The hallowed portals of these institutions have produced a galaxy of renowned administrators, scientists and social workers.
Today though, two once-celebrated campuses in the city, Presidency College and Pachaiyappa’s College, are struggling to keep their reputation intact, even as one of them is in the limelight every few days for acts of violence.
Most recently, four students were arrested from Pachiayappa’s for stoning an MTC bus, and 30 from Presidency for violence. Over the last six months, there have been more than 23 instances of student violence reported from these campuses, and at least 50 arrests in both.
Take the case of Presidency College. Principal R. Sabanayagam who has been teaching geology in the college for 17 years, is distraught. “Yesterday, I rushed to the canteen to catch a group of 25 students who had come drunk. None of the teachers who accompanied me there knew the students, nor did the students did not show the slightest remorse or respect for us. While they are definitely undisciplined, I see a lack of involvement in some teachers too.”
From 2008, the college has not had a permanent principal, and teachers believe that was when the situation went out of control. “There was no check on indiscipline then and after that, it has been impossible to restore order,” says Sabanayagam.
Six ‘peace and discipline’ committees have been initiated, 10 council meetings conducted in the last three months but the situation turns violent frequently.
Most times, it is the obsession with bus routes that starts brawls. Avadi, Adyar, Royapuram, Anna Nagar and Tambaram have their gangs who travel together, singing, merry-making in the respective buses. Songs with lyrics defaming other gangs and colleges are penned and that often leads to brawls. During elections, it worsens when they divide themselves based on bus routes.
Students wearing t-shirts are banned from entering the campus, and so are those who come without reading material or ID cards. “Drop-outs from the college and students from other colleges often turn up here. “They get current students part-time jobs in party offices, companies and act as money lenders. So students like to depend on them,” says a senior professor.
A student, Anbarasan says, “We have only sports and NSS here and very few students are involved in them. The rest are into the bus route brawls. A few of them are very good singers and should be roped into cultural activities which are never held here.”
Libraries in departments are kept closed fearing students might vandalise books, while toilets and hostels call for maintenance, and there is only one water tank in the college supplying drinking water.
“The focus is so much on controlling violence that other work is unthinkable. Every other day we ask students to surrender hidden knives or chains,” as if they are bits of paper to cheat with,” says the Prof. Sabanayagam.
If elections and campaigning along bus routes is a major reason for violence at Presidency, it is the absence of a student body that is a cause of concern at Pachiyappa’s College.
It has been over 15 years since the student body at the historic college was dissolved after the directorate of college education disbanded the student union and ruled that the college would never again have one.
“That was when student leaders were getting powerful and planning attacks. The ratio of good students to bad students then was 80 to 20. Now good, sincere students are only a handful here,” said a senior professor. Pachaiyappa’s College is the alma mater of two Chief Ministers and many leading politicians of the Dravidian movement.
“Drinking, gambling, every vice is present here, despite strict norms being introduced,” says a senior professor here.
“Some weeks ago, some people came here saying they wanted to make a film on bus routes. We need to first break this notion that students in these colleges have to indulge in certain activities. They also need professional counselling,” he adds.