Colombo Telegraph

Locals Petition Trustees Over Irregularities At Jaffna College

Colombo Telegraph has brought out several reports (Links: Report I, Report II, Report III) about the administrative malpractices at Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai since the fiduciary Trustees based in Boston who send money to the school reduced the funds allocated to Jaffna College for the first quarter of the year 2017 by 20% in January (Link: Letter). As we reported earlier, the Trustees reduced the allocations for the second quarter of 2017 as well by 20% (Link: Letter). In their last communication regarding reforms emailed to the Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah, the Chair of the Board of Directors, in July, the Trustees have expressed their dissatisfaction with the responses sent by the Board on the reforms they prescribed and conveyed their decision to reduce the funds for the third quarter of the year 2017 by 20% (Link: Letter). The Trustees also requested the Board to address the gaps in their responses before the 30th of September 2017. A decision on the allocation of funds for the last quarter of the year is still awaited.

Sumanthiran meets the Trustees in Boston

Bishop Daniel Thiagarajah

In the meantime, TNA Parliamentarian Mr. M.A. Sumanthiran met the Trustees in Boston when he was on an official visit to the US in September. Although an administrator of Jaffna College, who is often used by the leadership of the Board to manipulate the staff, alumni and the local community, was involved in spreading the rumor that Mr. Sumanthiran visited the Trustees at the latter’s request, the Trustees state they met Mr. Sumanthiran informally at the request of the Chairperson of the Board. A communication issued by the Trustees following the meeting indicates that matters related to Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College were not discussed in detail at this meeting (Link: Letter). The Trustees have also clarified that their commitment to the goals of good governance and transparency at the two schools remain unchanged. Several old students of Jaffna College have condemned Mr. Sumanthiran’s unnecessary and biased involvement in the affairs of Jaffna College while appearing as the lawyer of the Chairperson of the Board in the court cases that the Chairperson is facing.

Locals petition the Trustees demanding an end to JDCSI domination

A few weeks ago, 210 locals from Vaddukoddai and neighboring villages who identify themselves as members of the communities that Batticotta Seminary and Jaffna College have served since the former’s inception in 1823 sent a petition to the Trustees about the administrative irregularities at Jaffna College (Link: Petition in Tamil, Link: English Translation of the Petition). In their statement, they have extended their support to the reforms prescribed by the Trustees. The petition notes that the community has lost faith in the current Board of Directors who, the signatories allege, are responsible for the mismanagement of the school.

M. A. Sumanthiran

The petitioners identify subject allocations, teacher recruitment, and the use of the College for the private business purposes of some administrators and teachers as some of the major problems that plague the school today. The petition sent by the community also notes that it is the private tuition centers rather than the school that helps their children obtain good grades in the public examinations. It thus repudiates the argument advanced by the Board and those who are close to it that it is because of the quality of education provided at Jaffna College that its students do well in public examinations conducted by the Department of Education.

The signatories have made it clear that Jaffna College should continue as a Christian institution, but as a non-denominational one that cannot be controlled by any single religious entity. The petition observes that concentration of powers in the hands of a few members of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI) is the main reason for the problems that Jaffna College is facing today. The signatories also demand that the Trustees appoint a group of trustworthy individuals, which includes representatives from all the major Protestant churches in the North, eminent educationists, alumni and parents, to administer the funds sent to the school and that this body be eventually made the Board of Directors of Jaffna College replacing the current Board dominated by the JDCSI.

