22 August, 2019

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Our Education: Prisoner Of A Long, Largely Undeclared War

By Rajan Hoole and Kirupaimalar Hoole

Part II: Consequences of Total Breakdown of Avenues for Redress

The Jaffna Commerce batch that got its results in late 1994 is of interest for the reasons that follow. The 1995 batch could not complete that year because of the Exodus. Being displaced to Thenmaratchy and beyond, their final examinations were held at Chavakacheri Hindu College, Killinochchi and Vavuniya about May 1996 after the LTTE ceased open control of Jaffna. Two in that batch, Koperundevi (Kopi) and Shanthy got first classes, but their results were released only around March 1997, and so they could not apply for the academic vacancies for which interviews were held on 5th November 1996 in Jaffna. The candidate finally selected was a 2nd Upper from the 1994 batch, whom we refer to as Manager.

University of Jaffna | Photo via Facebook University of Jaffna

The selection board, in November 1996, was presided over by Prof. P. Balasundarampillai. The only qualified candidate was K. Ganeshanathan with the mandatory one year’s teaching experience demanded by Circular 721, who topped the 1992 batch with a 2nd Upper and taught during 1994. We understand that he was not absorbed into the staff because cadre positions were messed up by LTTE requests, such as to absorb a visiting lecturer.

A senior faculty member involved in the selection denied any knowledge of improper influence, but added that they did not at the start entertain an idea of taking Manager and did not seem to know his rank in merit order. However he, some days later, asserted that Manager topped the batch. Other contemporaries doubt this. At that time there was no GPA system, but the person who topped the commerce batch was announced as Rahulan, who then left Jaffna. A batch mate citing what lecturers who saw the marks list told them, said that Prapakaran (who topped the batch in the second year) and Sithamparanathan, who faced the interview, were above Manager in rank.

Towards an Epidemic of Malfeasance

Once the germ of corruption enters one faculty, it cannot be quarantined. VC Vasanthy Arasaratnam in her imperious way brought it to the Science Faculty in 2013, when she ignored Nilani Kanesharatnam, the consensual departmental favourite in Zoology who topped the batch with a first class and imposed a candidate from about the bottom of the merit list.

Manager, whose recruitment in1996 is questionable and became Dean of Management in 2011, played the game with added vigour. His trump card: coordinating with the EPDP in Vasanthy Arasaratnam’s re-election as VC on 8th March 2014, and the introduction of a dummy candidate. Ten days later interviews commenced for probationary lecturers in Management. Ravivathani, the leading candidate in merit order for Financial Management was dropped in favour of a candidate whose teaching experience was inflated in the schedule. The VC who was absent for most of Ravivathani’s interview certified her rejection. Her fundamental rights appeal to the Supreme Court in 2014 has faced inordinate delays and is yet to be argued.

Manager is meanwhile going strong undeterred. By stuffing the department with favourites, he ensured for himself a third term as dean. He contested for VC in 2017, unsuccessfully, but quickly re-established himself as a power behind the throne. Recently two external council members had to try to apply the brakes on his favouritism. We see how effective the Supreme Court is in restraining abuse.

A generation of abuse and its effects: Once recruiting mediocrities becomes the practice, those with superior ability who may challenge their peers are systematically kept out. Kopi and Shanthy from the batch after Manager’s with first classes were not taken in. After rejecting Ravivathani for Financial Management in 2014, it was difficult to take in an exceptional applicant when she came along. A young 27 year-old first class woman graduate in the field from Sri Jayewardenapura came for an interview about November 2017. She was 9th among more than 4800 persons worldwide who sat for the British CIMA and was a fully qualified Chartered Financial Analyst, all of which she had acquired in three years and was employed by an American company at a six-figure salary. The panel was highly impressed with her performance at the interview and found her exceptional. Yet Manager and those backing him wanted to take his clerk’s son who was sixth on the Jaffna merit list from which there were other applicants for the single position with better GPA. Such blatant abuse in recruitment survives necessarily in a climate of broader abuse.

Towards Narrow Identity Projects

During the 2002 ceasefire, when Prof. Balasundarampillai was vice chancellor, The University tried to revive stalled plans for an engineering faculty and advertised for a professor of Electrical Engineering. A very well qualified candidate applied and nothing was heard. When the candidate inquired, he was told that they had changed their mind and wanted instead a civil engineer to put up the buildings. The University advertised and a well-qualified civil engineer, Dr. Sahayam, with a highly respected PhD in coastal engineering from Queen’s University, Canada, applied. Neither did this second applicant receive a reply.

