17 October, 2017

Jaffna University’s Health Is A Measure Of Tamils’ Future

By Rajah S. Rajasingham

A university in Sri Lanka under the Universities Act of 1978 is governed by both internal and external members. The internal members are specified leaders in the university (such as the VC, Deans, Senate Reps, etc.). The UGC then nominates an equal number of external members, with one additional member to ensure probity in decision making. In practice however the government in power supplies this list to the UGC and the UGC rubber stamps these political appointments.

SB

De Facto VC Douglas at Opening at Kilinochchi

While some excellent appointments have been made at the other universities, Sinhalese governments have felt free to use the University of Jaffna purely for patronage and political control. Things took a turn for the worse at Jaffna when Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government appointed palm readers and uneducated temple priests to return personal favours without consideration for university welfare. After marking attendance to get the attendance stipend and reading palms, these appointed Council members would leave because they had no investment in the university and could not follow the proceedings in English. Even at that time care was taken to have some TNA nominees who were often lawyers, district judges and such like. Occasional good appointments also happened when there were vacancies when the government did not interfere and let the UGC do its job.  Two such appointments attempting diversity were unfortunately thwarted – a Paraya caste principal who spoke up at Council meetings was murdered by the LTTE in tit-for-tat killing when the government murdered an LTTE-leaning principal; and a carpenter caste Director of Education was bullied by Tamils into not accepting his appointment.

Douglas Devananda: De Facto Vice Chancellor

Since 2005, Douglas Devananda who was clever enough to take cognizance of the importance of the Council, had all his nominees rubber stamped. While his slate was diverse in terms of caste, the university was still being run by those who did not know academic norms, like graduate teachers and trained teachers who had never been to university. The murdered principal was of leadership quality giving pride to his caste community but Douglas’ appointments of nobodies evoked greater ill-feelings and resentment  for communities that needed upliftment. Council meetings being in English, they would rubber stamp anything presented to them.  The VC, Vasanthi Arasaratnam, adjusts Council meetings to accommodate Douglas’ pre-Council dates. Douglas in turn would call pre-Council meetings where he would tell his Council members exactly how to vote and whom to appoint. Douglas Devananda thereby has become the de facto VC of Jaffna University.

The Fourth Council after Douglas: TNA Wakes-up

In the past Douglas nominated three councils, 2005-2008, 2008-2011, and 2011-2014. The last of Douglas’ councils expired recently and a new Council is to be appointed to run from 2014-2017. The TNA, who up until then had been unaware of how a university functions, was alerted by the same academics of the Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association (JUSTA) who recently vocalized the complaints against unlawful interference. Although the TNA is part of the opposition, its parliamentarians have some camaraderie with government MPs through working together over the decades. Alerted, this time the Minister for Higher Education examined the Douglas list and asked for some names, particularly trained teachers, to be taken off as they had no standing except as yes-men. The TNA too therefore gave the ministry a list of eminent Tamils who could contribute. Those left out have used their own channels to send another list through the Presidential Secretariat. For the first time after a long time, it is not just Douglas’ men being pushed for a seat – and with more nominees from the authorities than there are vacancies, the UGC,  has a chance to truly exercise its powers under the Universities Act to appoint council members, although it has to be from these three lists.

Because of this tussle, Jaffna University has been functioning for some weeks now without a Council. The UGC has been debating what to do during their fortnightly meetings. The discussions show a new awareness that Douglas no longer has a voter-base in Jaffna, although they seem to think incorrectly that he has a following in Kayts and the islands. But the damage done to Tamil society by Douglas, Vice Chancellor Vasanthi Arasaratnam and the government seems irredeemable.

At the last meeting (Aug. 21) the UGC offered the decision to the Chairperson, asking her to send out the letter and saying they would endorse her choices at the next meeting. (This is an eye opener to Sri Lankan democracy: these boards are not to moderate decision-making, but to give the impression of democratic governance to one-person governance). The selected council members will be getting their letters soon.

