16 May, 2022

Blog

On Political Appointments To Universities

By Janaki Jayawardena

Janaki Jayawardena

The context

There are two main reasons for me to write this article as an eye opener for the public: Firstly, for more than a month I have been participating in a silent protest on the road in my area with a group of people who demand a just and accountable rule in this country. I have observed how some very elderly citizens who have never thought of getting onto the road to protest are making long journeys from surrounding areas and are standing an hour or more demanding a system change that has been needed in this country for a long time. I feel that their labour and efforts should be highlighted here. Secondly, it was reported in several newspapers that the recent appointment of the Vice Chancellor to the University of Colombo indicates a political bias and that some Council Members of the University of Colombo have resigned due to injustice apparent in the appointment. Furthermore, the present Vice chancellor of the university of Colombo said there was a manipulation in the process of awarding marks to the applicants and thereby the awarded marks do not reflect honesty and justice.

Many have interpreted the crisis we go through presently as a ‘dollar crisis’ but it is very clear to whoever is interested in understanding the present crisis that it is not merely economic but a crisis of post-colonial state building in Sri Lanka. Even though the 1972 Constitution was adopted to do away with colonialism and create a Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, equity and justice has been violated in Sri Lanka by inbreeding parochialism in the state-making process. One very good example of this is political manipulations in the appointments of public officers to administrative service in order to serve and safeguard political regimes. Until 1972 administrative officers were appointed to State administrative positions by the Public Service Commission through a rigorous process based on merits. The 1972 Constitution has given this responsibility to Cabinet Ministers.  Since then, however, sympathy to the elected regime has become the implicit criteria, and as a consequence, appointments to the public service have become highly politicised. Instead of being based on merit, servitude to the political parties and politicians are much more important than the qualifications and experience in the service.

On appointments to bureaucracy Krause et.al says

“Governance in a democratic society is premised on the simple notion that the citizenry can effectively control their government. Responsiveness to the broader polity, however, requires that government exhibit competence in the tasks it is delegated to perform. While elected officials seek responsiveness from the bureaucracy, a government that is ineffective at executing policy cannot be responsive to the broader polity. This tension between political responsiveness and bureaucratic independence governs the selection of unelected officials to fill government positions. The selection methods used for staffing unelected posts provide direct insight into how elected officials weigh their desire of minimizing agency problems arising from delegated authority with their need to provide bureaucracies sufficient slack to effectively perform tasks. (2006, online :01)

In Sri Lanka what we are experiencing is the opposite. The grip of the politicians on the civil administrative service is so tight that recently the excessive militarization of public administration became a norm by the appointment of retired military personnel (often without the required knowledge or experience) to key positions. The public service has become ineffective and lethargic in many aspects due to this and the nepotism and corruption that is rampant in the public service of this country. Even though Sri Lanka’s universities are semi-government institutions, in order to maintain academic freedom, the selection of the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor has increasingly suffered the same fate as in other public service institutions. The most recent examples are the appointment of the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor to the University of Colombo.

Appointing a Chancellor

According to Part VI, Article 32 of the University Act, “The President shall nominate the Chancellor of each University. The Chancellor shall be the Head of the University, hold office for a period of five years reckoned from the date of his nomination, and shall, preside at any Convocation of the University” (The Chancellor. [S 32, 7 of 1985].

According to this provision, the appointment of a Chancellor is solely dependent on the President of Sri Lanka. Even though the term is for five years some Chancellors have served longer than five years. However, hitherto the Chancellors were appointed based on their academic excellence, merits, and national service. The recent appointment of the Chancellor to the University of Colombo by the President overlooked all these. His loyalty to the regime and appeasing his criticism of the regime was the eligibility for his appointment. In various press statements the Chancellor himself confirmed that this was a political appointment to silence him and that he was told that his duty is attending the convocation only. When we look at the provision of the University Act, he is correct.

However, when the appointment was challenged by the academic community, and students refused to be awarded degrees by a political monk, the blame was put on the former Vice-Chancellor for “not being able to control” the students. This itself shows the singular lack of understanding of the role of the Vice Chancellor and students in a university. In university students are considered as adults and the Vice Chancellor does not act like a school principal. This incident was used to vilify the former Vice chancellor and to say that she was incompetent. It is very clear that the Chancellor has no proper understanding of the role of a Chancellor in a university. He has offered to donate various items to students and build a hostel if a land is given. These offers amount to bribes to appease students’ criticism.