We reproduce below a long extract from the English translation of the petition (copies of the petition without the list of signatures were sent to various others including the Chief Minister and Minister of Education of the Northern Provincial Council and are now in circulation among the alumni) which details some of the current administrative problems at Jaffna College and the solutions proposed by the community:

Arbitrary decisions made by the Board of Directors of Jaffna College in the recent years have posed a threat to the integrity of the school and tarnished its reputation and image locally and globally. It is obvious that there have been many irregularities in the appointment of teachers for the past several years. Those who are close to the Board of Directors and their relatives have been employed at Jaffna College. Some teachers at Jaffna College are teaching our children subjects that they are not qualified to teach. For instance, those who obtained Science degrees are teaching in the Primary School. Subjects like English and Science in the senior school are taught by those who do not have appropriate qualifications or long-term training in teaching those subjects. Once Jaffna College was famous in the country for English education. But today, regrettably, those who teach English to our children lack basic qualifications in teaching the subject. The community finds it shocking that the administrators who handle the time table give no serious thought to the qualifications of the teachers when they make subject allocations. As the teachers fail to cover the whole syllabus within the stipulated timeframe, our children are forced to attend private tuition centers. As a result, they are unable to participate in extracurricular activities. It is the private tuition centers rather than the school that play a major role in helping our children obtain good grades in the public examinations today. The school has lost its purpose. Without proper upkeep, the buildings, laboratories and the playground remain neglected. We note with pain that some teachers even use the school for their private business purposes. 

Rajan Asirwatham

It is our firm belief that the quality of education provided by Jaffna College and the extracurricular activities conducted at the school will improve, if dedicated and competent persons are appointed to the Board, administration and faculty. This will also contribute to the development of our villages.   

We are aware that the Trustees, after carefully looking into the complaints about administrative malpractices that happened at Jaffna College in the recent past, reduced the funds allocated to Jaffna College for the first three quarters of the current year by 20%. You have also emphasized in your communications that the administration of the school and its Board should act in a democratic, transparent and truthful manner. The Board of Directors have not responded positively to many of your reasonable proposals for change; instead they are prolonging the deadlock in an irresponsible manner. The reforms that you have presented in your letters will lead to constructive changes. They are necessary for the development of the school and to preserve its integrity.   

You have repeatedly emphasized in your communications that the governance of the school should be conducted in a transparent manner. But the Board of Directors have not even provided a copy of the constitution of the Board to Mr. Kanagaratnam Sugash, the alumni representative to the Board and an eminent lawyer in Jaffna who hails from our village. We are aware that he made several requests for the copy of the constitution. This shows the lack of integrity on the part of the Board of Directors. We condemn this undemocratic conduct of the Board of Directors and note that at Jaffna College even the student leaders are elected democratically every year by the students of the school.    

In the meantime, we learn that parliamentarian Mr. M.A. Sumanthiran recently met some members of the Trustees of Jaffna College Funds in the US and held discussions with you on matters related to Jaffna College and its Board of Directors. Mr. M.A. Sumanthiran has no official connection with the school. He did not study at Jaffna College; nor had he shown any interest in the affairs of the school until recently. The decision to send someone who had no official role in the school to meet the Trustees reveals the dishonest nature of the Board of Directors. We are aware that Sumanthiran appears on behalf of the Chairman of the Board of Directors in the court cases that the latter is currently facing. We therefore consider Mr. Sumanthiran’s views on the school and the Board biased. 

Board members Dr. Chelvi Selliah, Mrs. Suganthy Vyrasinghe, Ms. Vijula Arulanantham and Rev. Pathmathayalan are based in Colombo. They do not engage the people in the village about their children’s education or the welfare of the school. Some of them come to Vaddukoddai only to attend the Board meetings. Ms. Vijula Arulanantham even tried to defend and justify the Board’s decision to change the long-standing tradition whereby the Principal of the College chaired the annual prize day. The meetings of the Board sometimes take place in Colombo. We wonder why the Board meetings of Jaffna College, a school situated at Vaddukoddai, should take place in Colombo.

When the Board comprises persons who come from different parts of the country, with diverse ideas, we agree that the school can benefit immensely from their expertise and experience. There is no doubt they can certainly contribute to the development of the school. But we suspect that the current Board nominates those who are outside of Jaffna, individuals who have no awareness of the history and the traditions of the College, and persons who have no understanding about and interest in the communities that benefit from the school as Board members with the hidden intention of weakening the local community’s stake in the affairs of the school. When people who do not interact well with the larger community that benefits from the school are appointed to the Board, it becomes difficult for us to bring the irregularities that happen at the school to the attention of the Board. This trend has made it possible for the leadership of the Board and a few other dominant individuals to act the according to their whims and fancies with sheer disregard for transparency and without a sense of responsibility towards the larger community.   

