14 April, 2024


FUTA Sympathy For Radical Students

By Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka

Prof. Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka

The tone of the recent statement by the Federation of University Teachers (FUTA) bitterly castigating the government for chasing away militant university students who were squatting like street bums inside makeshift shanties in Lipton Circus and demonstrating there in defiance of a court ruling, suggests that like its disreputable counterpart GMOA, FUTA is also tending to be driven by a political agenda. The statement has seemingly been issued by the FUTA secretary. Unless it was foisted on him by raving left leaning anti establishment academic radicals and political activists in FUTA, one assumes the statement was drafted by the learned professor himself. More the pity. We all appreciate that  being a reputable linguist he might enjoy playing with words to melodramatic effect. But there was no need to accentuate the fact, and risk forfeiting his intellectual authenticity with a paroxysmal burst of irrational hyperbole making hysterical references to “brutality” “intolerance of dissent”  “contempt for democratic values” and “suppression of student activists”, when all that happened was the perfectly legal dispersion of a large bunch of arrogant obstinate student agitators who insisted on defying a court order notwithstanding  seemingly deferential (even fatherly) pleas by the police as seen and heard on video replays of the incident. 

Everybody knows that Lipton Circus which adjoins the National Hospital, Dental and  Eye Hospitals, as well as Osu Sala and several large business establishments is one of the busiest intersections in the country. It is crowded even under normal conditions. Anything untoward in the viscinity can precipitate major traffic congestion within minutes disrupting the lives of a harassed public rushing to work, taking kids to school, struggling to return home after a hard day in the office, or desperately trying to get a patient into hospital. I wonder when FUTA academics last drove their own vehicle through this area during the rush hour. To allow raucous demonstrators canvassing some selfish cause to process through this area is in itself wholly unacceptable. For medical students enjoying the privilege of free education to boycott classes and set up vigils in their unsightly hovels by the roadside in defiance of the law – is outrageous.

In the present instance the student demonstrators must consider themselves lucky not to have been promptly kicked out for unlawful assembly and trespass on the basis of some existing municipal ordinance or by law. That they were allowed to remain pending a specific court order seems to have been a bonus. As for the use of water cannon to chase them out it was probably so much ‘water off the duck’s back’ of student activists. They have a tough hide developed  in the brutalized culture of campus  ragging where students torture each other while many academic staff ( no doubt all faithful members of FUTA ) usually acquiesce by their silent inaction devoid of moral outrage.

Moreover from a practical  perspective the use of water cannon to disperse student militants though a benign and merciful expedient is surely a travesty considering the tragic waste of good water during a period of intense drought with hundreds of thousands of poor people  in the Northern and North Central provinces alone suffering severe distress owing to a shortage of water. FUTA might whimper over pampered medical students who break the law and make a public nuisance of themselves being ‘pelted with water. However many people might feel that it would have been much fairer, more effective, and less wasteful if they had been dispersed in the old fashioned way using tear gas and baton charge instead of wasting precious water cannon.

The exaggerated FUTA reaction reflects a lack of objectivity, a tendency to political bias, and poor discernment. True, the present government may have disappointed and failed to meet the high expectations of its staunchest supporters on several counts. That the promise of good governance has been compromised by numerous shortcomings is undeniable. But the “inability to tolerate dissent” is not one of them, nor  the “violent suppression of peaceful protest”, nor “ contempt for democratic values”. 

For FUTA to accuse the government of such violations is fanciful nonsense. Indeed if such allegations were true FUTA would not have been able to support student activists with impunity and criticise the government as it has done without dire consequences. Nor would those of the previous regime who have committed high crimes and misdemeanors have managed to avoid retributive justice for so long. Nor could politically motivated medical students abusing taxpayer’s assistance have boycotted classes for 7 months  without being expelled from the University – which is the least they deserved. Indeed far from censuring the government for suppressing dissent it is likely that most  people would criticise it for being far too weak and lenient in its failure to maintain discipline, rigorously enforce the rule of law, bring political criminals to justice, crush disruptive strikes  by doctors, and firmly prohibit  strikes by students  who not being ‘workers’ do not have the right to strike anyway.

So in the end one fears that the statement by FUTA might be indicative of a new class of academics who identify with  rowdy radical students, descend to their level, and are manipulated by them rather than exercising enlightened influence over them. During 40 years teaching university students including several as Dean of a Faculty, I have known the best of students, witnessed the worst and meanest among them, and endured the dull mediocrity of the vast majority of them – since merit has long ceased to be the sole criterion for university admission. Coming from homes with poor parenting, schools where dedicated teachers are a rarity, their values and attitudes confused by the negative influences of a degenerate society devoid of inspiring role models, such students enter university immature, emotionally vulnerable, weak charactered and with no strong principles or durable moral foundation.