If one looks at the role of the Chancellor in universities elsewhere in the world it is apparent that the role is broader than merely awarding degrees at convocations. A Chancellor is the honorary head of the university and he or she represents the university in a ceremonial and ambassadorial capacity. The Chancellor also acts as an advocate for the university to raise the profile of the university by serving in his or her ambassadorial capacity and hosting from time to time national and international high-profile figures to engage with key stake holders to promote and develop the university in a critical manner.

Thus, the UGC itself has to change its view and change the Act on appointing a Chancellor because the precedent set by appointing an unsuitable Chancellor who serves the interests of a political regime to university of Colombo has resulted in unhealthy consequences.

Appointing a Vice Chancellor

According to the University Act “34. (1) (a) The Vice-Chancellor of a University shall, subject to the provisions of paragraph (b), be appointed for a term of three years by the President, upon the recommendation of the Commission, from a panel of three names recommended by the Council of that University. ([S 34(1), 7 of 1985 & 1 of 1995])

The usual practice according to the legal expert and the senior professor I have spoken to was to ask for a presentation by the prospective applicants on their academic qualifications, service to the university and their plans to develop the university. By a secret ballot of the Council members and the marks for the presentation, the three applicants who have received the most votes were sent to the UGC with the received marks. The usual practice is for the Council to recommend and appoint the applicant who has received the most marks as the Vice Chancellor. During the time of Ex-President Chandrika Bandaranaike this practice was changed, and all three names were sent to the President by the UGC and applicants who have received less votes and marks were appointed as Vice Chancellors.

It seems this method selection was subjected to criticism claiming that the Council vote can be manipulated and thereby, in 2020 the UGC issued COMMISSION CIRCULAR NO: 02/2020 on appointment of the Vice Chancellor to maintain transparency and eradicate biases.

According to this circular article 2,

The Council of the University shall appoint a suitable Search Committee comprising three (03) senior academics of the rank of Senior Professor/Professor to search for and encourage eminent persons to apply. At least one of the members of the Search Committee should be a Dean of a Faculty of the University whenever possible, and

he/she shall function as the Chair of the Committee. iii. The prospective applicant/nominee shall be requested to submit a statement of vision for the development of the University, a brief account of what he/she proposes to achieve if appointed to the post of Vice-Chancellor and a full Curriculum Vitae including the date of birth of the applicant.

Where the incumbent Vice-Chancellor is an applicant or had held the post of Vice Chancellor of the University before, he/she shall give a report highlighting accomplishments during his/her first period of the office, in addition to the documents mentioned in Paragraph (iii) above (circular online: 1-2)

According to this circular a two-step evaluation process has been implemented and it is a very rigorous process to evaluate the applicants and members of the university. Eminent persons from outside the university and a UGC appointed observer are also involved in the evaluation process. According to the newspaper article and the letter from the resigned Council Members, the former Vice Chancellor Senior Professor Chandrika Wijeratne has obtained 89.6% marks and the other two recommended applicants have obtained 66% and 64% marks respectively.

If the UGC had implemented this circular correctly to eradicate bias, then the UGC should have recommended the name of the applicant with the highest marks to the President. It seems that, although a rigorous process has been followed, either the UGC has not recommended the due applicant to the President or it has recommended all three names. Or did the UGC recommend the applicant with the second highest marks only? It seems “be appointed for a term of three years by the President, upon the recommendation of the Commission” is a very grey area (emphasis is mine). Even though universities are semi government institutions, and the role of the Vice Chancellor is different from the rest of the high administrative positions, endorsement ofg the appointment by the President of the country makes it a responsible position. Being a president of a socialist democracy, it is the responsibility of the President to uphold to the basic principles of such a democracy and make an appointment based on the merits.