Prof. Balasundarampillai had, as reported in the Press, voiced for many years ambitions of a Hindu University and Hindu Faculty, in which the LTTE had no interest. This appears to be the reason why Engineering was then left in the doldrums. Balasundarampillai and those behind him, represent a movement where the interests of the community and the quality of the University would be continually undermined by narrow identity projects.

We come to another instance of how the broader attack on dissent and public interest litigation, impacted on the universities. Having previously applied for Professor of Engineering in Jaffna and being ignored, Hoole in 2004 applied for Professor of Computer Science, while holding the position of Senior Professor of Computer Engineering at Peradeniya. The processing was stopped by Prof. Kumaravadivel, Dean of Science in Jaffna. Hoole went to the USAB and in March 2006 the USAB ordered the University of Jaffna to process the application.

This was where the relationships forged between lawyers and judges came into play in some sharp practice. We encountered Mr. Sumanthiran and his junior Balendra who defended Colombo University in 2005. Prof. Kumaravadivel got Balendra to file a petition against the processing of Hoole’s application in the Court of Appeal on 30th March 2006, putting the University of Jaffna as respondent, this coincidentally when the Supreme Court was coming down hard on CIMOGG. Prof. Kumaravadivel’s influence within the Council of the University ensured that the University bore the cost of hiring Sumanthiran for what was his personal appeal. The petition did not indicate the harm for which relief was prayed for or who the affected party was. He prayed the Court that “…irreparable loss and damage will be caused and the final relief will be rendered nugatory unless an interim order is issued [to stop processing of the application]” – it was tantamount to ‘do not consider him because I don’t like him.’

Kumaravadivel was neither, as Justice Sriskandarajah had specified in rejecting CIMOGG’s public interest appeal in his 2nd July 2006 judgment on qualification for locus standi, ‘directly affected’, had ‘special expertise [in computer science]’, nor was he mandated by the university council to claim ‘sufficient interest’ on its behalf. Yet Sriskandarajah entertained the appeal, and effectively stopped the processing of the application.

Towards total breakdown and closure of avenues for redress

In our glimpse at events in the 1990s, we saw the growing trend of favouritism in the Arts Faculty and the cavalier disregard for merit and therefore quality. Dons keep on asking for pay increases, and one of the reasons used is that unless that incentive is given, we will not attract people who have earned renown abroad. But when someone outside shows interest, we do everything possible to stop him.

Chief Justice Sarath N Silva’s suspension of Elmore Perera in 2006 from practising in court symbolically marked a turning point, a silent revolution, where administrators enjoyed a significant jump in their freedom to abuse power. Long established rules were simply ignored. Many would have had the experience of confronting senior administrators, vice chancellors and UGC chairmen with well-established rules and finding them thoroughly indifferent. The same applies to the courts.

In Jaffna, we traced the growing abuse in the 1990s, and behind the suppression of merit, the rogues’ refuge of religious identity politics. Intellectual life was squeezed out. Manager is just one lesson in how to succeed in this environment. Discriminating against Excellence, a report put out by the Jaffna University Science Teachers Association (JUSTA) in 2014, which is available on the web, detailed many of the abuses.

JUSTA’s comprehensive report on abuse mentioned above was given to two UGC Chairmen who promised action, very insincerely, and to the Grievance Committee at Jaffna University set up by the former vice chancellor under pressure from the 2015 Council. Her placement of Prof. Sivasegaram on this Committee spelt its doom. 

The Ombudsman and shrinking of avenues for redress

Justice R.B. Ranaraja, the Ombudsman was around 2003, readily accessible as an avenue for redress. He said in his address, Access to Justice under Human Rights, “The Ombudsman has the jurisdiction to entertain written complaints of allegations of infringements of Fundamental Rights or other injustice by a public officer or an officer of a public body or corporation. The complainant must have a sufficient interest in the matter…The complainant only has to bear the cost of a sheet of paper and a stamped envelope.”

In September 2017, Prof. Hoole sought relief from the Ombudsman for his vacation of post from the University of Peradeniya in 2008 while on leave. The Ombudsman replied a month later: “It is observed that you have sent your petition to us before submitting it to the Human Rights Commission and the Court also granted you a judgment. If you are reinstated in your post, you may take steps to pursue matters with your appointing authority…” This was cursory reading of a complaint – there was no court judgment. Reinstatement was precisely the matter being refused by the University. No remedy was offered and no clarity on how to proceed.

