By Aahithyan Ratnam –
University of Colombo has seen several antics that would put any academic to shame. Honorary higher doctorates were obsequiously conferred on Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Senate Members, if the Universities Act had been followed, would have voted for this shameful boot licking. The VC since has refused to appoint as Deans those persons duly elected by their faculty boards as provided for in the Universities Act. The alleged abuses and violations of the law by the VC have made many Colombo dons who conferred higher doctorates on the Rajapaksas ask for the VC’s removal. And now the dons themselves are flouting the law to uphold the law as this article explains.
“The Vice-Chancellor of a University may be removed from office by the President, after consultation with the Commission.”
This provision is no stranger to us and has been exercised before – for example when Prof. K. Wijeratne of Rajarata was removed by the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga after due inquiry into allegations of abuse of office by him.
Similarly Prime Minister Ranil Wicremesinghe has promised FUTA at a meeting on 27 Jan. 2015 that he would hold inquiries into allegations against VCs if complaints are made. He mentioned that he had already received complaints against the VCs at Jaffna, Eastern, South Eastern, Colombo and Peradeniya. Thus we may expect that after due inquiry those VCs abusing their authority will be removed. We need to be patient and allow due process to run its course.
The legal care with which the government is proceeding shows both its understanding of and its respect for the law. At the said meeting the Prime Minister stated that all UGC Commission members including the Chairperson will be requested to resign through letters that will come through the Secretary to the President. This is because the President is the appointing authority for UGC members. Similarly, since the UGC is the appointing authority for Council members, Minister Kabir Hashim is handling the demand for their resignations.
Although the Rajapaksa regime simply ignored the law, the new government in standing up for the rule of law is respecting the lawful operation of the law – not flouting the law to uphold the law. That this new government respects the law is also seen in the care with which the Chief Justice has been removed. For supporters of good governance, nothing is more important than upholding the principles for which we fight and for which we elected this new government. Unfortunately, however, the University of Colombo dons do not see this.
As The Island reports (29 Jan, 2015) the Senate of the University of Colombo voted to remove the VC;
“At the start of the Senate meeting yesterday chaired by VC Dr. Hirimburegama, some members wanted to discuss the letter that CUFTA and AFTA handed over on Jan. 22.
“The Senate members asked [for] the consent of majority to discuss the letter [about the VC] after Dr. Hirimburegama refused to discuss it as it was not on the agenda of the meeting and walked out. Thereafter the meeting continued with Law Faculty Dean Thamil Maran chairing it.
“Finally, the letter was discussed and unanimously endorsed by the Senate, the supreme academic body of the university.”
This is mob rule because the Universities Act (Article 34(2)) says that the Senate is chaired by the VC. There can be no Senate meeting without its chairman. Law Dean Thamil Maran should have understood that members of the Senate cannot make him the Senate Chairman. Further, Section 46 of the Act clearly sets out that the powers of the Senate relate to academic matters. To decide on who should be or should not be the VC is not the Senate’s business. University Senators should know this. The resolution cannot be a Senate Resolution as characterized in The Island. It has legitimacy only as a resolution by a private meeting of senior academics of Colombo.
Indeed, if the VC is out of line, as stakeholders and individuals, members of the Senate have the right to file complaints and seek the removal of the VC as provided for in Section 34(1)(c) of the Act, but not the right to have meetings of the Senate outside the provisions of the law.
Let us give the government the time and space to do things properly. Now that the Prime Minister has promised us inquiries, it is a matter of time before the bad VCs are sent packing. Indeed, 100 days is not a long time to wait without taking the law into our hands.