However, what we have experienced in last few decades is the increase of politicisation in the appointment of Vice Chancellors. Regime sympathisers are favoured over the persons with merit. Apart from the University of Peradeniya most of other universities couldn’t resist such appointments. The Open University fought successfully over appointing a Vice Chancellor outside the names approved by the Council. However, in that case also the first preference was ignored. In a democracy, the social contract between the citizens and the elected politicians is maintained through respecting and adhering to the people’s consent but it seems this does not work in the appointments of vice Chancellors to the universities. and thereby proves what Krause et.al. says “. The selection methods used for staffing unelected posts provide direct insight into how elected officials weigh their desire of minimizing agency problems arising from delegated authority with their need to provide bureaucracies sufficient slack to effectively perform tasks” (emphasis is mine)

It seems that development of universities as institutes of higher education to enhance knowledge production and releasing knowledgeable, skillful people to the workforce of this country is not a concern for the political leadership. Instead, universities were referred to as unliberated zones that are a national threat. Many bureaucratic hurdles have been created to discourage collaborative research, especially with western countries. There is no concern about maintaining a stable work environment at public universities with accountability and transparency. With such an attitude and perspective, it is suitable to appoint an applicant with less marks. If the applicant with the highest marks were to be appointed as the Vice chancellor, there is a high degree of possibility for that Vice Chancellor to act as an independent administrative officer who is accountable for the academic community. But by appointing applicants with less marks, it is very easy to keep a grip on the Vice Chancellor and use him or her to serve the political interests of the regime. In the Sunday Times article Senior Professor Wijeyrathna says she has a reputation for not giving into demands by the authorities above her. There were two such instances that made the Colombo University protest. One was the acquisition of the Muththaih Girls hostel to give it to the Gangaramaya temple. The hostel was built in a prime location. Not just the UDA, the UGC also was very much into handover the land to the Gangaramaya temple. The UGC did not protect the interests of the University of Colombo and suggested to move the girls hostel into a place in Dematagoda. Secondly, Minister Seetha Arambepola tried to grab a sizable portion of land behind the Faculty of Arts claiming it was to develop the Planetarium. When the Colombo university fought against it and even offered professional help to develop the planetarium, the move was put on hold. However, this has created a grudge against the university and the former Vice Chancellor. The people involved in these attempts were very active in the Viyath Maga, the President’s academic group who provided support to bring him into power and continued to receive political patronage of the regime. The University of Colombo is situated in a prime area and the land has a very high commercial value. During Mahinda Rajapaksha’s government it was planned to remove the university from the present location. The regime’s plan to sell prime land to augment revenue is a well-known secret and perhaps that was the motive. However, the former Vice Chancellor stood firmly behind the academic community of the University of Colombo. It is no wonder that the politicised male bureaucrats of the education ministry, the UGC and their supporters in the Univesrities find a strong woman with a sound professional background is an anomaly that hinders nepotism and corruption in the system.

Violating academic integrity

The political appointments to the universities seriously undermine one of the fundamental tenets of the academic community, i.e., academic integrity. Adhering to academic integrity is a must to safeguard honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility and safeguard the dignity of others in universities. If the academic integrity is honoured it gives necessary courage for academics to act accordingly even in the face of adversity. Hence it is the duty of the academics to not accept and refuse to be appointed in the case of political interference.

In the case of the University of Colombo, violating academic integrity is blatant. It is not my intention to dispute the claim of the Vice Chancellor in the above newspaper article that he was not a member of the Viyath Maga. However, he appears in the meetings organized by the President to seek support from the academic community. He was selected by the President Rajapaksha and appointed to the committee to seek a solution to the present economic crisis, out of all the economists and the management experts in this country.

Furthermore, the news-paper article states that he has disagreed with the marks he has scored and stated that the Council had used biased margins. The UGC circular implemented in 2020 has introduced a very rigorous process to eliminate such biases. The marksheets were designed by the UGC itself. Does he challenge that this process itself has loopholes? If so, it is not only the applicant who received highest marks who can have a biased judgment; the biased judgement can extend to the second and third applicants as well. Also, why did he not challenge this if there is clear evidence the Council has been biased, and ask for the entire process to be null and void? Instead, in an unprecedented manner, the Presidential Secretariat announced his appointment to the press three months ago. The Vice Chancellor has published his academic credentials in Facebook to justify his appointment.

It is of paramount of importance to include a resolution in the UGC circular to establish the academic integrity of the applicant for the office of the Vice Chancellor. The conduct of the applicants while they serve as Deans, Directors etc. are valuable indicators of the person’s ability to steer the university in an impartial manner and how he or she will not succumb to the political pressure.

