Colombo Telegraph brought out several reports on the protests launched by the students of Uduvil Girls’ College last September against the ‘forced retirement’ of their former Principal Mrs. Shiranee Mills and the violence unleashed on the students by a section of the teachers and some others with close links to the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI) headed by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah.
This issue led to a campaign by the alumni and well-wishers of both Uduvil Girls’ College and Jaffna College with a view to putting an end to the authoritarian grip the leadership of the Church has on the administration, finances and recruitment at both institutions. Based on credible reports received after investigations, the Trustees of Jaffna College Funds, a fiduciary trust based in Boston that supplies funds for the running of both institutions, decided to reduce the allocations for the first quarter of the year 2017 by 20% in January and strictly requested the Boards of Directors of both institutions to implement 9 key reforms before the 30th of June 2017 to ensure transparency, accountability and good governance in the administration of the schools.
Based on two letters sent to the Bishop, who chairs the Boards of the two schools, by the Trustees since their initial letter dated 5 January 2017, Colombo Telegraph can safely conclude that the Bishop has responded to the Trustees’ initial letter twice, first on the 12th of February and later, on the 15th of March. We covered the first response and the Trustees’ comments on it in our last report. This short commentary is about the subsequent developments.
As we reported in our last commentary, the Trustees were not satisfied with the Bishop’s first response which was not shared with anyone else and insisted that they required a response from the Bishop before the first deadline, the 30th of March detailing the measures that the two Boards had taken to address the concerns raised by the Trustees. The Trustees’ second response which was sent on the 31st of March to the Bishop and shared with 19 others and the alumni notes that the Trustees received another letter from the Bishop on the 15th of March 2017. The Trustees’ letter, overall, indicates that the Bishop’s response and his plans to reform the two institutions have failed to convince the Trustees. It states that they have decided to reduce the funds allocated to both schools by 20% for the second quarter of the year 2017 as well.
From the letter sent by the Trustees on the 31st of March, we are able to make the following observations about the content of the Bishop’s response dated 15 March 2017:
1. The Bishop has along with his response sent drafts of the audited financial statements for both schools and a mater plan for Jaffna College,
But the Trustees require (a) Final copies of these statements, (b) Comments on the quality of the audit process, (c) management letter about internal financial controls and related governance matters)
2. The Bishop has responded to the Trustees’ comments on 8 areas of reforms. But the Trustees are, for the most part, not satisfied with the Bishop’s response. They have requested the Bishop to submit progress letters for items 2-9 before the 30th of June. The Bishop has also been requested to include in the progress letters what steps the two Boards have taken to meet the goals mentioned and a date by which they commit to complete the process.
The Trustees note that they are in general satisfied with the qualifications of those who serve on the Board of Directors. But the alumni of Jaffna College argue that it is important to see how many of these qualified and experienced members can work independently and how many of them can fearlessly challenge the leadership of the Board when it makes decisions that are against the interests of the schools and clear violations of standard administrative procedures. They also note that these members of the Board have done nothing when unsuitable persons were recruited for teaching positions at Jaffna College. Given their complicity in past violations, these members no longer command the confidence of the parents, alumni and well-wishers of the school, the alumni note.
Most members of the current Board are part of Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. The constitution of the Board of Directors requires only 6 members, including the Bishop, to be appointed by the Diocesan Council of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. Although Protestant Christians from other denominations that have membership in the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) can be nominated to the Board of Directors, the alumni of Jaffna College note that the Bishop and other JDCSI members, possibly with the intention to avert threats to their authority, have appointed only one non-JDCSI Protestant Christian to the Board. Ms. Vijula Arulanantham, a member of the Anglican Church, is a close legal associate of TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran who represented the Bishop in several court cases. They also note that most members of the Board do not make active contribution during the meetings of the Board of Directors but remain mute spectators. Ms. Arulanantham, a non-JDCSI member of the Board who is based in Colombo, is unaware of many of the problems that destabilize the school. They, for instance, note that Ms. Arulanatham does not know how teachers are assigned to teach different subjects. Moreover, she has gone along with many of the improper appointments made in the past.
A section of the alumni note that to bring about a concrete transformation in the way the school is run, the alumni associations and parents’ associations should collectively appoint eminent educationists and persons of high integrity who have made significant contribution to education and social change and are independent of the JDCSI for at least 50% of the positions in the Boards. Though there is no provision for this in the constitution of the Board, the Trustees should insist a change of this kind is introduced. They argue that this is the only avenue to end the corruption, nepotism and malpractices that continue unabated even after the strong letter sent to the Board of Directors in January by the Trustees.
We reliably learn that persons with irrelevant qualifications teach in both primary and senior schools. For instance, many who teach in the primary school possess qualifications in such areas as commerce and home economics although in state-run schools only those who underwent primary training are appointed to teach the primary classes. Likewise, in the senior school, subjects like Tamil, Science and English are taught by people who do not have any special or relevant qualifications in these subjects. The administrator who handles teaching assignments reportedly makes his decisions based on his personal preferences without taking into consideration if the persons he assigns to teach the different subjects have proper and relevant qualifications.
At a Board meeting held in March 2017, a female Vice Principal was appointed as there had been no women in the administrative positions of this co-educational institute. When the position was advertised, the advertisement said that the female Vice Principal would be responsible for the girls’ hostel. Though more than two months have passed since the appointment was made, a male Deputy Principal continues to be responsible for the girls’ hostel. It is reported that the female Vice Principal is yet to receive her appointment letter with terms and conditions. In 2013, a female Deputy Principal was appointed by the Board of Directors. She too was not given an appointment letter but expected to join the school in January 2014. She left Jaffna College three weeks after assuming duties. In January 2017, a new English teacher was recruited. Although he has a BA in a different subject, he was underpaid for several months. He reported this matter to the Principal but no action was taken. Eventually he too left the school. All these developments show that the Principal is not in control of the school and another administrator seems to make crucial decisions. The Board of Directors do not seem to abide by the standard procedures and guidelines that are followed when appointments are made at other public and private institutions. This trend continues even after the Trustees sent a letter asking the Board of Directors to rectify the administrative problems in the school.
The deadline to submit the progress letters for items 2-9 and other financial documents mentioned above is the 30th of June. We reliably learn that the Board of Directors have not consulted the representative of the Alumni on the content of the progress letters. The alumni representative has repeatedly requested the Board of Directors to give him a copy of the Board of Directors since November 2016. The Trustees want all the governing documents of the school to be accessible to the alumni and the larger public. But the representative of the alumni, himself a member of the Board of Directors, has not been given a copy of the constitution so far. All these developments and trends show that the administrators and the Board of Directors have no interest in the development of the school. The alumni and well-wishers of the school continue to hold the view that only a more robust intervention on the part of the Trustees that would make the school at least partially independent of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India will put an end to the chaos at Jaffna College.
One observer from the North noted that while TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran claims in the wake of the recent crisis in the Northern Provincial Council he is keen to address the corruption in the Northern Provincial Council, he directly and indirectly supports and protects through legal counsel those who are responsible for corruption at Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College. Sunday Times in February 2015 quoted the Bishop saying that the Board’s lawyers were drawing upon a defamation case against the letter sent by the Trustees in January and reported that Sumanthiran was among the counsel.
Please click here to read the latest letter sent by the Trustees to the Chairman of the Board of Directors