Reviving Jaffna University

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Building upon 17 Aug. 2015

Jan. 8 this year was exciting but fascist forces loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa were still in control of parliament. No major matter could be passed except for the laudable constitutional changes. Today, after the elections of 17 Aug., parliament has only some 30 MPs owing their loyalty to Rajapakse. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena have at long last the chance to deliver on their promises and build an inclusive Sri Lanka where all can live as equals.

Obstacles at the Helm in Jaffna

The same Rajapaksa-Devananda protégés, however, are still in control of our lives, backed by the judicial system, the Attorney General (AG), the police, etc. The army’s mobile liquor outlet is actively present outside as schools close in the Vanni. At a school competition, the army sponsored the prize – a bottle of whiskey!

The Vice Chancellor of Jaffna University is one who ordered academics to sign a statement for a Rajapaksa victory. She continues to evade inquiries demanded by JUSTA, the Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association, into her unlawful appointments in collusion with Douglas Devananda. With power still in her hands, she continues her old game even after the elections. She promised him the professorship in exchange for his compliance, says an official of Jaffna’s University Teachers’ Association. Academic sexual predators have a field day as she defends them in exchange for their support. In one instance 25 girls have testified.

Horning Aloud Jaffna’s Level of Education – A Traffic Sign

The VC finds it easy to blind UGC and ministry officials by a tour of new buildings and hosting them to a sumptuous dinner at the KKS Army Restaurant. With full stomachs, they see only the new facilities they funded and congratulate themselves, and are unwilling to hear anything they do not want to hear. They are blind to the deep rotting of the university as unqualified favorites are appointed to permanent positions. The UGC Chairman has refused to inquire into the extensive documents on corrupt appointments provided by JUSTA. “There are 100 unions, I cannot listen to them all,” he told me.

Anti-Christian Communalism

The UGC Chairman reportedly put down complaints to him by JUSTA as a Christian plot, reports an official of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations, FUTA, who pushed for JUSTA’s request for an inquiry. That Rajapakse religious communalism is trumpeted by the Jaffna VC to council members in private at a time when Jaffna has voted against communalism in line with the rest of the country. She has even twisted advertisements for engineering, violating UGC Circular 721, to keep out a Christian, Dr. Sahayan, with a Canadian Ph.D. Instead she has recruited friends and relatives of Jaffna officials to the new engineering faculty without advertisement (and one of them on transfer which does not exist for academics).

Says a Jaffna University Councilor, a retired professor, “The UGC Chairman is unfit, not for refusing to believe JUSTA, but for refusing to look into their complaints.”

The new university Councilors appointed by this government convened a Grievance Committee but have been out-maneuvered by the VC and Deans. She placed as that committee’s chairman, an external council member who stooged his way to Senior Professor at Peradeniya without the mandatory eight years as Professor. Naturally, he says old Council decisions cannot be reopened.

Institutional Continuity?

In giving justice to the VC’s victims, a key issue is continuity. Dr. Vikramabahu Karunaratne who was terminated unjustly from Peradeniya and ordered to be reinstated by the UGC when I was a member, was refused reinstatement in the Rajapaksa era on the grounds that one Council cannot reverse decisions by “another.” Even after a presidential order by Maithripala Sirisena to pay his back-wages , he still has not got his money. That is the power of the old regime.

The AG has, says the Jaffna VC, advised the same to her. Nonsense. The VC and her junior Senior Professor want no inquiries into the engineered appointments. If the AG’s advice is correct, American slavery endorsed by Supreme Courts could never have been reversed by subsequent courts. There is only one council even though membership may change.

Do Tamils have no Sound Academics?

The people of Jaffna are proud of their educational achievements. Yet, since the displacement of 1990, the university has been saddled with the worst VCs possible – i) associate professors and local vernacular PhDs, ii) a Gopallawa Batch VC whose unprofessional letters made the Japanese Embassy check with the Commissioner General for Essential Services if they were genuine, iii) a VC against whom a mason complained that from his scaffolding he saw the VC compromised in his office with a naked student, and lastly iv) a VC with 3 credits at the OL who went to do home science in Poona, applied for VC falsely claiming a special degree in biochemistry and had also been accused by the Auditor General of fraud.