Summary

In the publication titled Corruption in universities: Paths to integrity in the higher education subsector (Kirya, 2019) sums up the following points:

* Corruption in higher education takes various forms. Political manipulation of university affairs is common, as governments and ruling parties often interfere in the running of institutions. Higher educational institutions can be captured by political patronage networks for political or financial gain. Unearned credentials may be granted to politicians, their kin, and cronies.

* Other types of corruption include favouritism and nepotism in student admissions and staff appointments, corruption in licensing and accreditation, diversion of university or research funds, and procurement fraud.

* Academic dishonesty – plagiarism, essay mills, false research, examination fraud, and fake degrees – is rampant in both developed and developing countries.

* Sexual exploitation, mainly of female students, faculty, and staff by males, is a serious problem in higher education. Sextortion is defined as a form of corruption in which sex is the currency of the bribe.

* Various organisations are making efforts to tackle corruption in higher education. Governments, universities and other tertiary institutions, as well as civil society all have important roles to play.

The academia in Sri Lanka is very well aware of the veracity of the points made above in relation to the State universities. The silence and the tolerance of academics is shameful and lethargic. The main reason for this silence is the repercussions of going against the political patronage enjoyed by politically appointees. One of the best examples is appointing academics who have given the political support for regimes to win elections through various forms of political mobilisations and propaganda in media. They have been appointed as Directors, Vice chancellors, ambassadors etc. and are enabled to keep their position in the university by obtaining salaries from the university. Apart from that they enjoy all the perks that come with the political appointment. When the regimes lose power, they lose such positions but have their job security to get back to the university until the regime they supported is back in power. This has had tremendous repercussions on the universities in terms of losing their service as academics, not being able to recruit better people to teach and above all that they enjoy a privilege not extended to other academics.

The consequences of politicization and political patronage has led many competent, skillful academics with sound administrative records refraining from applying to posts like the Vice Chancellor’s position.

The executive presidency created in 1977 and the 20th amendment to the Constitutions has enhanced the polticisiation of the public service started by the 1972 constitution. The bulk of the employees of this country are in the public sector and nepotism and corruption in the public sector is a burden to the entire nation and have broken the backs of many bureaucrats.

Furthermore, it violates the basic principles of democracy. It is only the weak rulers who need to be surrounded by bureaucrats appointed through political patronage and nepotism, which will ensure securing and maintaining their power.

Hence there is a need to appoint an independent body that does not change with regime changes to appoint public officers who serve the institution and employees that they are responsible for, with honesty, commitment and integrity.

This is the cry of the nation now.

References:

Bach et.al (2020) ‘More delegation, more political control? Politicization of senior-level appointments in 18 European countries’ Public Policy and Administration, Vol. 35(1) 3–23 Sage publications https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0952076718776356

Kirya M (2019) Corruption in universities: Paths to integrity in the higher education subsector Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) : Norway U4 (10) < https://www.u4.no/publications/corruption-in-universities-paths-to-integrity-in-the-higher-education-subsector>

Toral G (2022) ‘ How patronage delivers: ‘Political appointments, bureaucratic accountability, and service delivery in Brazil’ American Journal of Political Science https://www.guillermotoral.com/publication/benefits_of_patronage/

The UGC of Sri Lanka (ND) ‘ THE CHANCELLOR AND THE OFFICERS OF UNIVERSITIES’ Universities Act -Part VI (online)<http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/central/>

*Janaki Jayawardena, senior lecturer, Department of History – University of Colombo

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    …..what we have experienced in last few decades is the increase of politicisation in the appointment of Vice Chancellors…….
    So true, but does not end there. The UGC is equally comprised of political appointees. In fact the whole administrative service is politicised but the cake was when the President (Sircular) instructed an officer who pointed out the procedure for an action, that the officer should forget Circulars but just act on his “say-so”.
    Can a large organisation function without a proper system of delegation of authority, on the whims and fancies of some single individual.
    Yes the abolition of the respected Civil Service in 1972 and replaced by the Administrative Service, was the proximate cause of the debacle.

  • 6
    9

    A well researched factual representation of facts by Dr. Jayawardene. Hats off to you dear lady for being an academic to take up this matter which is of a concern to state universities in Sri Lanka.

