By Aahithyan Ratnam –
There were two messages today (19 Jan. 2015): Even as Colombo Telegraph reported the call by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) for the UGC Chairperson Kshanika Hrimburegama to step down, Ceylon Today reported Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe, the new Minister of State for Higher Education, as being in a forgiving mood towards “Vice Chancellors and University Grants Commission (UGC) officials who openly campaigned for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.”
Explaining, he added, “I am personally against witch hunts. While we must take stern action against the corrupt and try to get back the plundered money we should not be vindictive against the weak-minded.” Elaborating further he added , “As the President said, if we try to take action against all those who gave in to pressures, we will have no time to do other work. The sad behaviour of many State officials we witnessed recently is nothing new.”
I am aghast. Impunity was one of the main platforms of this new government which we all rooted for. Prof. Wijesinghe may look to his Anglican roots for justification for forgiving an offender seven times seventy in the words of Jesus Christ. But that is God giving absolutions. And this is very different. When God forgives he is not hurting anyone and is forgiving only those repenting and having a change of heart. Here however, it is telling new officials that there will always be forgiveness without any change of heart; that no restitution is required. Worse, this kind of forgiveness that Prof. Wijesinghe wants hurts ordinary people. Let me explain.
In the case of the UGC officials and the VCs, will this generous forgiveness not lead to loss of restitution for the many who have been cheated and worked for this government, hoping to earn justice?
For example, the Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association has documented several cases of abuse of power by Prof. Vasanthi Arasaratnam, the Jaffna VC. To recruit favorites, ordinances have been violated to neglect first class graduate applicants for teaching positions saying they lack knowledge. This the Council did despite the fact that the same Department Head on the Selection Committee had earlier examined the candidate before awarding a first class degree. The VC signed negative reports on candidates whom she just did not meet.
Professor S.R.H. Hoole, the only person with a higher doctorate of service age from Sri Lanka, was found to be unqualified in teaching, research and national service – although with his 1000+ citations in Google Scholar he earns 500 points for research on one item alone whereas in all items together the relevant Circular 916 asks only for 115 points. The UGC Chairperson when queried by The Island on these matters promised an inquiry but when the facts were put to her she did nothing (Dasun Edirishinghe, “Jaffna University science teachers complain of foul play in recruitment: UGC Chairperson promises probe.”. Are the VC and Council (including internal members) who unanimously approved these egregious appointments and non-appointments to continue? From where will these people get justice if the same VC continues?
If UGC Chairperson, VCs and Councils abuse their authority like this to keep away the best teachers from our children, what is the effect? There will be no probe. There will be no justice for those denied well-earned appointments. There will be no sound teaching for our children as the second best teach them. The poor and the ordinary who voted for the new government and have no strings to pull will continue to be denied the right to rise through dint of hard work and thereby become professors. The uneducated riff-raff ministers who plundered us will be punished. But the scoundrels with PhDs will have forgiveness from our new government?
Prof. Wijesinghe wants to focus on financial plunder. Indeed the salaries being drawn by these undeserving appointees from the state is plunder. When the ineligible Dr. Priyantha Premakumara went on a conference at state expense, that is also fraud. When a student is admitted bypassing normal admissions norms on the mere request of a presidential son and has money spent on his or her education, that too is plunder of state coffers.
Worse, when university teachers are scared into signing papers of support for the president and ordinary folk vote for the president because they think that the academics who signed those papers are honest, that is plunder of our ballot.
It all finally comes down to plunder. The worst plunder is by those with PhDs who have a higher responsibility – responsibility to be honest and to be good role models to our children.
We plugged for this government based on its promises. If we are cheated now because the UGC Chairperson and many VCs are still connected to the new regime through their class connections and social networks and have earned “forgiveness”, even the salaries drawn by our ministers would be plunder because they lied to us to form this government.