*The three parts of this article are based on the paper submitted by the authors for the seminar on “Problems of Higher Education in Sri Lanka” held under the auspices of the Ecumenical Institute for Study and Development (EISD), Colombo, on 18th and 19th November 2017. Part – I can be read here

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Latest comments

  • 2
    0

    This time, Higher education minister is Kiriella. did he or his progeny go to University ?. Last time, It was S.B. dissanayake. He screwed up the life an Olympic athlete. that is how he helped young generation. Anyway, His, as I heard, did not have enough marks to go a sri lankan university. then he got PRESIDENT’s Fund and he went to a Australian university. Does any of the presidents, prime ministers have well educated children (they tried their best by enrolling in non-accredited private schools near prestigious universities in the west). Other wise, they can easily solve problems of higher education. –From the University academic staff side, it should not be the one who got highest marks in the exam who comes as the academic staff. As a lecturer you know that the one who had highest marks may not be the best to perform in the future. Besides, exam is not perfect. Many may not do well when the exam comes. Simply they were not ready at that time. Sri lanka should charge fees from every student and give scholar ships to every poor students and money depends on whether they waste the time or not. Without higher education Sri lanka will not go up. On the other hand, Politicians are not educated and they did not have intelligent children. So, why should they care ?. they do not know the importance of education in country’s progress. for them everything is votes.

  • 9
    0

    Thanks, Colombo Telegraph for that photograph of “Jaffna University”, which I saw about two hours ago, and led me to read up about the institution, partly to delay this response, which I am now confident will be preceded by quite a few more relevant and informed comments.

    *

    So: I learnt from Wikipedia that the University is in five locations. I had some vague recollection of how it was set up by taking over Jaffna College which had served the entire country at the time when working people wanted to continue with studies by doing a “London Degree”, by preparing in Vaddukoddai. The names of those suburbs of Jaffna, which we had heard of as kids when we REALLY were one country, keep coming back into my memory.

    *

    I find that the Chancellor of Jaffna University is that gentle giant, with head usually resting on his left shoulder, Prof. Sivasubramaniam Pathmanathan, whom I got to know when I was an “elderly undergrad” in Peradeniya. Wonderfully liberal scholar. Oh, I know he’d just be a figure-head in the University, but I hope that he’s writing things still. It’s so important that we get ourselves a balanced view of History. By 1983, there were more History PhDs than students in Pera – or that’s the impression that I still carry. But they did give us some talks on various aspects of our society while Sri Lanka was in flames.

    *

    No, I’m sorry, it was only Tamil homes and businesses that were overtaken by arson. We guys are desperately sorry that all that happened.

    *

    Let me hope that by tomorrow morning the responses that I see are more constructive.

    • 4
      0

      The University of Jaffna did not take over Jaffna College.
      Paremeshwara College, one of the oldest Hindu schools in Jaffna, premises were taken over to set up the Jaffna Campus of the University of Sri Lanka. There were some who grumbled, but complaints did not go on for long like in the case of Jaffna College which was taken over until buildings were ready for the Science Faculty.
      *
      The choice was between the interests of a few seeking London degrees (mostly because they could not enter university at home) and greater opportunity for science degrees for those who were eligible to enter national universities.
      *
      As in the case of Paremeshwara College, the decision of the government was wise; and the North had a good university when the Campus became a University in 1978.
      *
      I hope that you will agree that my comment is far more positive than the wailing about the take over of Jaffna College for a limited period.
      Also what we hear about Jaffna College nowadays makes me wonder if Jaffna College should have been fully state managed from 1960.
      *
      ps.
      It is new to me that we were “REALLY” one country when you were a kid. Seeds of division sown decades before you were born had divided the country at the time of Independence, not just on linguistic lines.
      The English-educated middle classes were superficially ‘united” as a ‘country’, while their deeds divided the country further, far worse than the ‘gode’ speakers of native tongues.
      Only the Left was serious about unity at the time. The entire parliamentary left gave up by 1964.

  • 4
    0

    These are tips of icebergs.
    There are so many issues if corruption…if some girls are ready to give away their dignity to appelase lecturers there are some lecturers who are ready to good marks for sex too ..
    Last month one lecturer was sacked in southeastern university for asking sex from students ?
    What do you want to know..
    To give class
    To expect rewards from.students
    To promote whoever wants to ..
    To give jobs to any one .
    To milk university bursary
    To misuse all fund .
    To horse in A/L examine .
    What do you want more ..
    All corrupted people are in university…
    Yet; some of these people do not like see qualified academics …they fear for their post ..
    They are so low in quality products and teaching quality so ..