  • 9
    1

    Former Vice-Chancellor Chandrika Wijeyaratne has apparently mustered her troops to regain her position (which was gained by her acquaintance with former President Sirisena, but conveniently no objections were then raised) by opportunistically trying to tie her replacement to the discredited regime.

    While Janaki manages to use all the right buzzwords like “post-colonial” and “academic freedom”, we must be careful not to allow this blatant opportunism to gain traction. Just because a Rajapaksha failed to re-appoint Mrs Wijeyaratne does not mean that Mrs Wijeyaratne was a competent Vice-Chancellor. In fact, she was neither competent nor interested in “academic freedom” during her term.

    This is evidenced by the way in which she forced my wife, Dr Asantha Attanayake Barborich to flee the country and attempted to extort 500,000,000,000 LKR (no typo) from me after I informed the Council (which was stacked with her cronies) of her misdeeds, including condoning outright academic fraud by the former director of UCIARS (who took the position to curry favour with the current regime), one Mr Sutharshan Somasundaram. Chandrika Wijeyaratne and the UoC are now facing a court case on 5 May in regard to this matter and I will be happy to write a detailed account…

  • 10
    1

    of this in the near future. The current protest movement is quite heartening, but the rot in the state goes far beyond the government and includes the academic sector. One need look no further than Mrs Wijeyaratne or Dayan Jayatilleka to see that. Do not allow opportunists to ride the coattails of the peoples’ protest.

  • 4
    1

    Dr Janaki Jayawardena is new to me, and to CT readers. I saw this article about four hours ago, but let me first give other readers the chance to get familiar with her:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNqffnWxOFY
    .
    This is 26 minutes in English, and has been seen by few, and commented on by only four in more than eleven months.
    .
    Janaki has been protesting silently for a month in Colombo, and yesterday I shouted out my protest in Bandarawela (I still have a powerful voice) in a Bandarawela protest that lasted two hours. However, this article deals mainly with corruption in Academia.
    .
    Before going for the protest I watched this video:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0DdlLWPikM&t=387s
    .
    and made three comments. Ternty-five minutes in English.
    .

    • 7
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      The sweet siren sound of a featherbedding “academic” speaking in English are still the self-serving sounds of a featherbedding “academic”. Be not deceived. Mrs Wijeyaratne ran the UoC administration like a mafia family and when my wife was unceremoniously forced out of UCIARS by Mrs Wijeyaratne and complained to her Vice-Chancellor, said Vice-Chancellor used the pretext of a “disciplinary inquiry” to deny my wife’s sabbatical, have threats phoned to us in the wee hours of the night, attempted to extort me for 500,000,000,000 LKR and filed numerous police cases against me (that were summarily dismissed to the credit of the police service). We spoke directly to Janaki, who was a schoolmate of my wife at Mayamaha Kandy, who informed me that any questioning of the Vice-Chancellor would draw the attention of the security services due to my threat as an anti-national (an “anti-national” who came from America and lived in Sri Lanka for seven years because my wife wanted to serve her country instead of contributing to the brain drain). Needless to say, when we started to be threatened as “anti-national subversives”, I said enough is enough, and we left the country.

    • 7
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      Now, I wake to see the UoC mafia administration trying to ride the coattails of the peoples’ protest to restore their head extortionist to power. Now Janaki is wholly correct that the political influence in the university is pernicious, but this is a protest of convenience to restore to power a woman who bestowed her with patronage, not a protest against corruption per se. The former Vice-Chancellor (who was appointed due to her own connection to Sirisena and because the Medical faculty was to be celebrated for its centenary, not because of qualifications) is simply mobilising her cronies in order to try and return to power after she was unceremoniously removed because of her abuse of said power during her term. Therefore, if we want to discuss corruption and political influence in the university, then let’s do so, but don’t mistake the problem of corruption with the self-interested mafia tactics of Mrs Wijeyaratne and her cronies.

      • 6
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        And speaking of bias in appointments, I’d love to see the qualifications of Mrs Jayawardena (besides whitewashing the former VC) to have been appointed as Director of the Centre for Research and Development. She’s not exactly well-published, but I’m sure there are good reasons…

    • 6
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      And I apologise to the readers for delving into the minutiae of corrupt academic politics in Sri Lanka, but when this type of whitewashing is presented as a “noble protest” for the sake of truth, I find myself compelled to divulge the real truth behind appearances.