University of Jaffna

At the university VC Vasanthi Arasaratnam, angered by the complaints reaching the Colombo press and the Colombo Telegraph, is going after those who do not bend to her will. The Science Teachers’ Association JUSTA has complained against her about her making politically motivated appointments, while the Head of Mathematics and Statistics has made complaints about her management skills. Based on the flaw-free English of these complaints, she has in her private conversations accused Emeritus Professor V. Tharmaratnam and Dr. Ratnarajan Hoole of authoring these. (Her thinking seems to suggest that only 2 people in all of Jaffna can write English, a sorry state of affairs if she is right). She has therefore recently turned her attention to Hoole. Hoole turned 65 in Dec. 2013.  The UGC Circular Letter on retirement (07/2005 of 5 May 2005) reads:

[T]he date of retirement of a teacher shall be his 65th birthday or the immediately following 30th September: provided that when the Actual Academic Year of a Higher Educational Institution goes beyond 30th September, the last date of the Actual Academic Year should be taken in place of 30th September. The teacher concerned shall choose whether to retire on his 65th birthday or the end of the Academic Year.

The current academic year going on to April 2015, it is clear that Hoole can choose between Dec. 2013 and April 2015. A previous VC, Prof. S. Mohanadas who now sits on the UGC, had deliberately misunderstood the simple language here and tried to retire Mr. S. Yogarajah of the same department. Yogarajah challenged Mohanadas and prevailed in University Services Appeals Board judgement dated March 2006 (Application 677). Some of the prominent retirements since then are:

Jaffna

Despite the lost case and these precedents, the VC began to harass Hoole right after his birthday:

“you shall continue in your services [sic.] up to 30.09.2014 in terms of Commission Circular No. 7/2005 of 05.05.2005.”

A subsequent letter to Hoole from the VC dated 1 Aug. 2014 took a very convoluted reading of the Circular Letter (which she called a Circular) that lay contrary to the judgement and practice since it was issued:

Since the actual academic year in which your 65th birthday falls was end [sic.] on 20.04.2014, you have been permitted to continue your service upto [sic.] 30.09.2014 in terms of the above said provision.

Having turned 65 in Dec. 2013, Hoole is due to retire in April 2015. She is in such a hurry to be rid of him that she deliberately misused the circular letter to force his retirement in September.  So unbridled is her anger that she cannot wait 7 months till April 2015. She will not pause a moment to think of the students who will lose their teacher halfway through the courses Hoole is teaching. Hoole has appealed with strong endorsement from his Department of Mathematics and Statistics. Will Medusa’s anger based on mere suspicion abate? After all if the VC is found wrong in terminating Hoole prematurely, there is rarely any punishment, and by the time it is sorted out, April 2015 will be long past.

JUSTA’s Complaint: Ministry and UGC Cannot Find VC Guilty

In the meantime the JUSTA complaint on Arasaratnam’s prefixed job interviews appeared in The Island. The UGC Chairperson has publicly stated to The Island that she would inquire if directly complained to. In response to a query from the ministry, VC Jaffna has replied in atrocious English in almost every other sentence (like the university being in Hoole’s services as above). She has stated that the Senate authorized a marking scheme with 50% for Basic Degree, 30% for “Presentation Skill and Subject Knowledge” and 20% for “Vision, Creativity, Research Interest and overall performance at the Interview,” and that all selections conformed to this.

Senate members do not recall authorizing this and say it was perhaps sneaked in by tabling with other papers by the VC who is Senate Chairperson. It goes to show how democratic structures (just like the 6 UGC members agreeing to approve any Council appointment by the Chairman) are there to give a cloak of consensus to high handed behavior by the Chair. The Senate has too many intelligent people who realize that Subject Knowledge and Basic Degree overlap, and that Presentation Skill and Performance at the Interview overlap. It is a shameless scheme for manipulation and treating applicants differently. More importantly how does a Council with trained teachers evaluate the knowledge and performance of high performing academics during a 10 minute interview? And vision and creativity?

The VC has denied knowledge of Pre-Council meetings by Douglas. But those who have canvassed Douglas for Council decisions have carried messages to the VC asking for Council meetings to be postponed so that he can discuss the matter at his pre-Council meeting. And the VC has complied. She is untruthful. A proper inquiry can get truthful members to testify on this. Previous members who were dropped by Douglas for not coming to his memeetings are also ready to testify. Can a proper inquiry be held to bring out the truth?

VC Arasaratnam has in her reply cleverly put all the nonacademic appointments on the UGC and Ministry of Higher Education saying these are from lists from the ministry according to a UGC Circular, a circular of questionable provenance issued when one commission expired and a new one took over. The Minister and UGC need to explain how they can impose appointments to which all citizens cannot apply as equals. It being a clear fundamental rights violation to reserve jobs to party supporters and hangers-on, any inquiry by the Ministry or UGC into the JUSTA complaints will have to find the VC innocent unless they are willing to expose their own hand in this dirty game they play together.