  • 2
    1

    Sadly, Sumanthiran goes as a Christian leader promoted by the churches. He is not an honest lawyer playing with court dates and all. But that he stands against qualified Christians writing falsities against them for money reveals the calibre of the man.

    Obviously he is preaching with the skills of a lawyer not the grace of God.

    May God save the Tamil people from him . He is no S. J. V. Chelvanayagam to head them.

    • 3
      1

      Yes, we in the South, respected S.J.V. Chelva as an honest man.

      *

      You are right. I have been following closely what’s been said about the running of Jaffna College. It is indeed shocking.

      *

      No more should you be thinking in terms of which community or religion a guy “belongs” to. We need plain simple honesty before all else.

      *

      It is sad to hear what you say, because Sumanthiran speaks fairly effectively in Sinhala, and obviously can understand most of what he hears. Whom can we trust of the younger politicians there. Elsewhere, “Unreal” from Jaffna has assured me that Sampanthan is a good man. I agree. But don’t we have younger people?

      *

      When I ask a question, I do so because I just don’t know the answer, and I will listen attentively to what I’m told.

      *

      I can’t help feeling that the next few days will be crucial. Here, in the South, the public mood is turning ugly. There must be SOME elections at least held. If not, there could well be street demonstrations.

    • 2
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      Visa

      Who gave you the idea that lawyers out to be honest?
      Give one example of honest lawyer.
      Why should anyone preach with the grace of god whereas human beings are thought to possess rationality?
      Are you saying Tamil people are incapable of defending themselves from another stupid human being?

      • 1
        0

        Yes, NV,

        One example of an honest lawyer – difficult to find!

        I’ve been trying to find out names of honest politicians. Discussed with some knowledgeable guys. Came up with: Buddhika Pathirana (not heard of even by many), Ruwan Wijewardena, Gayantha Karunatilleke, Eran Wickremaratne, Harsha de Silva, Wasantha Aluwihare, John Seneviratne, Dr Ramesh Patirana (actually with MaRa!).

        In the not-to-be-recommended category were Faiz Mustapha and Faizer Mustapha.

        *
        But one who guy gave me those two names as “clever-DISreputables” quickly added that Shibly Aziz is a most honest lawyer.

        *

        So, NV: there’s your honest lawyer: Shibly Aziz.

  • 2
    0

    Agree with Visa. Abraham Sumanthiran is a devious religious bigot who cannot be trusted. Tamils are much better off with a more balanced leader.

    • 1
      1

      Percy

      Did Abraham Sumanthiran grab your land in exchange for a bible or did he promise 8 measures of free rice from the Moon? If he did, it does not make him a devious religious bigot whereas it definitely makes you a stupid pleb, a village idiot with loud mouth.

      • 1
        0

        Native vedda , what old Abe did was try to shove a bible up the place where the sun does not shine! Does That make him a religious bigot or are you demented enough through eating too much thosai and applying too much thala thel on that little appendage.

  • 4
    1

    It is disappointing that the present administration of the University of Jaffna, its Council and the University Grants Commission have not taken any concrete action on the findings of the JUSTA report. Some of the cases mentioned Rajan Hoole’s article are described in detail in the JUSTA reports released three years ago.

    The references to the nexus between lawyers, judges and dons suggest the issue is more complicated than some of us thought. If blatant violations of the kind reported in this piece go unabated at Sri Lankan Universities, how can one expect our universities to ensure quality, academic freedom and an atmosphere that nourishes dissent and diversity?

    A significant portion of the tax payers’ money is allocated to education and higher education (and some of us demanding more allocations). When people like Balasundarampillai and Kumaravadivel try systematically to keep talented candidates out of the university system, the money actually goes into waste.

  • 1
    2

    Merit is no longer a criterion in Lanka. Political connection is the only requirement for all the important positions. This evil taking hold of Tamil education system was (and is) inevitable.
    Hoole is trying hard to blame the liberation movements for this. One wonders what the main mission of Hoole is.
    The ‘standardisation’ exercise brought with it student discontent and breakdown of dedication of students to studies etc. About this time infamous Lanka ‘law and order’ rot started. There was no liberation movements at that time.
    Because of the clear bias shown here and elsewhere Hoole’s credibility is questionable.

    • 3
      1

      K Pillai

      How can one consider a movement that forced VCs and Universities to appoint its favorites a liberation movement? It is a mafia.