Jaffna College has contributed in many ways to the creation of a healthy environment in Vaddukoddai and the neighboring villages where Hindus and Christians could stand shoulder to shoulder and show respect towards one another in their everyday lives without threatening the diversity of the region. We are aware that the Board in their responses to your communications tends to create the impression that some of the reforms that you have presented are not appropriate for a Christian institution. We consider this as a tactic to cover up their dishonest practices.   

We, the people of Vaddukoddai, desire Jaffna College to continue as a Christian institution that gives importance to such values as love, mercy, honesty, truthfulness, respect for all and inclusiveness that Christianity upholds. We would like to note that even when the school was governed by trustworthy Boards in the past, it remained as a Christian institution.   

The people of Vaddukoddai and the neighboring villages who have been historically benefitted from the educational services offered by Jaffna College have lost faith in the current Board. Today, the Board has become a place for individuals who are dishonest and involved in corruption. Therefore, we, the people of Vaddukoddai, believe the Trustees should send their funds to the school through an alternative group of trustworthy individuals. It is our wish that an alternative body of this kind should eventually become the Board that governs Jaffna College.   

When Jaffna College was founded as a result of the efforts made by the people in the North, it was envisioned as a non-denominational Christian institution. The 1894 founding charter of the school states this vision clearly. Yet, over time, a majority of the positions on the Board came to be held by members of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. The main reason for the problems that the school is facing today is that the powers of the Board are concentrated in the hands of a few members of a single church. In order to address some of the current administrative problems, Jaffna College should again be made a non-denominational Christian institute that cannot be monopolized by any of the churches in the future. The body that would govern the school in the future should include members of all the major Protestant churches in the North.   

This body should also include educationists. Many alumni of Jaffna College today work as academics at the University of Jaffna and other universities in Sri Lanka. Many others serve as Principals at state-run schools and officers and directors of Education at various levels. Some have retired after rendering their educational services for several decades. These educationists, too, can offer guidance to the administration of the College. Bankers among the alumni can assist the school in financial administration. Alumni members with expertise in Law can offer legal counsel to the school whenever needed. The school may also receive the services of those who are involved in human rights and social justice activism for its development. 

It is not necessary that all members of the governing body of the school should be alumni of the College. Parents must be allowed to play their due role in the new body. Towards this end, a Parents’ Association should be established at Jaffna College. 

Our community has many competent and honest persons with innovative thinking who can lead the school in line with the Christian values that it upheld in the past. We firmly believe they can take Jaffna College to greater heights. Such persons have no place in the Board of Directors today. While there are many such people in our community, this historically important educational institution is now regrettably in the hands of a group of individuals who are arrogant, selfish and have no concern for the school and the community that it caters to. Those of us from the region who have received education from this institution for several generations are saddened to see the current predicament of the school. We kindly request you to take all efforts to ensure that the school’s Board is in the safe hands of responsible persons. Only a change of this kind can usher in a progressive era at Jaffna College. In closing this message, we wish to state that we will certainly support all the efforts taken by the Trustees towards bringing about this change.

Enter Rajan Asirwatham

We reliably learn that Rajan Asirwatham, a prominent member of the Anglican Church, has been appointed to the Board of Directors. Asirwatham’s appointment has created mixed feelings among the alumni. Some argue that the appointment of eminent persons who are based in Colombo and are unaware of the malpractices in such areas as subject allocation and teacher recruitment will be used to create a positive image of the Board among the public and the Trustees. Others, who are optimistic, say that Asirwatham’s presence in the Board will force the other members, especially the leadership of the Board, to act in a more responsible way leading to changes in the Board’s conduct.