Jaffna’s English Language Teaching Centre: The Bygone Era?

English in a University

The university’s ability to function in English is also at stake here. If university communications, such as those that issue from the VC, are not carefully composed then it not only reflects badly on the university but raises the possibility of legal disputes. More importantly, the quality of English has direct impact on the future offered to students by the university. It is essential that students have a firm grasp of the language by the time of their graduation in order to have full access to the professional world. This is why all science special, engineering and medicine courses are taught in English. Yet, at Jaffna University where only two people can write English (as judged by the VC’s position on Hoole and Tharmaratnam), the VC cannot get one sentence right, and teachers who do not speak English are on the Council, how are English language presentation skills appropriately marked at interviews by the VC and her Council members? Can they read the circulars governing appointments? Can the Council members read the selection committee reports that come to them for approval?

The University in National Setting

These various issues, spread out over the length and breadth of the university, highlight the underlying failings in our national institutions. Universities were once responsible to the future of the country: their actions in the present have a direct impact on the economy, the politics, and individual welfare of generations to come. The best ministers we remember were products of our university system. Universities exist with one foot in the present and one foot in the years to come. Yet now, important decisions that govern the university are being made by those who are simply unqualified to do so. Political interference privileges short-term thinking for personal benefit rather than building a strong foundation for education.

The best candidates, many who have rejected more gainful opportunities out of desire to serve at home, are deliberately rejected for less-qualified favourites. The few qualified academics the university is privileged to have are being pushed out for petty personal reasons. It is these men and women who speak up (like those in JUSTA) and are therefore not desired by those in authority, who can really teach university students to be useful and upright citizens of a future Sri Lanka.

At the University of Jaffna, alas, it is not progressive values of learning or social responsibility that are privileged, but a culture of silence, apprehension, and selfishness. What will this mean for the years to come?

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Latest comments

  • 7
    7

    Tamils are screaming for Tamil. why do they conduct University sessions in English ?

    • 1
      5

      Jim a Softy and Fathima,
      Why do you hate SL Tamils so much but still want Tamils to be part of the Sudda made Geographical map of that island. If I have powered, I would make both of you born as SL Tamils in your next birth. Have ever thought of the possibility of becoming SL Tamil in your next birth? Don’t make your next life so miserable :-(

    • 0
      0

      Technical and science subjects are best taught in English. Most of the literature relating to such fields is not available in Tamil. Tamil language is good for learning arts subjects mostly.

  • 6
    5

    Tamil-only university!

    Totally useless for Muslims and Sinhalese who pay most tax for its upkeep.

  • 10
    2

    It is true that Devananda controls many things in Jaffna, and the current Jaffna VC is beholden to him. It has been a ludicrous situation, and it will probably change only with a regime change in Colombo.

    But even those of us far removed from the realities in Jaffna who read JUSTA’s press releases could suspect that it was written by the same people who were behind the UTHR reports. The writing style was almost identical. And if my memory is correct, Rajan Hoole was among the handful of office holders of JUSTA whose names were listed in the letters. Intrigue all around!

    • 9
      3

      Well said Agnos. I completely agree.

      I am tired of the UTHR and JUSTA types who pursue a personal vendetta and vindictive tirade against academics in Jaffna who may have their shortcomings but still remain committed to their work. Douglas Devananda is a different story but one can not be reductionist.

      The Tamil diaspora is a cacophonous cauldron that should move on in their new countries of residence. Tamil Canadian, Tamil Net etc should focus on Tamils living overseas. Let us take care of issues in Jaffna, Batticaloa and elsewhere in the island as it is us who remain there and face the consequences.

      Rajan Hoole had compromised his integrity a while back and the less said about his brother – Ratnajeevan the better. We need to support Vasanthi Arasaratnam who faces a difficult situation given the caliber of some of those around her. But she herself is a lady of dignity who deserves a modicum of respect.

      Enough of the JUSTA slander.

    • 7
      5

      You are clearly far removed from the realities in Jaffna as you say to write of the handful of office holders of JUSTA. Nearly all Science Faculty teachers are JUSTA members and usually only handful are elected to hold office, and they represent all members in that democratic process.

