By Devaka Weerakoon –
I have read with great interest the opinion expressed by Aahithyan Ratnam in the Colombo Telegraph of January 30th, regarding the meeting of the Senate of the University of Colombo held on January 28th. Given the highly prejudiced and misleading nature of this article, I would like to make the following response, in order to set the record straight.
Mr. Ratnam accuses the members of the Senate of failing to uphold the “principles for which we fight” and of voting “to remove the VC,” characterising these actions as “mob rule” and accusing the Senate of taking the law into its own hands. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although it had been incorrectly reported in the press that the Senate had voted to remove the Vice-Chancellor, in fact no such vote was taken. At a duly scheduled and constituted meeting chaired by the VC in terms of the University Act, at which I was present, the Senate decided to discuss a letter that had been submitted to the VC on 22nd January 2015 by myself, as President of the Colombo University Federation of Teachers Associations, since the VC had failed to respond to the letter. After initial resistance, the VC agreed to discuss this issue under Preliminaries, which was the first item in the agenda. Since the subject of the letter was the actions and omissions of the VC himself, he, after seeking the advice of the Dean of the Faculty of Law, withdrew from the discussion. In this, it must be acknowledged that he acted properly. The Senate members then elected Mr. V. T. Thamilmaran, the Dean of the Faculty of Law, as the pro tem Chair in order to continue the meeting of the Senate. It must also be pointed out that the VC’s withdrawal from the meeting did not constitute an adjournment thereof. Therefore, contrary to what Mr. Ratnam implies, the discussion that took place after the VC withdrew from the Chair as well as the meeting were deliberations of a duly constituted Senate meeting. It is common practice for any democratic body to elect a pro-tem Chair in the absence of the regular Chair, and doing so in no way invalidates the outcome of the meeting.
Having discussed the large number of issues summarised in the letter, too many to be enumerated here, the Senate endorsed the letter. This endorsement does not constitute a vote to remove the VC. Contrary to what Mr. Ratnam appears to believe, the members of the Senate are well aware that they are not the appointing authority for the position of Vice-Chancellor. This fact should not prevent them from discussing issues, which strongly impact on the academic and administrative aspects of the university, and expressing their collective opinion. To characterise this event as mob rule is mischievous and indeed totally unacceptable.