    • 3
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      PART ONE
      .
      I’m sorry that the above comment slipped out before I could complete it.
      .
      I’m in Bandarawela; I know little of Jaffna. The most ridiculous attempt at to manipulate a Vice-Chancellor appointment was the refusal to interview a candidate on the grounds that his application arrived late: This is one of a number of articles on this forum that highlighted the case:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/jaffna-university-unions-voice-indignation-against-bar-on-thiagalingam-for-vc/comment-page-1/#comments
      .
      Why can’t we have just one glaring case of this sort investigated properly, and the results be publicised?
      .
      Now let me deal with something at a lower level than University, but where I’m talking about the future:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/chelvanayakams-124th-birthday-the-need-to-honour-him-with-transparent-cms-administration/
      .
      Admittedly an unlikely article to draw in facts about something that happened in “the South”, but vouched for with irrefutable details about myself, and asking only that we be given an assurance of due procedure being followed two years from now. This was followed up in two linked articles, let me give readers the second of them:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-bishop-cms-fiddle-while-st-johns-college-jaffna-burns/

    • 3
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      PART TWO
      .
      Admittedly there is an element of subjectivity creeping into this: this refers to cheating relating to electing members to the Board of Governors of the four “well-known” S. Thomas’ Colleges. The subjectivity creeps in with “well-known”, but this is what makes it easy to check on.
      .
      I have given as clear proof as possible on a site such as this of my identity, for many years. I will do something else here now: I will follow up by giving you my personal email address, so that that the author, Dr Janaki Jayawardena, can follow up by asking the most searching questions possible.

    • 3
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      PART THREE
      .
      Another objection could be that we are dealing with a Board headed by Rt. Rev. Dushantha Rodrigo, the Anglican Bishop of Colombo of the minuscule Church of Ceylon. Why should his involvement be of greater moment than that of a Buddhist prelate? My counter to such argument is that public perception is that this cleric has a greater reputation for incorruptibility. Rightly so; even I say that this is so; he is merely weak and vacillating. I have informed him, by email that those articles exist. He has told me from his mobile phone that he will will look into it, and there is time before March 2024. How I have countered argument I have reported on comments here.

      .
      Let me further state that there has been no attempt to refute what has now been stated clearly for many years. The trust of the citizens in the system has to be built up by not ignoring all the evidence that has been proffered.
      .
      Isn’t that sufficient for a writer well-versed in historiography to act on? I hope that she does.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V) of Bandarawela; e-mail: paniniedirisinhe@ gmail.com

  • 1
    9

    A well researched factual presentation by Dr. Jayawardene, Hats off to you for taking up this matter as a true academic. This is a concern to all state universities in Sri Lanka.

    • 4
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      Much of the current turmoil in the country at this time is attributed to “family politics“.
      .
      In that context, may I respectfully make a point relating to the spelling adopted by the learned academic, Dr Janaki Jayawardena, for the surname of the current ruling family. She has twice used it in this article, both times as “Rajapaksha”. This is not the spelling adopted by the family:
      .
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahinda_Rajapaksa
      .
      The further complication that he never has the name “Mahinda” for official purposes is best ignored; calling him “Mahendra” would cause unnecessary confusion.
      .
      This other current politician appears to consistently spell his name differently:
      .
      https://www.celebsagewiki.com/wijeyadasa-rajapakshe
      .
      They frequently make the point that they are not related.
      .
      There also are many typos relating to the use f the definite article, “the”.
      .
      It may sound like nit-picking, and I apologise for for having allowed the boldlettering get out of control.

  • 1
    1

    IS Ms Jayawardena any relation to former president?

  • 8
    0

    At the risk of being irrelevant to the present subject, may I share an experience of a similar attempt to by-pass laid-down procedures for recruitment & appointment in the university here?

    In 1975 my husband (H) & I returned here because we wished to commit ourselves to this country despite the advantages & opportunities so obviously available in England. Perhaps it sounds somewhat naive (or even self-important) but (like Dr Attanayake) we wanted to “serve” this country instead of contributing to the brain drain, as it would have been my husband’s case. I was still only a British citizen but I had come to care deeply about SL by then, despite having been devastated when torn away from England years earlier.

