Monday, April 28, 2008

Babu Earnest Charles
The American College

“We have to do much of our reading by candle light”
Anderson, Secretary, American Board.


It is rather painful to revisit those moments that have stunned the course of history of the American College. The main thrust being the ownership of the college. The sudden turn of events converge at one point, Church of South India (CSI) Diocese and its representative, Bishop Christopher Asir claiming ownership over the property of American College.

Bishop Christopher Asir is propagating that American College belongs to the CSI Diocese and property of the Church, which it never can be! Then! It belongs to whom? It belongs only to the Governing Council of the American College which is registered as a Society. Diocese has no claim over it. Historically….

A brief history of the American Madura Mission:

American Madura Mission was started in Madurai in the year 1834 (just 33 years after Madura had fallen to the British in 1801) with a purpose mainly to build schools and to train natives of missionary labour. There were about 30,000 people in Madura city and some 20,000 in nearby villages.
A group of American Missionaries under the American Jaffna Mission decided to expand their mission activities to the Tamil speaking neighbouring continent. The first person to land in Madurai via Devapattinam (now Ramnad) was Levi Spaulding, sent by the Mission to find a suitable place for setting up Mission centre. It took twenty days those times to travel from Ceylon to Madura by sea and missionaries had to travel 135 days from Boston to Madura. Most of the Missionaries faced the hardship of travelling longer times, risking their lives to rough seas and diseases associated to sea travel.
Todd, Tracy, Poor, Chandler, Rendell, Herrick, Noyes, Doak, Taylor, Whitin, Banninga, Capron, Washburn, Zumbro, Wallace and the Scudder family have all sacrificed their life undergoing hardship and adversities of famine, tropical diseases and death for the sake of their love to educate the native brethren who were mostly illiterate, poor and depressed at that time.

American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) started the American Madura Mission in 1834 and started missionary services in Madurai and Ramanathapuram districts. It went about starting schools trying to educate natives, starting seminaries to train natives in preaching the gospel and building churches to propagate Christianity.

One such institution is the American College, originally started as a mission school in Thirumangalam, which was later shifted to Pasumalai and austerely developed by Rev.Washburn. The Mission had purchased the 14 acres of the Pasumalai land for Rs.400 those times and the then Collector Blackburne had given 20 kawnis of land appreciating the Missions services. What is now the Pasumalai School was initially housing the American College which was started in the year 1881 with just four students.

With a noble vision to take education closer to its people, the American College was moved to its present site in 1904. By this time American College had been incorporated into the Board of Trustees in the State of New York for which Rev.Zumbro later became the President.
The noble vision was fulfilled as the board contributed $ 32, 000 in 1905 and a two storied college Hall ( main hall) was constructed with $ 16,150 in 1907-08. The 75th anniversary of the American Madura Mission saw the American College new and buoyant. Rev.Zumbro succeeded Rev.Washburn and became the first Principal in the new site.
In 1914 American College was recognised by the Madras University as a first grade college and started receiving government aid. With a sole aim to provide greater independence and autonomy to the college, the board in 1931 deliberated over separating American College from the Mission department of the American Madura Mission. This move involved intense debates and in January 15th 1934, the Governing council of the American College was created and American college was registered as a Society in 27.6.1934. Since then the Governing Council of the American College has become a legal entity and took up the entire administrative responsibility of the College. However, two American boards were acting as Controlling Agency of the American College property till 1972. One was United Church Board for World Missions (UCBWM), which even now contributes lakhs of rupees every year and crores of rupees for special developments and the other was The Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund for the American College which is not attached to any Church but was started in 1920s by an old student of Oberlin College and scientist Charles Martin Hall (1885) with his own money. These two boards handed over their roles as the controlling agencies valuing the leadership of Indian educationists in 1972. This gives us a clear understanding about their broad ideas about liberal higher education.

Handing over this administrative independence and legal autonomy and independence to administer and govern property to the Governing Council of the American College has not altered the Christian Character of the American College and has never ignored or undermined the representation of the CSI Diocese. Out of 14 members in the Governing Council 3 representative membership has been given to the church.

  • The Bishop of CSI Diocese is just a member and chair of the Council and he doesn’t have any executive powers.
  • Only the Secretary who is also the Principal of the college has executive powers.
  • He (the Principal) is also the secretary to the Governing council with executive powers.
  • The Principal and Secretary is the only person given with administrative responsibilities.
  • The Bishop or the CSI Diocese that he represents can not interfere with the day to day administration of the American College.

If the Bishop is not able to attend the Governing council meeting, which the Secretary can only convene, he can not even send his representative on his behalf. Instead the Governing Council can choose a non-teaching GC member as the chairman.

American College and CSI Diocese

When CSI was formed in 1949 the American Madura Mission like other Missions joined with the CSI. But American College never joined with the CSI and is never a part of the CSI Diocese. Its sole authority is the Governing Council. The Bishop has got nothing to do with the college except being a chairperson in the Governing Council.

Bishop Christopher Asir’s Unlawful Claims!

Bishops unnecessary, unlawful, unconstitutional claims should not hide this essential truth that he has got nothing to do with the American College administration. He (the Bishop) is an outsider. If we (the people of The American College) fall prey to his lies it is a great loss to Christians, Christianess and Christianity and the betrayal of goodwill of the missionaries who started the American College. It should also be known that the American Madura Mission was practising Christian inclusiveness, tolerance and were pluralistic in their approaches to educate and uplift to benefit mostly those who were depressed and downtrodden

Will the Bishop, who is interested in appropriating the American College, explain how the CSI church has contributed to the American College?

Many Hindus and Muslim friends have donated for buildings in the college. The Tamilnadu government and University Grants Commission provide crores of rupees towards staff salary and students welfare. CSI church has not given a single penny for the American College. The present Bishop doesn’t have the habit of giving. The whole world knows that he has the habit of taking away what is not rightfully his. We cannot Sacrifice the American College to this Selfish interest of the Bishop.

A painful note.........

It should be borne in mind that the sacrifices that the missionaries had made those adverse times were to benefit mostly those who were depressed and downtrodden, trampled by the hostile forces and enslaved by oppressive systems of such times. Missionary education has provided meaning to millions of such lives over the years and I am here writing this to you only because of the sacrifices made by the Missionaries of the American Madura Mission. If not for them who else ?……….. the depressed classes would have continued to be depressed and education would always have been a distant reality to many.

Even today the American College Cherishes those good values and practices inclusiveness in education with a vision to develop in students, even from underprivileged background, the capacities to become a global citizen.
This we believe. This we will die for……..

Save the American College .

On behalf of The Teaching, Non-teaching staff and Students of American College.

Long live Alma mater