Several academics (Savitri Goonesekere, Lalitha Mendis, J.N.O. Fernando, FUTA) have written in various forums decrying the circumstances surrounding the appointment of VCs. They stress the importance of the best people applying and decry the political influence peddling that prevents that. Many demand the rule of law in doing things by the Universities Act, pointing to the lapses of past UGCs. I cannot but agree with them and endorse what they argue for.
However, most of them argue that Dr. Kumara Hirimburegama should not be a candidate for VC/Colombo because of conflict of interest by virtue of his spouse Kshanika Hirimburegama being the UGC Chairman, and they make him out as an academic nobody. Their argument about conflict of interest ignores the modern world where the wife no longer is confined to the kitchen. Just because Kumara’s wife Kshanika is UGC Chairman, Kumara does not lose his right as a Sri Lankan citizen to aspire to be VC.
When both husband and wife are in the same system – and all Sri Lankan universities belong to the same system – it creates a little untidiness but we must rise up to the occasion and make special arrangements to accommodate the rights of both to their careers. We have more than once had one spouse as VC or Department Head while the other spouse is a lecturer or professor whose promotions, leave etc. were approved by the former. We have managed to make special arrangements without asking one spouse to go home and mind the kitchen. A person being up the ladder of his or her spouse and special arrangements to avoid the ensuing conflict is untidy. But to ask one spouse to quit working to avoid that untidiness is an ugly violation of that spouse’s fundamental rights.
Yes, Kshanika Hirimburegama has a conflict in chairing the UGC when her husband’s name comes up for a recommendation to be VC from among 3 names forwarded by the Colombo Council. That is the kind of untidiness we have always handled by the deciding spouse recusing himself or herself and letting someone else take that decision. This I understand she has very correctly done by arranging to not attend that pertinent meeting and letting the UGC Vice Chairman handle that meeting. The purist may argue that such decisions will be tainted because they are all friends. That is, as stated, untidy (and should not be a problem if our appointment processes ensured that everyone has integrity). But the alternative is ugly – telling a citizen that he is not entitled to aspire to be VC like everyone else.I know of one university where a lowly non-academic applied and another where a madman did. But their applications received full consideration and voted on at the Council, as must Kumara Hrimburegama’s.
Savitri Goonesekere makes out that Dr. Kumara Hirimburegama is a joker at the lowest rank in the university. Totally untrue. The lowest confirmed academic rank is Lecturer (B-04a) and he has been well above that for years. She refers to him as Professor in another place and then says he is Senior Lecturer Grade II lacking the qualifications for the immediately higher grade of Senior Lecturer Grade I. This is careless, irresponsible and reprehensibly false. He has a Ph.D which Prof. Goonesekere does not have – the lack of which is covered up by her title professor. In the year 2005 I know Kumara was already Senior Lecturer. If that had been at Grade II, to move to Grade I by promotion, UGC Circular 721 stipulates “A Senior Lecturer Gr. II who has completed one year on the maximum of the salary scale or has served six (06) years in that grade may be considered for promotion.” This is 2013, 8 years after I knew him as at least Senior Lecturer Gr. II. So it cannot be correct to say he lacks the credentials for promotion to Grade I. Indeed it is slanderous for Prof. Goonesekere to make these claims against someone who has better degrees than she. Besides, he has wide administrative experience as Director and Dean and a record of international publications in high quality journals and citations that would be the envy of many academics.
So why all this nonsense against him? Jealousy against him? Against his spouse Kshanika? Politicking for the post of VC by knocking Kumara out?
I do not mean to root for Kumara Hrimburegama or either of the other two candidates to be VC/Colombo. That must be done by a careful examination of the records of all three finalists by those appointed to do that. My point is that he is no academic joker and as a citizen is entitled to aspire to be a VC and to be considered equally with the other candidates.
S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole