Professor Sarath Wijesooriya at University of Colombo, a well-known figure in Sinhala literary circles, writing a long piece to Sinhala weekly Rawaya on November 30th touched on something extremely important in these times of election. It is very rarely that an important Sinhala essay is commented upon in the English language press, and I want to bring that article to the attention of our English language readers. The article talks about “Niwatayan and thakkadiyan”. Niwataya is a coward. “Thakkadiya” is a word difficult to translate. It could mean something between “shrewd one” and “opportunist.” In some contexts it could mean “rogue.” It could also mean one who sells out his conscience for material gains. Professor Wijesooriya tells us about a new brand of thakkadi and they are at universities. Another epithet he uses in describing these animals is “podi molakarayo” – ‘guys with little brains’. As the professor explains it, there is a peculiar situation at the contemporary Sri Lankan universities where these ‘guys with little brains’ have found themselves some lucrative jobs at various government institutions. This is how you get them: You go behind some politicians and pretend that you are one of most important scholars in your field and that you have some much wisdom to offer. If it does not work right away you do some dirty work for the politicians and show them that you are almost the same as any thug working for the political bosses. Then, you get some permanent jobs and additional directorships with a hell of a lot perk. Before you know it, you have a car with unlimited fuel, fancy phones, an air-conditioned office and what not. With several directorships at state institutions such as banks bringing you several thousand rupees for just a single sitting you are well-set for a comfortable life, with some foreign tours with the Boss or bosses just for the fun of it.
As professor Wijesooriya maintains in his article there are several dozens of university academics making good money by doing the duty of “thakkadi.” Current regime has employed such thakkadiyas much more effectively than any other regimes before. So much so that, the professor explains, during the last FUTA trade union actions university union leaders found themselves negotiating with their own colleagues who had chosen to sit with rulers who have ruined the state funded education system during their rule. It was heard those days that it was those scholarly house-slaves that ran around to upset the trade union actions and to sling mud at their own colleagues. In politicizing the university system the current regime is the most anti-intellectual. For example, it appointed a man who ran for elections on the SLFP ticket as the vice chancellor at national university after the guy lost the election! Poor fellow was a university lecturer but his academic record was so much poorer with no worthwhile academic contribution to his field. Previous governments did appoint defeated politicos as heads of state institutions but when it came to universities they opted for recognized academics.
Professor Wijesooriya in his article calls these fellows ‘men with little wisdom’ – to put it another way, for a reason: Many of them have not made any significant contribution to their academic fields. People of this country have educated these fellows and paid them considerably high salaries hoping that they would commit their lives to seek knowledge. Their duty is to create and disseminate knowledge and put our country into a meaningful dialogue with the rest of the world. Many of these men of little wisdom are appointed as ‘advisors’ to politicians. But under their advice, many state run institutions have gained nothing. Under their advice corruption has increased and everyone knows it now. During the times of elections, these men of small brains are busy at sate television channels covering up the things that need to be covered parroting government propaganda. True call of the university teacher is critique. University teacher’s profession is critique and that requires maintaining a critical distance from all centers of power. A qualified university scholar can be called on to national duty if he or she has something to offer for national development. But these men with small brains are in fact doing party politics working for the ruling party. Often these fellows are given the task of writing up propagandist pamphlets for the ruling party or for the politician who is their master. According to Professor Wijesooriya the job these fellows is to wash the governmental dirty linen.
Some of these fellows have practically destroyed their own academic careers by becoming fake advisors. For example, some of these guys (there are some gals too) have not completed their PhDs and, therefore, they do not have any substantial knowledge or expertise based on quality research. Some of them cannot speak any international languages. Those facts alone signify that they are actually not hired for any consultancy work in the serious sense of the word. Only thing expected from them to have is a big mouth to repeat loudly what their masters say. As Professor Wijesooiya says, they have sold their conscience.
Apart from destroying their own careers these people have contributed to the destruction of the university system too, argues the professor. One can understand it if some outstanding university academic is called on to national duty for a short period of time contributing to form or to maintain national policies relevant to their field of expertise. But what has happened in the recent past is entirely different. For one thing, many these fellows do not have any expertise per se. Another is that they are not called for a short period of time. If one looks at any national university today one can see that several these ‘experts’ have been away from universities for about a decade! As professor Wijesooriya correctly argues universities cannot hire new academics in place of these ‘men of little wisdom’ because their names are still in the cadre list of the respective universities. National universities have to keep their positions secure while they are busy washing governmental linen. I personally know several academic departments that have this problem: They cannot hire new people because their cadre quota is full. The FUTA must fight to restrict these ‘so called national duty’ time to a limited period.
Lives of these fake experts are so sad, that is the interesting part of Professor Sarath Wijesooriya’s article. He quotes from a dialogue between these two men of little brains: “We consciously got into this pit. Now were locked in a deadly trap. Now we have to do any dirty thing these guys [politicos] ask us to do. Now we have to any filthy thing to protect this[regime]…” Conversation continues to reveal the very sad predicament of these little advisers.
By doing dirty work under a powerful minster these fake scholars can make some big bucks. Of course they are quick cash too. In ten years with the current regime some these fellows have become multi millionaires. Some of them have managed to be famous as “doctor so and so” even though they are still to begin their doctoral studies. As Prof. Wijesooriya beautifully explains in his essay, these fellows are a bunch of helpless fellows with sold out conscience. He concludes by saying that if the current politicization of universities is allowed to continue these men of little wisdom will ruin our university system.