In such a campus milieu the highest duty of academic staff is to influence the character of students by pointing them to high ideals, and setting uncompromising standards of campus discipline, respect for authority, and submission to the rule of law. One would expect that FUTA and its membership would be committed to a campus culture that affirms non violence, tolerance, mutual respect and the rights of the individual,  where students are required to focus narrowly on academic work culture and sports to the total exclusion of politics or else get out in terms of the well known dictum “disce aut discede’ ( Learn or Depart ).

The FUTA support for the medical students who occupied Lipton Circus represents the very antithesis of this attitude. Medical students are amongst the most fortunate young people in the country enjoying the privilege of medical training  free of charge at taxpayers’ expense, with the imminent prospect of a good and affluent life as members of the most elite of  all learned professions. Their arrogant audacity in taking all this for granted and boycotting classes continuously for 7 months in contempt of the poor public who are their benefactors – all over a matter of government policy which is no business of students –  is  a monstrous scandal. Taking turns doing vigils lurking inside the filthy little squalid huts daubed with unsightly posters which they have erected in every university they glory in their shame. If there was any justice in this country they should have been given 3 days notice ages ago to resume their studies, and if they failed to comply summarily expelled from the University. The public can be justly alarmed. If as medical students they can be so hard hearted and arrogant, what will they be like when they become doctors ?

Moreover while naively holding the hand of today’s militant medical student activists FUTA seems blind to history and the reality that behind such protests is the tendency to fearful violence when denied or thwarted that has been a pernicious feature of the student culture in almost every generation. To this historical propensity for violence when provoked must be added the regular sadistic violence of human torture in the ragging of new entrants involving violent abuse and unspeakable obscenities coupled with physical and sexual violence where historically there have even been cases of murder and suicide.

Any serious consideration of the sordid history of violence by university students is outside the scope of this article. Nevertheless the folly of FUTA trying to be popular with desperate student groups who have an inherent historical propensity for disruptive violence comes into focus when one recalls even a fraction of the student conflicts that have tormented and created turmoil in the universities from 1953 to the present. At different times they have included interminable disruptive hartals strikes satyagrahas  and demonstrations, the humbug of fasts, and rioting, attempted sabotage, the attack on a police post and student clashes with the police and army, the harassment of a Prime Minister and assault of a lecturer in 1962, election related clashes, attacks on Tamil students and staff in 1983, storming of the administration, abduction of Deans and taking the vice Chancellor hostage, and violent resistance to police on campus on the basis that  normal laws do not apply to university students who are a privileged class. More than anything else we can never forget the prominent involvement of university students in the 1971 and 1989 brutal JVP insurgencies which terrorized the nation, bad old days when they murdered Vice Chancellors and when academic staff lived in mortal fear of their students who ruled the campus until it was liberated by the military. Such are the ancestors of today’s rowdy medical students who storm the Ministry of Health with mob violence, have the presumption to boycott classes for 7 months, and were chased out of Lipton Circus with water cannon  evoking the misplaced tears and foolish fury of FUTA !

Recently a well known political scientist with whom I was in friendly contention wrote warning that government policies were “radicalizing the large university student population as in the 1980s and they will soon rebel militantly”. He hoped with mock humour that when that happens they won’t lynch ‘reactionaries’ like me” ! If his ominous prediction ever came true I wonder on which side FUTA would be ? In 2010 the final monthly salary of a senior professor of the university at retirement was around Rs 93,000. Within a few years following a sustained campaign by FUTA it rose to around Rs. 250,000. Perhaps FUTA should stick to what it does best instead of dabbling in politics and sympathising with militant students pursuing their selfish radical agenda.

*Professor Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka – Emeritus Professor

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Latest comments

  • 6

    FUTA has a point of view and one could debate that.
    Attributing all manner of motive for the stand taken on an issue is to deflect attention from the issue.
    Students have a right to protest and that democratic right should be defended.
    Protesting about ‘unruliness of the students’ without criticizing outright deception by the government the rising brutality of the state is not very honest.
    There will be no protest if governments deliver on their pledges to the public.

    • 3

      SJ: Your mentality is amazing. It looks you are a perfect rationalist. YOur reasoning is very partial. Yes, Students have rights to protest and strike as everything is free. What if they had to pay, they would be in a hurry to get out in order to stop paying and working hard to earn that money.

      • 3

        All reasoning is conditioned. Each of us has his/her own philosophy; and reasoning is conditioned accordingly.
        Students do not protest simply because things are free. They are also young and think more freely than us.
        Look at what successive governments have done with education. The lack of investment is disgraceful. Is not there something to protest about?

  • 10

    What is the record of FUTA? Producing almost 50% of graduates who cannot find jobs !! Have they ever taken strike action against producing unemployable graduates?

    What right has FUTA got to strike against private education ? They should strike asking for the minimum medical standards in private and govt medical schools and demanding such medical faculties and private medical schools to be closed down if they don’t meet minimum requirements .

