Speech on The College Union

Outline:

  • Definition: distinction with trade union
  • History of development: present status
  • Composition and election
  • Functions: finance and source of powers
  • Utility and importance of college union: demerits
  • Conclusion

College Union is the name that has come to be given to an elected body of the students of a college, designed to organize them into a compact form with a view to enlisting their effective participation in the administration of the extra-academic affairs of the college. Though the idea seems to have been borrowed from industrial trade unionism and the nomenclature suggests a similarity with a labor union, there is yet a sharp difference between the two. While a trade union exists outside the framework of the industrial organization concerned and functions exclusively to safeguard the interests of its members as against the conflicting interests of the employers, the College Union is a vital part of the college organisation and operates mainly to assist the college authority in the management of the extra-academic activities of the college with a view to securing to its members the maximum benefit of college education. The purposü of the former is to compete with the owners while the aim of the latter is to co-operate with the authorities.

The institution of College Union has developed gradually over half a century. Its history is, in fact, co-extensive with the growth of the modern concept of a college education. At the beginning of western education in our country, the only activity outside the academic curriculum that was open to the students was debating on set subjects. This was aimed at developing the power of speaking in English. With the passage of time, other activities such as sports and theatricals came to be recognized as essential to education. The scope, however, kept widening steadily until in the beginning of the second quarter of this century, a fullfledged cxtra-academic curriculum came to be incorporated into college education, providing for a large variety of physical, cultural and social activities both inside and outside the college premises. The control and particularly the initiative of these activities still rested entirely with the college authoritics. Here and there nominated student-committees, presided over by Professors, were called upon to take part in their management. But with the growth of the consciousness for political selfgovernment outside, students also began to move for the introduction of democracy insidc. What for this and what for the intention of the authorities to be relieved of the additional burden of works, the institution of College Union came to be introduced first as a nominated body and later as an elected organization with defined powers and functions. And today it is impossible to think of a college worth the name which does not provide for the union of the students.

There is no uniform rules guiding the constitution of College Unions and they vary ‘om college to college. Though the cabinet form may be seen here and there, in most of the colleges the union resembles a presidential pattern of government. By tradition, the principal of the college is the ex-officio President of the Union. The remaining office-bearers one vice-president, one General Secretary, and several departmental Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries–are elected by and from among the students in general. In some colleges, at first, a number of class representatives are elected to constitute what may be called the Parliament of the Union, which subsequently elects office-bearers from among its members. The system of voting is by secret ballot in every college. The polling everywhere is preceded by a full-scale election campaign and all formalities that characterize a political election. When the Union is elected, its office-bearers’ and members, if any, are included into office in a swearing-in ceremony. A modern College Union is, in short, the replica of a democratic Government.

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During its tenure of office which usually extends over a year, the Union holds the entire charge of conducting18 indoor and outdoor games, organizing sports, debates, social gatherings, 13 theatricals20 and exhibitions maintaining the common room, publishing the college magazine, supervising the college canteen and, in fact, initiating and organising all activities relating to the extra-academic life of the college. From time to time the Union also extends its activities beyond the college campus and steps into the various cultural and social sphere, such as, relief operations, fighting epidemics, exploratory tours and expeditions, o inter-college competitions and so on. The Union is vested with its own funds which is created by realizing Union fee from the students. A regular budget is passed and expenses are made in accordance with its provisions. Within the specified sphere of its jurisdiction, the College Union is autonomous, subject only to the supervision of the Principal of the college. The Union derives its powers and functions from a written constitution, recognized by the college authority whose operation, in part or whole, can be suspended only under emergent circumstances.

The importance of the College Union in any progressive scheme of higher education can never be overestimated. The end of education is to turn out intelligent and useful citizens. To that end, the College Union provides a comfortable ground for training the students in self-help, teamwork, organization and no less in leadership and administration. An election to the Union imparts to every student a valuable practical lesson in the various aspects of democracy and democratic institutions. As many of them will, in a future life, be called upon to shoulder greater responsibilities of similar nature, is essential to make a beginning in the college. If properly organized and guided, the Union can provide a dependable link between the authorities and the students and thus eliminate many roots of conflict which is sometimes found to vitiate the atmosphere of the college.

There is no denying that under this scheme of self-government in college, many students, particularly the office-bearers of the Union, have to spend a lot of their time in extra-academic activities which interferes with their studies and causes distraction in their mind. It is also undeniable” that the system of election generates bitterness and animosity among the rival groups, culminating at times in violence, and tends to create among the student’s spirit of indiscipline, defiances and an unhealthy zest for excitement and truancy. In some cases, the Union has been found to constitute a veritable avenue for the formation of political groups in the college and to champion unnecessary clashes with the college authorities.

These are, however, the darkest aspects of a system which arise mostly out of its misuse. Such limitations are associated with democracy itself. What is, therefore, needed to cure these ills is not to abolish the system of academic democracy but to provide for adequate safeguards against its abuse. To that end, the Principal and the Professors of a college, have a vital role to play. To ensure the healthy working of the College Union, the authorities of the college, particularly the teachers, must vigilantly watch over and guide the activities of the Union without unduly infringing its freedom of action, which will help to keep its office-bearers as also the students in general on the right track. Youthful minds are always susceptible to influence. If it does not come from their teachers, it is no wonder that the vacuum shall be filled up by pernicious influences, whether internal or external.

In conclusion, students should always bear in mind that misuse endangers the very basis of freedom and leads to its suppression. As the College Union is the symbol of academic freedom, it is only by means of running the Union on proper lines that the continued enjoyment of democracy and liberty in the college can be secured.

Our ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature.

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