The School (MSSW) contributed a lot to my learning and moulding; but it never appealed to me as an institution even in 1979 when I joined the PGDPM programme, because of the strange ways of its management. Whatever contribution it made to my personality came from my teachers: Prof. T.K. Nair (Krishnan Nair), Mr. PTK Panicker (Tata Steel-XLRI), Mr. C. Sarat Chandran (Fellow- London School of Economics) and others who strived to make an institute par excellence, despite the step-motherly treatment given to the programme. Not that the MSSW programme was any better; Prof. George despite his administrative capabilities was not much inclined to be an academician, and therefore failed to understand the prerequisites for academic excellence. The political atmosphere he created at MSSW was not conducive for academic excellence: in the selection of students and teachers perhaps there was a bias towards the establishment, whereas social work by nature must have an anti-establishment or at least a humanist slant, which I found lacking in most students, and even among teachers, with the notable exception of Prof. Nair and Prof. D'Souza.
What is the use of learning to be a social worker if you do not have the inclination or capability to bring changes around, even of an infinitesimal impact?
There was a peculiar practice of allocating specialities at the beginning of the second year- often those with clout got Personnel Management (PM). Despite several appeals to Prof. George, some students failed to get their choice of PM. Through Prof. D'Souza I came to know the situation, and asked to see the prospectus. On the basis of what was stated in the prospectus I prepared a legally sounding notice to the Director and all those who wanted PM were given the subject as the management was not legally correct in the earlier stand. That year onwards they changed the prospectus and allocated specialisation in the first year itself. As a social worker, one will be required in life to question status quo, but not many went to MSSW with such lofty ideals.
At a time and age when jobs were scarce, in my opinion, most who came to MSSW came for the immediate goal of gaining employment faster, than with any noble objective of joining the profession of social work; those who did the PM specialisation became a separate caste by themselves. The MSSW itself offered the students the best opportunity to revolt against the oppressive feudal structure but not many dared. Where else do you 'study' labour welfare and observe maternity leave being denied to a staffer? The treatment meted out to the lower staff, the denial of their basic rights of fair wages and working conditions, surprisingly did not attract the attention of those who were studying labour welfare or community development. Looked as if they were trained to perpetuate the ways of the establishments of their future employers than developing a world view of humanism and social change. The best of the lot which have come out of the institution have only been conformists or what I would term 'doctors' who treated 'social patients', and not activists who attempted to prevent social maladies.
Therefore, I am not at all surprised to hear that some groups are already working with the system to make changes in the functioning of the MSSW without any confrontation, but collaborating with the Principal. I went to meet the Principal of a leading engineering college in the city regarding the grievance of a ward in my guardianship several years ago, to request the commutation of a punishment which was grossly disproportionate to the charge of indiscipline purportedly committed. What the gentleman politely told me, meekly expressing his inability to amend the management directive, reverberates in my mind even after a decade, "I am only a Principal, sir".
Most educational institutions have today become business or commercial establishments selling degrees; and the statutory requirement of charitable status is just a legal facade covering the many ills of the system. The rot perhaps started with the sanctioning of private universities, even during the pre- and post independence period, whose influential promoters routinely bypassed merit for money especially for professional course admissions, as these institutions were essentially self-financing enterprises though termed philanthropic. Later the government gave credence to more self-financing enterprises by according deemed university status or sanctioning self-financing courses in state funded institutions. In course of time the motive of running educational institutions moved from mentoring minds to making money. Education became a commodity to be marketed by promoters and their agents, and academicians became delivery boys of the commodity under the command of Directors producing "an out-of-touch education system bent on producing compliant cogs in the societal wheel" so well depicted by Pink Floyd in "The Wall", the popular rock opera produced in 1979, the very year I joined MSSW. The men of letters became subservient to such Directors who got conferred of letters; truly like the one I met, "only a Principal".
MSSW also had a Director, who lived inside a hostel complex funded by a well meaning foreign agency to accommodate students who came to learn and practice social work to Madras. His lifestyle was diametrically opposite or moderately speaking not in proportion to that of any intended recipient of social work. Under a non-existent or at least a non-effective management, the Director was answerable to none, and perhaps believed his term was for life, and continued surreptitiously after retirement. Only when the government issued notice that the aided post will be lapsed, for not appointing a successor and for not availing of the allotted salary every month did he realise that MSSW also needed a "head of the institution". The best of both worlds was to remain Director with all the trappings of office and campus residence remaining intact, and appoint a Principal to meet the statutory obligations and teaching requirements, clearly defining 'who was the Boss'. Prof. Nair (Krishnan Nair) was unfortunately sacrificed at the altar of that endless ambition, and the institution took the permanent hit. Though few things have changed, even after a quarter century the overall situation at MSSW, as I understand, remains the same: the head of the institution remains as "only a Principal".
And I firmly believe that no transformation of MSSW is possible working through "only a Principal". The transformation of MSSW is possible only if the stakeholders came together and questioned the establishment and the motives and credentials of those who comprise of it and demanded that the governance of this public institution, founded by Mrs. Mary Clubwala Jadhav who was a noble humanist, is guided by the principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness and honesty, combined with the quality of leadership by example (Please refer to Nolan Principles). Only then can MSSW regain its pre-eminent position in the arena of social work; in education, practice and research in India.
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