  • 3
    1

    As I understand from what is written in the article, TNA and the TNA supporter JUSTA don’t want any involvement of Douglas Devananda. JUSTA wants only the TNA to handle it. Author also acknowledges even though TNA is the opposition, some times TNA nominees also have been appointed. Yet, they are not happy.

    Besides Author complains about how casteism has hampered new comers involving in the University council.

    For me, it is JUSTA Tamils who want only TNA to handle it and not by any other tamil with a different allegiance or from castes that they do not approve.

    I can not understand why she thinks that only a person with a university degree can be appointed to the council.

    All those people with honorary degrees are not suited and why she thinks that only the people who attended the university are capable of that.

    Both the Apple -Macintosh and Microsoft corporation were started by those who did not have university education.

  • 3
    5

    What is the status of Jaffna University sponsored Polygamous program? Is the breeding farm up and running yet?

  • 3
    1

    TNA putting forward a “list” is a worry.

    Not only because they wouldn’t give any “Paraya Caste”( what the heck is this Praya anyway) names, but because they may be obliged to give a quota to their Diaspora and the TNGTE, Specially after their financial and moral contribution to the Vella CM to with the Election.

    Doughie did a good job to protect many graduates becoming suicide bombers and Black Tigers.

    Although he is not one,the main beneficiaries of his brave commitment to keep the Tigers away were the non Vellala parents whose kids were easy pickings for Prabakaran and Ellalan.

    University of Jaffana should be fine tuned to turn graduates from non Vellala inhabitants from the North more than anywhere else.

    It is a must even if it necessitates a Jaffna Uni specific quota system like what the Indian Govt does to help the Dalits.

    That is the “main measure” because the non Vellalas whom , this author calla Paraya Castere athe ones who will be forced to live in Srilanka going forward, because they don’t have the luxury of becoming citizens of the TNGTE of PM Rudrakumaran and live in New Jersey, Scarborough , East London, Oslo or Paramatta.any time soon.

  • 5
    5

    This man Devananda continues to be a curse on the Tamils. His antics are causing enormous damage to all aspects of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. How can a man with hardy any political support among Tamils wield so much power and influence? Most important for the Tamil community is their education and it is being blatantly politicised and ruined by his stooges in the Jaffna University. Vasanthi Arasaratnam should be removed from her position as Vice Chancellor ASAP before she causes any more damage.

    • 3
      0

      Piranha

      Please read this except from The Hindu:

      “On the Sri Lankan government’s reluctance to devolve police powers, Mr. Devananda said: “They will give police powers only when there is mutual trust … if I were Chief Minister they (the government) would have devolved it.”

      http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/south-asia/solution-must-come-from-within-sri-lanka/article6351313.ece

      You should ask Mahinda to appoint him as the Chief Minister and Governor of Northern Province, the VC of Jaffna University, Mayor of Jaffna, Northern Army commander,Chief Secretary, head of all the banks,director of education, ……… GA, DIG Northern province …..

      Lets see if he can deliver.

  • 3
    0

    A VC with atrocious English is better than a VC who sent female undergrads for “virginity testing”.
    Only those with university degree(s) are appointed to administrative posts in universities worldwide with rare exceptions in case of eminent persons recognised internationally.
    Douglas and Chandrasiri are MR’s henchmen who prevent emancipation of tamils who do not ‘toe-the-line’ politically.
    The caste problem is the bane of Jaffna society and cannot be resolved overnight.
    Rajan Hoole is taking revenge for his brother’s ouster which he brought on himself.
    Tamils are cursed with their own vermin.
    The undergrads are the final victims.
    MR & henchmen wish tamils to go into oblivion – and these vermin are assisting him.

  • 0
    0

    It is Tamils who wanted University of Yapapauna to be a Hindu only University.

    they govern it that way.

  • 2
    0

    Jaffna University is ideally located to be a hub for the study of Asian languages as well as English – training a generation of Sri Lankan youths to be fluently multilingual in Tamil, Sinhalese, English, Chinese, Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu and other languages of the region is possible with time and effort. My perusal of the history curriculum at Jaffna University did not give grounds for optimism that the university is headed in this direction. I noted too, that the university doesn’t have a functional zoology department, despite a unique ecology waiting to be studied.

  • 0
    0

    [Edited out]

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