University’s Hope through New VC
Jaffna University announced on 28 Aug. 2020 that it had a new Vice Chancellor in Professor Sivakolundu Srisatkunarajah (Professor in Mathematics). He is a good man and gives hope to many. Many institutional and structural challenges, however, remain.
Srisatkunarajah received the highest number of votes at the Council in recommending him to the UGC and President, and the President seems to have a policy in recent times of appointing the one with the most votes. Last time a VC was appointed, Srisatkunarajah came first but he was not appointed because of his role in not accommodating, as student counsellor, some Sinhalese students who barged into a cultural program. He had disallowed them because they had not expressed their wishes early and were not scheduled. Reginald Cooray, governor then, took a dim view and successfully dissuaded President Maithripala Sirisena from appointing Srisatkunarajah.
With a science degree, western research credentials and good relations with students, Srisatkunarajah offers new hope to the university community where the culture is for all and sundry to earn professorships with papers in predatory journals that charge a fee and promise publication in a week. Another facet of the culture is to appoint friends as Visiting Professors (by VC Vasanthi Arasaratnam making fraudulent claims to the Council of the candidates having been professors in the West). The UGC suddenly discovered university autonomy to take no action, leaving it to the same Council headed by the VC to act over its own transgression. Srisatkunarajah’s professorship, says a critical academic, is one of the few he has seen in Jaffna using genuine credentials.
The Challenge of Scandals
The university comes out of long period in the doldrums, with scandals under Prof. Vasanthi Arasaratnam that required Rtd. Prof. K. Kandasamy as Competent Authority. Ongoing scandals include widespread sexual molestation of students by staff who received impunity because of the role played by Vasanthy Arasaratnam’s beautician, trees from the Kilinochchi Campus being felled and sold, a professor telling the expected No. 1 student that there would be no exam, thereby allowing the next student to rank 1 and make claims to the next vacant academic position. The Council, in a rather refreshing change from the long-standing position of “we are never wrong,” is offering the misinformed student a new exam. Another involves a professor who took home his exams to mark and after marking, lost the answer scripts. The challenge to the Council is whether to accept his marks without the scripts to back them up.
The situation, however, is far better than when LTTE-families were awarded Jaffna degrees without attendance, or when Peradeniya’s unmarked answer scripts were found to be at Valaichenai Paper Factory for recycling when the students had already been awarded degrees based on the unmarked scripts.
Long-term Problem: Hinduization
A longer-term problem for Srisatkunarajah are the attempts to Hinduize the university. Three glaring examples are i) The Hindu imagery in the new entrance to the university under Vasanthy Arasaratnam thereby making non-Hindu students feel left out and dispossessed; ii) a Faculty of Hindu Civilization forcing arts student who want nothing to do with the subject for lack of job opportunities into that faculty, but the Council and Senate wanting to have more voting members through the faculty because these votes will surely be Tamil votes at a time when the university is being Sinhalesized by the UGC; and iii) denying senior appointments to Christians as the late Prof. Carlo Fonseka has sworn to in an affidavit based on what former UGC Chairman Prof. Mohan de Silva stated when asked by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to explain how Prof. S.R.H. Hoole with a higher doctorate was found unqualified to be mere Senior Lecturer in Electrical Engineering (when he had been Senior Professor in Peradeniya). This non-selection was by a Selection Committee Chaired by then VC Vasanthi Arasaratnam, with Prof. S. Sivasegaram leading engineers on that committee of whom many were his former students.
The same hatred for Christians shows when Prof. Hoole fails to be recognized as a former VC although the University Services Appeals Board declared him a VC, ordered his payment and VC Arasaratnam delayed the payment and took down the Board listing former VCs in the Council room “for repairs” – so that she need not list Hoole as VC, says a senior professor who has studied her. She delayed Hoole’s payment until the UGC intervened. She herself was deemed the Ninth VC (Daily Financial Times, 2 April, 2011) by leaving out Hoole who would have been the only Christian among the VCs. She stubbornly refused to list Hoole as VC and had interloper Prof. R. Kumaravadivel on the Board of VCs without his ever having been VC although he had acted for Hoole while he was hiding from the LTTE. It took the next VC, Prof. R. Vigneswran to put up the Board after the alleged repairs and list Hoole updating the university website as ordered by court.
The new announcement by the university of Srisatkunarajah’s appointment claims him to be the Ninth VC! The Professor of Mathematics, a reporter informed this writer, has the onerous task of teaching basic counting at the university.
Challenge of National Practices
Srisatkunarajah must rock the national trend where the President gives big appointments to his cronies from Los Angeles and the Prime Minister is known for giving national appointments to family members.
The Jaffna Kachcheris is emulating the above national practice of crony government. At the Development Committee meeting at the Jaffna Kachcheri, Angajan Ramanathan, MP, is the chair. On the front row are seated his family members who have no official say in development matters – his father, his mother, his Chiththappah and son, et al. – while real officials are on the second row and behind.
Can Srisatkunarajah rock this trend and make the university a flagship to the nation and the President, eschewing cronyism and embracing secularism? (By Jaffna Correspondent)