St Berchmans' College, Changanassery, popularly known as SB College, one of the premier institutes of higher education in Kerala, is celebrating its 100th birthday. Founded on June 19, 1922, the arts and science college managed by the Changanassery Archdiocese will celebrate the centenary with a series of academic and cultural events planned over a year.
State Minister for Higher Education, R Bindu, inaugurated the centenary celebrations at an event, conducted in accordance with the Covid protocol, on Monday. Archbishop Mar Joseph Perumthottam chaired the meeting.
The academic programmes planned as part of the celebrations include a series of national, international and interdisciplinary seminars, establishing a multidisciplinary research centre, bringing out more academic publications from the Berchmans’ Press and publication of books on popular science.
The cultural events planned include an arts festival, film festival, Shakespeare night, drama festival, book fair and popular talk shows.
The college is also planning new infrastructure projects, including the renovation of the Kavukattu Hall, the institute's famed heritage auditorium, conversion of class rooms into ICT-enabled classrooms with ergonomic seating, building a centenary hostel, harnessing of solar power and establishing more rain water harvesting facilities.
The college, which used to be under the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, received the autonomous tag in 2014. It conducts 11 undergraduate courses, 14 postgraduate and 10 research programmes. It also has a self-financing wing with eight undergraduate, six postgraduate and three pre-doctoral programmes.
SB College is the first higher education institution of the Archdiocese of Changanacherry. It was founded in 1922 by Venerable Mar Thomas Kurialacherry, Bishop of Changanassery Diocese.
The college was first accredited at Five Star in 1999 and re-accredited at A+ in 2006 by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). In the third cycle of accreditation in 2012, the college was again graded at A. The Government of Kerala and UGC granted autonomy to the college in 2014. In 1996 and 1997, it won the coveted R Shankar Award for the Best College in the State. In 2004, the UGC identified the college under its “College with Potential for Excellence” scheme.
In its history of a century, SB has a long list of alumni who have reached the heights of various fields. They include Kerala's two-time Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Malayalam cinema's evergreen hero Prem Nazir.
The college still conducts an annual drama competition in memory of Nazir.
Some of the other prominent former students include Archbishop Emeritus Mar Joseph Powathil, Major Archbishop George Alencherry, veteran politician P J Joseph, health expert Dr B Ekbal, actor Kunchacko Boban, famed bureaucrat Raju Narayana Swamy, filmmakers/writers Siby Malayil, Jeethu Joseph, Martin Prakkatt and Bipin Chandran.
Though he was active in student politics, Oommen Chandy was not engaged in activism within the campus when he was student of BA Economics in SB. "It has been 55 years since I passed out of college. Still, I try to go to the campus at least once every year. I also found time to attend the alumni meet on the Republic Day for the past few years," Chandy said.
Dr Ekbal considers himself fortunate to be a former student of SB. He said the library in the college, one of the biggest in Kerala, was a big inspiration for him. He believes that SB has the potential to nurture a potential Nobel laureate from Kerala.
"There shall be more interdisciplinary courses and skill-based courses in the college. It also has to grow more in the research field," Dr Ekbal said. An eminent neurosurgeon, Ekbal is a former Vice Chancellor of Kerala University. He is the chairman of the Kerala government's expert committee on Covid.
Shakespeare at SB
The Department of English of SB has been maintaining a proud legacy of its Shakespeare theatre for over eight decades. The tower block of the campus, which has become the identity of the sprawling campus, was inaugurated in 1937 with a performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Famous writer and critic professor M P Paul was at the helm of the performance. Prof Paul's troubled relationship with the college is also part of its history. He had two stints as a faculty in the college as he was expelled once due to differences of opinion with the management and taken back later.
Nazir played the role of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice which was directed by Prof C A Sheppard in 1951. The campus has witnessed several Shakespearean performances in its Kavukatt Hall, Kallarackal Hall and the open stage in front of Arts Block in the past few decades.
Mariyamma Chedathy: the sweeper-cum-professor
The recognition given to Mariyamma Chedathy, who was a cleaning staffer of the college, for her knowledge in folklore is an important chapter in the institute's history. In 1997, the Department of Malayalam called a formal meeting to acknowledge Mariyamma as an expert in folklore. She was also given the opportunity to take classes for postgraduate students on folklore. Prof I Isthak played a major role in recognising and introducing Mariyamma's talents to the world.
Though managed by a Christian management, SB College has been carefully keeping a strong secular ethos all these years. For Josy Joseph, associate professor, English Department, the greatest distinction of SB College is its insistence on academic merit and secular values. "This is an institution that has never taken a single rupee as donation either for admissions or appointments in the hundred years of its existence. There aren't many colleges in Kerala that can claim this honour. Even when people are willing to give any amount to secure a seat or a job in an aided college -- SB, in spite of its premier tag, has religiously resisted the temptation. Being a minority institution run by the Catholic community, the college certainly exercises its rights guaranteed by the Constitution to protect the identity and interests of the community, but it has never closed the door to people from other communities. The secular ethos of the campus has always been intact, which is a reflection not only of our tradition but conviction as well," he said.
At 100, SB's academic and non-academic legacy stands as strong as the brindleberry tree on the campus, whose shade has been the favourite spot of generations of students.