    The biggest issue is these FUTA members are assured of employment and perks irrespective of the quality of graduates and demand for the programs.

    What is FUTA looking for?

    1 duty free vehicle permit
    2 admission of kids to popular govt schools
    3 right to do external fee levying undergrad and post grad degrees within university premises with no quality measures
    4 right to pick kids from schools at 1-30 pm
    5 no accountability even if graduates cannot find employment
    6 no compulsion to do high end research
    7 increase govt allocation to education in order to demand higher salaries and allowances
    8 not paying taxes on income over Rs 600,000 per year.
    9 not opening tax files to pay income tax on other income such as tuition, income from external degree programs etc
    10 lecture only 4-5 hours per week
    11 oppose private sector education to prevent competition
    12 non contributory pension schemes funded by tax payers

    • 3

      jagath Fernando “……What is the record of FUTA? Producing almost 50% of graduates who cannot find jobs!!…………..”
      FUTA is a Trade Union. Successive GoSLs must carry the blame.

  • 7

    Well said professor! What can we expect from academicians today as many of them are of the same calibre as of the students you described in your valued article. There may be few good teachers but they do not want to come out with their ideas and if they do, there will be verbal as well as physical attacks on them. Stones will be thrown at their houses and their children will be targeted for lots of harassment. JVP started this in the universities in 70s and it is taken over by Kumar G’s group today.
    Majority of the university dons do not know what it was like before 1971. First of all university teachers should be taught of the conditions of a good university education.
    Many of us feel sad why this has happened to those prestigious places, once we too had education from.

  • 6

    This article reeks of unsympathetic elitism. It does not even say a word about the concerns raised by the students.

    • 7

      A brilliant analysis, which all FUTA members must read. They lead Universties which do rank even in 2000 level in the universe of world Unis. As for concerns raised by Uni students, what is their mentality if they keep away from lectures Who benefits. The time has come to make all graduates to pay as did in the UK in 1998 by a Socialist Govt.. Well said Professor

    • 3

      M anoj, Your position is right if the students pay for their education.There are allegations that some of them entered the universities after proxies answered the GCE AL exam.

      The solution is :
      1. Bioregister all studenets preparing for the AL exam. That will prevent proxies from answering the papers.
      Conduct all examinations at the Universities in English language. That will put a stop to their congregating in front of the Fort Railway station protesting against lack of employment.Please note that the Govt is no way bound to provide them with employment.
      Cost all streams of studies from the Kinder garten to the degree level and get the graduates to pay back the cost of the free education provided. There is no necessity for the tax payer to shoulder the costs for ever, especially with the increasing
      numbers entering the Universities.
      Implement the 80% attendance rule strictly.Let the Medical students who kept away from the lectures commence their studies from Day 1.
      Dismiss all Deans, Lecturers and other who help in wasting public money by favouring students.They did it in Turkey.
      Stop priests from entering Universities where there are civilians.
      As an extreme measure close the Universities for five years

    • 0

      “……reeks of unsympathetic elitism”? Polite equivalent “…………reeks of bloody fascism”! Interesting though.

  • 2

    The chinthanaya expressed by Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka in “FUTA Sympathy For Radical Students” is muddled bordering on realms of fascism. The students have a grievance which must be addressed. Protests almost always will cause inconvenience.
    The man says “…………if they had been dispersed in the old fashioned way using tear gas and baton charge instead of wasting precious water cannon……”
    What about a few bullets and bodies in plastic bags Asoka? Forty years of university teaching my foot!
    Asoka quotes the well known dictum “disce aut discede’ ( Learn or Depart ). Asoka has thankfully departed but did not learn a thing.

  • 1

    I think the govt also wants, probably IMF wanted that, under neoliberalism, to charge for education. I think students are over reacting. Sri lanka needs some private universities with proper controls. IT should not be for politicians children who followed Home Science as the only science subject to get admission to the medical faculty.

  • 4

    What this hardcore, rightwing, evangelical, pro-imperialist academic author of this article doesn’t admit is that the self-same FUTA that he reviles was a propellant of the ‘regime change’ that he vociferously cheered on; a regime change which LA based veteran Sri Lankan journalist Ms. Hassina Leelaratna has now documented, was a project supported and funded by the USA.

    As if that weren’t enough, what this rightwing academic fails to recognize is that the critique of SAITM doesn’t come only from the GMOA, the students unions and the FUTA, but also from the university academics of the Medical Faculties ( Specialist Dr. Paba Ginige of the Peradeniya MFac was the most popular speaker at the anti-SAITM rally at Vihara Maha Devi Park) as well as liberal and independent-minded academics such as those who signed the recent statement posted on Colombo Telegraph. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/saitm-as-model-for-expanding-medical-education/

    Prof Ekanayaka should set aside his membership of the dwindling , dogmatic hardcore pro-Ranil rightwing, and process all this.