Irregularities in recruitment and subject allocations

At least eight teachers have been recruited since January 2014 when Rev. Dr. Solomon became the Principal of Jaffna College and many of them are teaching subjects that they are not qualified to teach in the Primary and Senior Schools today. Parents and the local community complain that the needs of the school were not taken into consideration when teachers were recruited. Instead, the Board of Directors and the present and past administrators of the school have filled up the carder positions with those who are close to them, their relatives, friends and children of retired teachers. It should be noted that a section of such recruits are Hindus. As a result, there is an excess of teachers for certain subjects whereas shortages have been observed for a long period of time for other subjects.

The following examples demonstrate this trend beyond doubt:

  1. Persons who are qualified in Carnatic Music and Bharatha Natyam are teaching Tamil to students in Grade 6 and 7 classes.
  2. English is taught to students in eleven out of the eighteen class divisions in Grades 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 by persons who are not qualified to teach the subject.
  3. Media Studies and Agriculture in the GCE AL classes are taught by teachers who do not have degrees in those subjects.
  4. A person who obtained a diploma from the School of Agriculture in Kundasale is teaching science in the senior school to students in Grades 7, 8 and 9.
  5. Another teacher who is well-qualified in and has been teaching Home Economics and related subjects for more than three decades is now asked to teach Geography in addition to Home Economics.
  6. A recent B.Sc. graduate from the University of Colombo is teaching English in the Primary School while a person who was originally recruited as a non-academic staff and worked in the office for several years is now teaching Mathematics in the senior school, even though the latter has no proper qualifications in Mathematics. (A few others who were originally recruited as non-academic staff to work in the office, laboratories and library, due to their proximity to the administrators and Board members, were later given teaching assignments in both the senior school and primary school upon or before completion of their degrees.)
  7. A person who does not have any post-GCE A/L qualifications is teaching History and Civics in the senior school.
  8. Many teachers in the Primary School do not have a diploma in teaching Primary Education; nor have they undergone any training in that field.

It should be noted that some of these appointments and unscrupulous promotions were made during the tenure of the immediate past Principal of the school. But many members of the current Board including Bishop Thiagarajah, Ms. Vijula Arulanantham, Dr. Chelvi Selliah and Mrs. Indra Thavanayagam were serving the Board when the decisions to recruit and promote some of the above candidates were made.

It has also been confirmed that a few members of the teaching staff of Jaffna College do not have three (four in the old system) passes in the GCE A/L examination in one sitting. But they are paid a very high salary by the Board. We are also told that one or two persons sat for the GCE A/L examination and obtained three passes after being recruited to teach at Jaffna College.   

As a temporary measure to overcome shortages, trainees from the College of Education are invited annually to teach subjects like Science and Mathematics in the Senior School. But they teach at Jaffna College during the first two terms and the crisis resurfaces in the third term when their training period ends. The Trustees have requested the Board to include in the selection panel at least one officer appointed by the Ministry of Education to oversee recruitment. But the letter sent by the Trustees in July suggests that the Board is reluctant to follow this recommendation and wants to appoint only internal members to the recruitment committee. The Trustees’ letter says “the committee of three internal people [proposed by the Board] lacks the perspective of third party educational professionals that [the Trustees] have suggested”.

The alumni, parents, and the locals of Vaddukoddai and neighboring villagers say that the Trustees should ensure that qualified persons will be recruited to the teaching staff of Jaffna College in the future and that recruitment should be done on the basis of the needs and shortages observed at a given time rather than the personal preferences of the Board or senior administrators of the College. They also insist that the administrator who handles subject allocations and the time table give importance to the qualifications of the teachers.   

Availability of the minutes of Board meetings to the alumni

A newsletter was published recently by Jaffna College for its alumni all over the world (Link: Newsletter). In his message to the newsletter the Chair of the Board states that the alumni can view the minutes of the Board meetings in the Principal’s Office. When old students of the College approached the Principal to access the minutes, they were told they could view the minutes of the meetings held in 2014 and before, and that too only with the approval of the Chair of the Board. Sections of the alumni think that the newsletter has been used by the school to conduct a false propaganda among the Trustees and the larger community that the Board is transparent in its activities.

