secure a weapon-free and violence-free campus. The circular expects teachers to keep an eye on students. Every teacher is to be allotted 25 students and will act as their guardian and counsellor.

It is unfortunate that the guidelines are based on certain wrong premises of human nature. The UGC presumes that students in campuses are cheats and anti-socials. That they cannot be trusted and can be disciplined only through external policing. The circular looks at the young as violent, nasty and lawless. Where do such images come from? The reality, of course, is very different.

In most institutions of higher education in the country, young people live as members of one human community going beyond barriers of caste, class, religion and even gender with mutual trust, learning from each other, contributing to the richness of campus life with cultural activities, debates and discussions, community and campus involvement. They are actively engaged with academics.

It is rare that campuses exhibit anti-social behaviour except in places where vested interest forces reign supreme. Why, then, impose security and surveillance through biometric and CCTV cameras where every student is suspected in all institutions? Why check students entering into the campus to see whether they carry weapons?

If the objective of higher education is to prepare responsible citizens who can think independently, act responsibly and dissent maturely, these guidelines infringe upon formation of the young. How can any adolescent grow into an adult and make a free choice with police, cameras and surveillance all around?

You cannot make adults out of adolescent boys and girls through fear, control and subordination. Students need to make mistakes and learn from them to attain intellectual maturity. Colleges, unlike police stations and prisons, are not meant to control students but to help them evolve as responsible adults. To make decisions students have to discern.

As long as the young are watched all the time, the process of discernment that needs freedom of the environment becomes impossible. In the name of assuring a ‘safe and secure learning environment’ these provisions are likely to transform students into submissive entities, incapable of making adult choices.

What is more objectionable is the recommendation for the presence of police forces within campuses. Colleges and universities are unique environments, predicated on trust and the peaceful exchange of ideas. What do police in khaki symbolise? They are an expression of the cultural acceptance of violence and create a very strong aura of power and domination.

Slavery and subordination

The presence of the police 24 hours in campus will change the real and apparent function of the colleges. Universities and colleges, which are spaces of liberty and autonomy, with the presence of policemen on campus will be transformed into spaces of slavery and subordination. The guidelines suggest that policemen act as ‘escorts’, guiding students from one corner of the campus to another.

Do campuses need police personnel to ‘escort’? Aren’t there fellow students to converse? Are there such threats and intimidations in our campuses? Those who hold that police in campus will deter sexual harassment and sexual violence are sadly mistaken. There are more numbers of cases of sexual violence and assault within the four walls of police stations than in educational institutions.

Police supervision with biometric and CCTV cameras will completely take away free will and freedom of the students to shape their course and choices of life. These devices are unnecessary, politically unwise, and morally suspect. There are many rational ways to respond to situations on campus by those who educate students. The presence of police ‘escorts’ on campus will escalate fears of moral policing and cause more problems than solve them.

In the final analysis, one gets the impression that the guidelines will only strengthen the hands of the state on education and weaken the autonomy of institutions and students. What is under attack is free thought. Educational institutions, if these guidelines are followed, will be training students to a police state than a liberal state.

It is unfortunate that there have not been wide debates on the implications of these guidelines for education. If India has to continue as a democratic country, it is essential that students, teachers and academicians concerned about higher education as spaces of liberal, creative and critical thought come together to resist the implementation of these “guidelines”.

(The writer is Principal, St Aloysius Degree College, Bengaluru)

The article is published with the author's permission


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