GUWAHATI, June 2 - It was established with five professors and 39 students on the roll on May 27, 1901 as a Government-run undergraduate college. But soon, it emerged as the only centre of academic, cultural and literary renaissance and became a symbol of hope for all conscious people of then Assam, which is now divided into seven States and known as the North-East region of the country.
During the past 117 years of its existence, Cotton College, which became Cotton University on Thursday, produced generations of people who played and have been playing major roles as leading academicians, administrators, scientists, artistes, players, litterateurs, politicians, et al in this part of the country and also at the all-India level.
It has been serving as a large window through which the light and winds of change in ideas have been reaching the minds of the people of this part of the globe. It is also at the core of the movement to wrest a special identity for the people of Assam. It has been playing a major role in moulding the mindset of the people of the NE region, particularly Assam.
During the freedom struggle of the country, this college was also a centre of anti-British activities. Former Prime Minister Late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and former president of All India Congress Committee Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose visited the college on November 28, 1937 and October 31, 1938 respectively.
Addressing the Cottonians of that period, Pandit Nehru said, �You and I live in an age of transition. If anyone does not like revolution, he has chosen a very bad time to come to this world� The world is through a process of complete change and it is up to you, the students of India, to take part and effect those changes� (the Cottonian, 1938, as quoted by former Deputy Editor of The Assam Tribune Late Naren Bujar Barua in a write-up published in the Sunday Reading supplement of this daily on October 25, 1992).
The establishment of Cotton College is connected with the aspirations and demands of the people of Assam. Prior to its establishment, the Government-run Gauhati School was raised to the higher or collegiate level in July 1865 with an establishment cost of Rs 12,000 per annum. The collegiate section of the school was opened in May 1866. But this experiment failed and finally, the Government reverted the school to its former status in 1876.
The above information was provided by noted historian Late Prof Heramba Kanta Barpujari (A Short History of Higher Education in Assam 1826-1900) and the Harbinger published by the Cotton College Union Society on October 17, 1992.
The issue of setting up a college in Assam continued to hang fire until March 1899, when Late Manick Chandra Barooah wrote to the then Chief Commissioner of Assam: �Assam is the only province which has not got a college. Indeed, it has not a high institution worth the name. A college at Gauhati with a European principal will be better appreciated by the students than similar private institutions in Calcutta (owned by native gentlemen) to which they generally resort.�
Late Barooah also strongly argued that the college should be set up at Gauhati (Guwahati). This was followed by numerous representations from various parts of Assam favouring the establishment of the college at Gauhati. The then Chief Commissioner of Assam, Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton, accepted the opinion of the people and took vigorous steps to lay the foundation of the college that was named after him. Frederick William Sudmersen, BA, IES was the first principal of the college, who served it for around 26 years.
The college started enjoying the status of a postgraduate institution over 50 years back. The demand to upgrade its status into a university was raised in the later part of the 1980s. It was declared a centre of excellence on October 17, 1992 by the then President of India, Late Dr Sankar Dayal Sarma. In 2011, the Cotton College State University (CCSU) was created through a legislation with Cotton College as its constituent college. But the relations between the CCSU and Cotton College were not smooth and friendly. This necessitated the enactment of another legislation and hence came the 2017 Cotton University Act. As per the provisions of this legislation, Cotton College was formally declared a university on June 1.
The new university will have classes right from the Higher Secondary level to the PG level and it will have research programmes too. At present, it has a total student strength of around 5,000, including research scholars. It has so far around 300 teachers against a sanctioned strength of around 500. Around 200 teachers are being recruited by the university as per the announcement made by the State Education Minister yesterday while declaring the upgrade of the college into a university.
It is expected that �within three months and not exceeding six months� the statutory bodies of the university � like the court, executive council and academic council � will be formed and these bodies will chart out the roadmap for the university as per the Cotton University Act.
The new university is expected to open new vistas of higher education in the State with innovative teaching and research activities.