150th Anniversary Events

The Board’s decision to sponsor a workshop on creating a global alumni body and an endowment fund for the school during the proposed events in November to mark the 150th of anniversary of the public meeting held at Vaddukoddai in 1867 that led to the funding of Jaffna College in 1872 has angered the alumni (Link: Invitation). Colombo Telegraph learns that the Executive Committee of the Jaffna College Alumni Association (Parent Body) has declined to participate in these workshops; instead, it has demanded the Board to implement the reforms prescribed by the Trustees without further delay. Some alumni are of the view that the right thing for the Board to do at this juncture is making its activities transparent and democratic rather than indulge in splitting the alumni associations and resort to diversionary tactics that will not lead to a solution to the financial crisis the school has been facing for the past 10 months following the reduction of funds by the Trustees.

Code of conduct and violations

Colombo Telegraph reliably learns that a code of conduct was issued to the teachers recently. According to the document which the teachers were asked to sign, teachers are barred from conducting fee-for-service or private business activities that engage students as clients. However, in practice, some teachers continue to use the school for their private business purposes such as photography and catering. The conflicts of interests in these cases were repeatedly pointed out to the Board of Directors in the past but they have taken no steps to stop these practices.

Although the code of conduct prohibits the use of physical punishment, parents complain that students at Jaffna College are physically abused by some of their teachers. Recently, one such incident was reported to the Zonal Education Office in Valikamam. The Zonal Education Office has issued a warning to the teacher concerned. The code of conduct that is not properly implemented is another attempt on the part of the Board to defraud the public and the Trustees. A section of the old students expect that Mr. Rajan Asirwatham, the newest member of the Board, will give due attention to these matters and push the Board to put an end to these practices that tarnish Jaffna College’s reputation at present.

Constitution of the Board

We recently learned that a copy of the Constitution of the Board of Directors has been finally given to the Alumni Representative. In the meantime, the week that ended yesterday saw a constitution dated 10 October 2014 surface among the alumni (Link: Constitution 2014). It should be noted that the Chair of the Trustees Rev. Rick Huleatt mentioned in his letter (dated 17 July 2017) to the Chair of the Board that the Trustees were in receipt of the Constitution of the Board adopted on 10 October 2014. Alumni of Jaffna College that Colombo Telegraph spoke to recently have highlighted the following as the most important differences between the 2014 constitution and the one that was adopted in 1989 (Link: Constitution 1989). They also said the latest constitution they had been in possession of till the 2014 version was in circulation was the one that was adopted in 1989. We offer below some key differences between the 1989 and 2014 constitutions:

Articles and clauses newly introduced in the 2014 Constitution:

1. Jaffna College Undergraduate Department is brought under the constitution of the Jaffna College Board of Directors. All the moveable and immoveable assets of the Undergraduate Department of Jaffna College will vest in the Board of Directors of Jaffna College (Article V – e in the 2014 constitution)

2. A new provision to appoint any number of Deputy Principals and Vice Principals (See Article V – f in the 2014 constitution)

3. The Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India shall be the Chairperson of the Board by virtue of office. (Article VI – 1 in the 2014 constitution)

4. The Officers of the Board (Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, Secretary and Treasurer) may meet and take suitable action in the absence of meetings of the Executive Committee or of the Board, provided all such decisions are ratified by the Board at the next succeeding meeting of the Board. (Article VI – c in the 2014 constitution)

5. The following additions appear in the section on the byelaws:

*The Treasurer of the Board shall be the custodian of all funds belonging to the Board and shall receive all monies due from the Trustees or from other sources. He shall allocate to the College or for other activities under the oversight of the Board of Directors all funds provided in the Budget or as approved by a decision of the Board or Executive Committee.