Are the Tamil people so bereft of scholars to deserve these VCs? Successive governments paved the way for this disaster by appointing clerks, trained teachers, and bare-bodied soothsayers to run the Council.

This government’s new Council (with the exception of the junior Senior Professor) is good. However, can it prevail with the corrupt VC and Deans in charge of the files showing their corruption?

At last week’s funeral for former VC K. Kunaratnam at the university, hard-headed speaker after speaker lamented with literal tears the choice of political VCs and the loss of standards. The VC looked on grim-faced. Reviving the university is a matter of national reconciliation. The government must show it cares with new clean appointees. The law provides methods for this cleanup.

Looking Abroad

The university, after being run-down by the war and unqualified VCs, is essentially bereft of sound leadership. Tamils settled abroad should be attracted back. So long as local nobodies lead the university, foreign somebodies will be resented and resisted.

Reviving English and the Arts Professorships

Another priority should be reviving English at Jaffna. That is tied-up closely to the Arts Faculty, which is practically dead. The last nail was the recent Circular 04-2014, which imposed a PhD or indexed publications for professorships. The UGC that passed it had all science academics ignorant of other traditions. Suddenly arts people with a 1-year master’s and trivial papers to be professors have to produce more than others. Those with PhDs do not need a single indexed paper. We will now see many fake vernacular PhDs for professorships!

Previously people like Senake Banadaranayake looked out for the arts folk. When we drafted Commission Circular 869 in 2005 for professorships, he insisted on adding the Social Sciences and the Arts and Humanities Citation Indexes to judge papers. He made the point that the best works in the humanities are in books and kept them as a professorship pathway. The last Commission, while letting off doctors with Board Certification and no thesis, killed the Arts Faculties by requiring 15 citation index journal papers for the professorship from those without a PhD. But a PhD is not equivalent to 15 indexed papers. Just look at Peradeniya’s electrical department. While one brilliant professor, Janaka Ekanayake, has 24 indexed journal articles, the others after several years as professors with PhDs have merely 0, 0, 5, and 1 indexed publications.

The Commission passing that most unfair Circular 04-2014 had its Chairman Prof. Kshanika Hirimburegama with an impressive 22 indexed publications. Other Commissioners, however, after many years as Senior Professor, were well below the 15 they imposed for new Arts professorships. The new UGC Chairman has 9 indexed papers and no PhD. How can he demand 15 from Arts folk? Circular 04-2014 must go with the Jaffna VC.

English in Jaffna

The Faculty of Arts is the natural engine to drive Jaffna’s revival of English. We need programs in the English language led by academics trained in English. Till then, we will continue to see frequent odd turns of phrase and peculiar grammar in official documents which only diminish the university.

Without English, there is no reading. Research suffers. Jaffna VC’s paper at the research sessions on ingredients in Jaffna ice cream misrepresented to students a lab technician’s routine work in food inspection as advanced science. There are many sociology topics that the arts faculty can develop and usefully disseminate if they can write in English – e.g., why there were caste clashes at the recent Kandasamy Thiruvila, etc.

Outsiders’ Influence

The return of English in the University is evident now in Jaffna’s science faculty where half the students are Singhalese. Suddenly lecturers speak English to their students. Much more needs to be done – for example at the Kunaratnam funeral all speeches from the VC’s to a UGC Member’s to the Science Dean’s were in Tamil in the presence of Singhalese students. They just cannot instill inclusions in their students.

Like the Singhalese students, foreign students will increase the use of English, widen the reading material, and enhance quality. Foreign student numbers and academic standards need each other to grow. This will be helped by foreign teachers.

*The author was awarded the D.Sc. (Eng.) degree by London for his work in Computation. He has 115 indexed articles, some 40 other journal articles and several textbooks, besides his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon. He is the winner of the Gowri Award for 2015 by India’s Institution of Electrical and Telecommunications Engineers for his work Honest Ethics for Engineers. His next textbook, “Ethics for Engineers: An Internationalist, Human Rights Perspective,” is scheduled for release in June 2016 by Cognella Publishers, San Diego, CA. The author is settled in Nallur, Jaffna.

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