As approved by the Board of Governors in its meeting held on November 27, 2018, the following Expressions of Religious Faith at MLCU Statement of priorities has been resolved to be adopted:
The vision and mission statements of this University, drawn from the intentions of the founders make several objectives amply clear. One line quoted from the minutes of the first Board of Governors meeting stands out: “The process of transformation must come about in such a way that it solves the problems of unemployment among young people, poverty, health, education and development. The university has come at the right time and should help our people to help themselves“. This mandate assigns a public and social role to the University.
The Northeast region and Meghalaya in particular suffers from poor social development. Many health, education and economic indices are among the poorest in the country. There are historical and cultural influences, some from the external forces of colonialization, Westernization, proselytization, Indianization and marginalization. These together with problematic internal issues have caused a churning to traditional tribal societies, yielding a burden of a long list of social challenges.
At a retreat of the faculty held on November 15, 2017, a few minutes was devoted to a side activity. Those present were asked to write down the problems currently facing Meghalaya and the Northeast. The consolidated list consisted of 72 items (annexure).
Democracy and secular thinking
“Democracy without its complement of secular thinking falls short of being a democracy. Secular thinking has to induct degrees of rationality and logic” (Thapar, 2015). The natural and physical sciences are generally accepted by all sections, because their principles and applications are unarguably logical, except to the most orthodox.
It is in the social sciences that overlap occurs between secular, ideological and religious theories and the application of these disciplines is open to narrow interpretations and practice. In fact, if one would consider the basis of social sciences to be human rights and social justice, then there are many examples of how ideology or religion has trampled on human rights and engendered discrimination. Education is one example, where its concepts and systems are sometimes adversely dictated by ideology or a particular religion.
A democracy or an institution ceases to be secular if is governed by a majoritarian view of any kind. This is a social concern that ultimately affects the individual adversely. So for democracy to be true, thought must be free. Free thought must be encouraged and protected in the university. Educational institutions, especially universities are the preparatory schools for democracy and therefore have a critical societal role.
However, one does not see the academician speaking out in public or writing in the general media, nor engaging with government or civil society, and least of all being involved hands-on with community work. In fact there is a deliberate aloofness, stemming from an attitude of superiority or indifference.
Moral and social imperatives
Thapar defines public intellectuals as “those who frequently concern themselves with issues related to human rights and to the functioning of society, such that it ensures the primacy of social justice.“ She urges academicians to speak up and to engage, especially in the current era where one has not only to battle against the familiar oppression of embedded social, cultural and religious traditions but even against a democracy which has taken a majoritarian hue. This latest hegemony is alluded to in her book The Past as Present (2014).
Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, well-known to psychologists, has six stages. The ultimate moral formation is the acceptance of universal human values. Implicit in this stage is the questioning and resistance to authority that infringes on human rights or values. Unfortunately, his research findings showed that in adults who have reached the age of 36 years, less than ten percent of individuals reach this final stage of moral formation. The majority of individuals are in arrested development, most of them at the school-age stage of unquestioningly complying with social or moral rules that have been ingrained in childhood.
Our first responsibility, therefore, is to affirm the University’s public and social role as a stakeholder, perhaps a leader in societal development. In this endeavour, it may be necessary to take positions independent of authority be it political, ecclesiastical or cultural, especially when those loci of power “resist ethics and reasoned thinking” (Thapar, p 23). These positions may be based on our disciplinary expertise, but may take us beyond our specializations. According to Jasanoff (2015), this works because
…the very virtues that make democracy work are also those that makes science work: a commitment to reason and transparency, an openness to critical scrutiny, a skepticism to claims that too neatly support reigning values, a willingness to listen to countervailing opinions, readiness to admit uncertainty and ignorance, and a respect for evidence gathered according to the sanctioned best practices of the moment.
According to Sarukkai (2015), a professor at the Indian Institute of Science, “More than in any other activity, a public intellectual has to be seen to embody what she stands for – writing and doing cannot be disjointed acts”. Perhaps the outstanding example of this is the Centre for Science and the Environment (CSE). CSE conducts and compiles cutting-edge science, takes it to the public and government in an understandable format, advocates and initiates community movements and challenges government in the courts. Intellectual capital must yield social dividends.