*Correspondence/Communication with the Trustees: The Chairperson shall have sole responsibility for all correspondence/communications with the Trustees of Jaffna College Funds (TJCF) with regard to Policy, Finance and other related matters. Such correspondence/communication may be done in consultation with relevant persons as appointed by the Board and with regular reports to the Board. 

*Bank Accounts: The Board of Directors shall appoint the persons who will be authorized to operate Bank Accounts. (Some alumni are concerned about the inclusion of this clause which allows even those who are not members of the Board and have no connection to the school to operate the bank accounts)

Changes:

1. 1989: At least 50% of the Board members should be Sri Lankan Tamils (Article V)

2014: At least 50% of the Board members should be Sri Lankans (Article VI)

2. 1989: The Executive Committee shall present the full report of their work (Article IX – 2)

2014: The Manager shall present the full report of the work of the Executive Committee (Article VIII – b) (Note: The Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah is both the Chairperson of the Board and the Manager of the school at present.

Repeal:

The clause (Byelaw 6 in the 1989 constitution) whereby the Principal chaired the Prize Day and other functions has been repealed in the 2014 constitution.

For the first time in the history of Jaffna College, the Chair of the Board presided over the Prize Day in 2015. Many teachers of the school boycotted the Prize Day dinner as a mark of protest. The Prize Day program in 2016, 2017 mentioned the Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah as the Chairperson, though he was not present at the Prize Day.

In our first report on Jaffna College, we released a leaked constitution of the Board of Directors of Jaffna College adopted on the 26th of February 2015 (Link: Constitution 2015). The version that is now being circulated states that it was adopted on the 10th of October 2014. There are significant differences between these two versions of the Constitution. The following Articles and clauses that appear in the 2015 version are missing in the 2014 version:

1. Article IV – d: The Diocesan Council shall elect six (five according to the 2014 version) persons to the Board of Directors.

2. Article XI: The Principal shall be the chief executive of the College and shall be subject to and answerable to the Board.

3. Article XIX: The Board may appoint committees and sub-committees for the due administration of the College, its infrastructure and Assets. The Schedule includes the following committees: 

1. Infrastructure Committee

2. Admissions Committee

3. Academic Advisory Committee

4. Article XIV – Finance 

(ii) The Treasurer shall present the annual budget prepared in consultation with the Executive Committee 

(iii) The Treasurer shall be one of the signatories to the Bank Accounts of the College 

(iv) The Treasurer shall be responsible for presenting the annual audited accounts and balance sheet to the Executive Committee for approval and adoption by the Board 

(v) The Treasurer shall be responsible for the disbursement of funds according to budget allocations, to the College, to the Institutions specified in Article V (e) above and to the Board on the direction of the Board 

(vi) The Treasurer shall ensure the maintenance of proper Accounts and arrange for their audit annually by an Auditor duly appointed by the Board. 

5. Article XVI: The Board of Directors has the right to grant scholarships to deserving students.  

The existence of two constitutions, one dated 26 February 2015 and the other 10 October 2014, have made some alumni think the constitution was in fact amended on the 26th of February 2015, contrary to what was communicated to the Trustees by the Board, but was retroactively and unscrupulously amended again before it was sent to the Trustees in June this year. The people of Vaddukoddai and alumni that our reporters spoke to say that the Trustees should help the public and well-wishers get a copy of the current constitution of the Board authorized and signed by the officers of the Board including the Chairperson and the Secretary. They also note that an authorized copy of the Constitution should be uploaded on the Jaffna College website so that it could be accessed by the alumni who are living abroad as well.

The amendments that figure in both the 2014 and 2015 versions of the constitution indicate that the Principal’s autonomy is under assault and that the Board, which is currently headed by the Bishop of the JDCSI who is also the manager of the College, is all out to make Jaffna College a JDCSI institution which it never was. It is in this context that one should understand the community and alumni’s demand to liberate Jaffna College from the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India and make it a multi-denominational Christian institution run by a Board comprising trustworthy Christian leaders from multiple Protestant denominations, educationists, social activists, alumni, parents and representatives of the local communities that the school caters to.

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