By Malinda Seneviratne –
The University of Sri Jayawardenapura has decided to terminate the services of Anuruddha Pradeep Karnasuriya , Lecturer (Probationary). This decision was taken, based on a stipulation that a probationary lecturer should obtain a Masters degree within 8 years after joining the particular university. The D-Day for Karnasuriya was March 9, 2013.
A media release on the issue by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) points out, ‘If the probationary period comes to an end while the thesis had been submitted but the result have not been released, it is customary to place the individual concerned within the ‘temporary’ position until such time that the results are released and once the results are released the appointment is backdated to the date of submission of the master thesis’. FUTA adds, ‘there are many in the system currently, including those at the top most rung of university administration who have benefited from this practice’.
Karnasuriya submitted his thesis on March 1, 2013. Thus, according to standard practice his status as ‘Lecturer (Probationary)’ should have been affirmed by the University Council and revisited for either permanency or termination upon the relevant authorities making a determination either way on his thesis.
What is pertinent here is that the Council has been misled into believing that the thesis was submitted on March 20, 2013 and not March 1, 2013. Whether this was deliberate or not, we do not know. What is known is that several members of the Council were pressured by the Minister of Higher Education, S.B. Dissanayake to terminate Karnasuriya’s services.
What is also known is that Karnasuriya has been one of the most vocal critics of the Government’s education policy, especially with respect to private universities. His notes in the ‘Ravaya’ (as gleaned from a debate with a colleague of the same university, Navaratne Banda) clearly establishes Karnasuriya as the most informed and most articulate advocate of ‘free education’. His book, Pudgalika Vishvavidyala Vilaasithava Saha Yathaarthaya (The fashion and reality of private universities) remains the most comprehensive analysis of policy prerogatives given social, economic and political realities.
Is all this irrelevant? Yes and no. Yes, because the decision is preceded by a history where Karnasuriya has exchanged words with the Minister. The Minister has referred to the fact that Karnasuriya is still on ‘probation’. The Minister, as FUTA points out, has clearly been irked by Karnasuriya’s ‘often piercing criticism on how universities are managed, how funding for education has been systematically reduced and the loss of academic freedom’. Silencing Karnasuriya by way of taking him out of the ‘irritancy’ that is FUTA would certainly relieve S.B. Dissanayake. The majority of the Council members, as FUTA points out, are appointed by the Minister. We cannot underestimate the minister’s voice and hand in the decision. He was ‘present’ and therefore his interests have to be factored in, both in decision and in reading of decision. Revenge-intent has to be suspected. Vindictiveness is indicated.
But whether or not S.B. Dissanayake is pleased or displease is beside the point. What is pertinent is that the Council moved on the basis of an error, deliberate or otherwise. Karnasuriya has been done in by the Council in an unprecedented move. It can, should and will be read as yet another example of the Government’s policy of politicizing further the university system and reining in dissent from academic.
For the record, Karnasuriya has never given a blank cheque to the Opposition or the Government. He has not opposed the Government on each and every issue. He has defended what he believed ought to be defended and by the same token has objected to the objectionable. He is no yes-man and neither is he a no-man as such one finds in the academic hell bent on regime-change on account of party preference. He has always chosen reason and substantiation over emotion and rhetoric. He is one of the most informed and sharp-minded academics in the university system, a fact that even those who disagree with him on certain issues, would readily acknowledge.
This decision is so wrong. It shames the council. It shames the university. It shames the minister. It shames the Government. There is only one course of action that can correct this injustice: acknowledgment of error on the part of the Vice Chancellor’s office leading to the Council decision. It has to be done. Right now.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com
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