    • 7


      You are rushing to whitewash MR’s neo-liberal regime by attacking those who supported the regime change, which was necessary considering how grave things were in the year 2014. Had MR been in power, who knows, his regime would have even killed some of these protesting students. All of us, including you, know what happened to those who protested against neo-liberalism in Weliweriya. The advice you have given to Asoka Ekanayaka applies to you as well with a small difference – you should also set aside your membership in the racist, communal-minded, neo-liberal, pro-MR rightwing. Bye.

    • 6

      Look who is talking! Where were you when SAITM was formed, university academics were hounded by your “raj” in 2012?

  • 4

    I am a FUTA member, and as far as I know, we have never discussed and agreed either to support or not to support the protesting medical students at our sister union levels. I think the FUTA secretary and his fellow executive committee members have taken a unilateral decision to issue the said statement. I am at a loss to understand FUTA executive committee members’ childish behaviour. They seem to focus on irrelevant issues when there is enough trade union related matters await for solutions.

  • 3

    The good thing about the anti-SAITM struggle is that it has brought all streams of the Opposition together (JVP, FSP, JO) while marginalizing the Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalists (BBS et al). The anti-UNP progressive camp has been strengthened.

    • 2

      You may dream further.

      I have no doubt people will see it the architect of Saitm as former Mafia leader who even awarded scholarships to over 10 students abusing statefunds.
      Balligeputha may have thought it was his own funds. Today, the very vicious men to stand with birds of the feather – is really funny.
      MR has been smeared with all extrementa as nothing can help him back.
      People will start questioning as to why the bugger was out of thoughts to give the priority to QUALIITY of the SAITM degree. Even so call Guru of lanken medicine, Prof Carlo F to stayed mum not talking about SLMC approval is beyond comprehension.

  • 1

    Why FUTA never do anything to request to appoint professors by following international bench makings? See how good universities appoint professors.
    1) Your PhD from accredited and top ranking University. Preferably from Western University
    2) Minimum 10 articles in ISI/SCOPUS indexed journals and in overall more than 60 articles in refereed/indexed journals.
    3) Minimum 10 text books and over 20 book chapters with publishers.
    4) Worked as full professor for more than three countries.
    5) Good seasoned consultancy and MDP experience.
    6) Reasonable number of PG degree supervision including PhDs and worked as an external examiner for PhDs in international Universities.
    7) Ed. board member in many international journals.

    • 1

      There cannot be many professors in all the universities put together who will quailify on these criteria.
      the gem that amused me most was:
      “4) Worked as full professor for more than three countries”
      How does one become a professor to do this before being appointed a professor in ‘good’ universities?

      • 0

        Your sabbatical and vacation leave help you to get this status and today visiting full professor appointments are normal around the world.

    • 1

      Can you give a list of universities that ask for these bench marks?

      • 0

        Just go beyond Sri Lankan Air port. Even in Pakistan and Middle east many countries follow this rule. In ME job market without PhD from world class University you can not be a simple Lecturer.

  • 0

    SAITM issue is getting embroiled in a further perplexity and now ex- professor laments for not being received the salary increase of university dons made two years after he has retired. This is a stupid augment as there can be so many who have retired much before the salary revision has been made.
    The crux of the matter is that Yahapalana government is plague-ridden with corrupt and rotten politicos of the wretched previous MR regime and most of them were the direct perpetrators of this “crime “committed to meet up their vested interests. The cynically the perpetrators as well as the Ranil’s band wagon falsify and defend SAITM without a mandate of the people on the basis of private sector right under ‘free economy ‘ to participation in every sector in trade in services disregarding the services to be supplied by the government on non-market conditions and commercial basis for the reason of protection of human, animal, or plant life or health.
    This exception drawn between services supplied by the government in pursuit of national security , health and or education and for the protection of human, animal, or plant life and health is provided at non-market conditions on non-market conditions and commercial basis nor in competition with other suppliers.
    This protection and the regulatory right of the government cannot be extended and the removals of this will tend to in the long run in ddiscrimination in employment and occupation often perpetuates poverty or makes it worse by excluding certain groups with better qualifications in impairing their chances of developing skills or capabilities and employment in the profession and eventually the cream of the students will be subjected to lower quality jobs. This enhances their risk of becoming or remaining poor – which further reduces their ability to obtain jobs that can lift them out of poverty from the ladder of social justice. . The freedom of human beings to develop their capabilities and to choose and pursue their professional and personal aspirations should be founded on a transparent and non-discriminatory if not for the ability on a broader perspectives of social justice
    H K Seneviratne

  • 3

    ANI Ekanayake,
    Before writing this one sided garbage did you for a second try to figure out why the FUTA, GMOA and students are all doing this against SAITM?
    If you did, please let us know why

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