    We needed jobs asap. Oddly enough, despite only a first degree & a librarianship qualification, I was offered one almost immediately, in the R.O. of an international organization. One drawback – it was for local staff & therefore one had to be a C citizen. No dual citizenship in those days. So I renounced my Brit. Cit. & got the job.
    …2…

    • 7
      0

      …2…
      But H., with all his academic qualifications, teaching experience & publications, was unable to find an opening. After several months, a vacancy for an Asst Lecturer at Kelaniya was advertised. He completed all the paraphernalia, & mailed his application with umpteen supporting documents in a registered package well before the closing date.
      Then he waited. And waited. And waited…not even an acknowledgement.

      Two days before closing date, he phoned a lecturer friend there who inquired at the Registrar’s office. Yes, the application had been received & was given to the Head of the relevant dept to process before fixing an interview. Further investigation revealed the application had been destroyed – so also the applicant.

      The friend took a whole new application to the Registrar asa another could be prepared. Only just in time. H. was duly called for an interview…presided over by Prof. W.S. Karunaratne (Buddhist Philosophy & tar-brush campaigner), Dean of the Arts Fac. He didn’t know H. but on looking at his work, etc., he said: “How can we offer you an Assistant Lecturer’s post? We must at least make you a Lecturer.” Which he did.
      …3…

      • 7
        0

        …3…
        But the reason I started all this was to recount the devious, dishonest schemes of the Head of the Dept who absolutely didn’t want my husband anywhere near his fiefdom, which he had ruled almost single-handedly, never allowing it to take in more than 4 or 5 students a year. Somehow, H’s reputation had preceeded him & Prof. X feared the disruption of his unhurried, uncrowded, undemanding days. Later, when H. had settled down in the dept, a woman student told him that at her interview Prof. X had said to her: “Why does a bright girl like you want to do archaeology – in Sinhala – much better you join the English dept.

        Well, he did everything her could to drive my husband away. Oddly enough, even asking him for loans later! Which I don’t think he ever repaid. But 2 years later came the general election of 1977 & X, apparently, a life-long SLFPer, joined the UNP campaign, speaking on their platforms. (Around the same time or after the UNP came into power) Ranil Wicks got up in Parliament & said, “While people like H. were given University job, 2nd class graduates were roaming the streets, unemployed!”
        …4…

  • 7
    0

    …4…
    Not only did X campaign for the UNP, but he also put about devilish stories about H, & asa Nissanka Wijeratne became Minister of Education, X told him H was a dangerous influence in the uni, & should be got rid of. And what was X’s reward for jumping camps & speaking from platforms – he was made President of KNU & H was transferred to Jaffna overnight. Apparently the first such act in the University. Never mind that by then all the Sinhala staff & students were being bussed out of Jaffna as the race riots were under way!

    Anyway, I’ve already used too much space so I’ll stop there. Oh, & the press went to town on it – repeating all X’s lies & defamation. That was just the first 2 years we were back…..

    Dr Attanayake, stick if out, if you really want to serve. I believe it’s worth it. To X’s horror his dept grew & grew under my h. & recently I was told they want to offer an annual gold medal in his name to the best graduate in his subject.

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      0

      Thank you for your concern Manel. Your story is a common one in Sri Lanka. As I said, that is where Janaki is correct in stating the self-evident fact rot in politics and society tends to corrupt everything else, including the universities. However, these gestures towards self-evident facts seem only to occur when someone in the academic mafia stands to gain. Otherwise, little effort is directed against corruption when others are being victimised.

      You’ll be happy to know that Dr Attanayake landed on her feet in America and is now at a major US research university. Furthermore, many academics from Sri Lanka have been contacting us over the past 11 months to say we are doing a better service to the country by speaking up, writing letters and fighting this out in the courts rather than just resting comfortably in America. After all, the reason good academics in Sri Lanka don’t speak against corruption is understandable because they have so much to lose, so if we don’t speak up, who will? In this sense, despite all the suffering we endured, we are lucky to be able to afford to speak up in ways that others cannot in situations like these.

    • 3
      1

      Fascinating, Manel.
      .
      The first time most of us have heard of H.
      .
      It’s past midnight! I must sleep.
      .
      The English Special Graduate from Peradeniya University, Winner of the Leigh Smith Prize 1985, must sleep!
      .
      Never got anywhere in life. Well not anywhere outside Asia. The one-time British Citizen doesn’t want to know why.

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