Appoint A Competent Authority To Jaffna Uni: JUSTA

The Jaffna University Science Teachers Association (JUSTA) has called for the appointment of a competent authority in order to revive the university structures and rid the establishment of the malpractices that was steeped in for the past few years.

JUSTA while noting the abuses of power and malpractices that were committed by the university administration during the past few years, has noted that it is time to reintroduce the autonomous structures to the university as well as to ensure that accountability is promoted.

 Rajiva Wijesinha - Minister Higher Education

“This the university cannot presently do by itself in the deteriorating state of the structure,” they have noted.
The organisation has highlighted several irregularities and malpractices that occurred during the Rajapaksa regime to which includes:

The Vice-Chancellor’s attempt to coerce the academics into signing a document pledging support to Mahinda Rajapaksa on December 23, 2014, claiming its a directive of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman

The lackadaisical attitude towards the abuses of recruitment committed by the VC, by the admsinitration, the Council and the Deans

The irregular manner in which the External members of the Council were appointed and the manner in which the Council discussions were carried out, resulting in a majority of internal members falling in line with the former regime’s policies in expectation of certain perks

Recruitment of substandard academics due to abuses of power by the VC, which has been condoned by the UGC

In order to attempt to reverse the adverse impacts of these actions, the JUSTA has called for the following series of tasks to be taken by a Competent Authority who would be appointed:

Holding an inquiry into the cases of malpractice in academic appointments

Holding a probe into the financial malpractices suggested by the Attorney General’s report on December 2012

We publish below the statement in full;

Cleaning up the University of Jaffna

Jaffn UniAn Appeal by the Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association University of Jaffna

In a healthy university the academics should feel and act the vice chancellor’s equals. When that does not obtain the university becomes unfit to be the chrysalis of future thinkers and leaders.

On 23rd December 2014 the Vice Chancellor of Jaffna circulated to the Deans a virtual order that she said originated in a ‘request’ from the UGC Chairman to obtain the signatures of academics supporting the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election (EN 1). The unions played their part in exposing this scandalous imposition and no signatures were forwarded to the UGC Chairman. This exemplifies the crude and at times abusive manner in which academics are treated and spoken to at university meetings. When academics allow themselves to be treated as servants, they are mainly to blame for the state of the university.

Several reports of the JUSTA (one signed by over 80 academics) detailing abuses in recruitment circulated to the Vice Chancellor and Council were systematically ignored. Neither was the Administration, the Council nor especially the Deans at any time willing to discuss the matter (EN 6). It is ironical that the Council which repeatedly ignored representations on abuse, had finally to give answers at the Supreme Court to a Fundamental Rights application where the VC and Dean have lied under oath on several counts (EN 2).

Council, Internal and External Members; Who is to Blame? A government minister was given virtual control of the University. He appointed the external members to the Council who were a majority taking orders from him. Council decisions were discussed at pre-council meetings of external members a day before the actual meeting. The result was that the deans who constituted the majority of internal members found that for their business to run smoothly they must fall in line. Conformity also eased the route to perks (which included recruitment of their favourites). Even the election of the vice chancellor lost any semblance of independence.The last election of the vice chancellor in March 2014 was minutely scripted at the Minister’s office(EN 3). Nothing else and no other voice mattered.

It is easy to point the finger at external members, but this would be to make them scape goats for the sins of academics who are internal members of the council. It is the Vice Chancellor and Deans who run the University and no council decision can pass without their consent. In a normal selection board two thirds of the members are academics, including the Vice Chancellor and the Dean concerned. Every abuse in selection was dictated by an internal member, the Vice Chancellor with the willing or unwilling support of a Dean or vice versa.

Abuses have their roots in a longer history in the unwillingness of Senates and Councils to assert themselves and there have been instances from the early 2000s of promising well-qualified applicants to academic positions being administratively suppressed and the applicant ignored without any communication. What happened subsequently was simply superimposed on earlier practices, where the University’s democratic safeguards had become ineffective.

This state of affairs is calculated to pack the University with sub-standard academics who will not think for themselves, kowtow to anyone in authority and perpetuate mediocrity.

Related to this are non-academic appointments through political lists sanctioned by UGC Circular 876. This results in support staff essential to the running of the University seldom being recruited for their ability. In the recruitment from political lists of persons who fared very badly in aptitude tests, the dirty work has been done mainly by academics seeking political favours (EN 4). Circular 876 is contrary to the written law which guarantees equality of opportunity for all citizens and should be immediately rescinded.

We thus urgently need to revitalise the dormant democratic structures of the University together with structures for accountability. This, the University cannot at present do for itself in the atrophied state of these structures.

We urge you to appoint as Competent Authority a suitable person who would revive the University’s structures and put them back on track. For the reasons given our present deans and those who have exercised executive power over selections in the past are grossly unsuited for this role.

Among the first tasks of the competent authority is to hold an inquiry into cases of malpractice in academic appointments in the reports given in EN 4 and others that may be brought to the inquiry committee. We have given three prima facie cases where the rejected candidates should be given relief without delay (EN 2). Another is to look into financial malpractice suggested by the Auditor General’s report of December 2012.

The person appointed as competent authority should possess a reputation for integrity, an impartial mind capable of an unbiased approach and, importantly, be one who is unconnected with abuses of the past and have suitable administrative experience.

We make our request on the strength of the important contribution we made to give the country a new beginning and new hope of a democratic future. The electors in the North were confronted with a vacuum. It was left to our unions to issue public appeals telling people that to vote is to stake a claim to making their own future (EN 5). This no doubt played a significant role in changing the public mood to participate in massive numbers. We trust our hopes are vindicated and our University, the main centre of knowledge and learning in the North, will have a new beginning.

End Note

1. Brazen Violation Of Election Laws And Bullying By UGC Chairman And Jaffna VChttps://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/brazen-violation-of-election-laws-and-bullying-by-ugc-chairman-and-jaffna-vc/

2. Academic Recruitment: Affirm Excellence or Perpetuate Mediocrity and Corruption?https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/jaffna-uni-teachers-up-in-arms-governor-chandrasiri-and-douglas-not-to-be-seen/

3. VC Election In Jaffna: An Open Season For Academic Suicide-https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/vc-election-in-jaffna-an-open-season-for-academic-suicide/

5. Discriminating Against Excellence-https://www.colombotelegraph.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Academic-Criteria-FINAL-30-Jul-Clean.pdf

6. Vote to Save Democracy-https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/vote-to-save-democracy-jaffna-university-science-teachers-association/

7. Selection to Academic Positions in the University-https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/justa-faults-selection-procedure-for-academic-positions-on-campus/