      Standardisation is an important exercise. It was necessary to address regional inequalities.

      Your mission seems to be to create conspiracy theories about Hoole’s mission!

      When people bring out cases of corruption and nepotism, you tend to divert the dialogue by misrepresenting the whistle-blowers as biased. Whistle-blowers can be biased but then the claim needs to be substantiated. What is biased in this article? Please clarify. Thanks.

      • 5
        0

        Chanakya
        Will you trust ones who goes behind politicians to be appointed to positions that they would not normally have been granted?
        What about those who seek to wreck the proper running of any institution to get himself/herself made ‘competent authority’?
        *
        Be cautious about bent whistles with a big mission: SELF.

        • 1
          1

          SJ
          Ratnajeevan Hoole did seek the support of some politicians and argued that a competent authority (not sure if he argued that he should be the competent authority) should be appointed to address the problems at UoJ.

          Does that mean Rajan Hoole should not write about the unfair treatment Ratnajeevan Hoole faced under Vice Chancellor Balasundarampillai and Acting Vice Chancellor Kumaravadivel and later VC Vasanthy Arasaratnam? That is my point.

          • 2
            1

            Sorry mate Chanakya
            I have much doubt about the character of people who beg and plead with corrupt politicians and use undue influence through shady characters to get what they want.
            *
            I commented here on a few of the falsehoods that I am aware of.
            *
            I do not question the right of anyone even to tell lies; and one is free to believe what one likes to believe.
            Rest assured, there is more than meets the eye in the stories of selective whistleblowers’.

            • 2
              1

              SJ
              I still don’t get your point. So your argument is since Ratnajeevan Hoole sought the support of corrupt politicians, nobody should write about the discrimination that he faced under VCs Balasundarampillai, Kumaravadivel and Vasanthy Arasaratnam? Or do you imply that all of the above VCs acted in a fair and just manner in handling Hoole’s applications? So if somebody is dishonest that person can be abused by the system? You won’t approach issues on a case by case basis?

              On the other hand, do you have much doubt about the character of Vasanthy Arasartnam as well? Because she also “begged and plead with corrupt politicians” to become the VC? Also, the three people elected by the Council early this year for the VC’s position also sought the support of politicians belonging to the SLFP, UNP and TNA. Will you be forthcoming in your critique of Vasanthy Arasaratnam, Srisatkunarajah, Vigneswaran and Velnampi as well?

              • 1
                1

                I have not objected to anybody writing anything.
                I pointed at certain falsehoods.
                If you are pointing fingers at people produce your evidence.
                I did not name anyone, but I have sufficient basis to say what I said.

                • 3
                  0

                  Chanakya

                  SJ hasn’t found sufficient basis to blame the weeping widow (Siri Mao). She could do no wrong.

                  So please bear with him or ignore him, whichever gives you peace of mind. Do you know the last tsunami which devastated the island was the product of TNA’s cumulative mistakes.

                • 1
                  1

                  SJ
                  You attempted to create the impression that what is presented in the article is falsehood. You did not analyse the cases one by one. You claimed or implied the authors’ personal interests were presented in the article. You did not say a word about the actions of Kumaravadivel and Balasundarampillai. My question still remains: Just because Ratnajeevan Hoole approached politicians, can we dismiss the injustices that he faced?

                  But what is your response to the other cases (there are many cases in those reports, not just Ratnajeevan Hoole’s) mentioned in the JUSTA’s report? What action did the GRC of the Council take with regard to the cases mentioned? Were they investigated? If not, why? Do you think they do not need to be investigated? Is it appropriate for the chair of an interview panel to leave the panel in the middle of the interview? Only an arrogant person would do such things.

                  • 1
                    1

                    I commented on something that you said about whistle blowers.
                    What you made of it is your problem
                    Impressions are subjective, and you are welcome to yours.

              • 2
                1

                That is a good question, Chanakya. VA was good at going behind politicians. It would be nicecto know SJ’s take on her behaviour.

      • 1
        0

        Chanakya
        Read first para. It talks of an interview held on 05 November 1996 to fill an academic position. The advertisement announcing the vacancy would have appeared few months earlier. The position went to a “Manager”.
        Two persons who graduated in 1997 did not apply. Of course at that point of time they had no qualification. Was this to rub in that the ‘Manager’ was second upper?
        The article has too many aspersive innuendos and these led me to conclude that the article is biased.
        By the way I do not know anyone mentioned personally.

        • 3
          1

          K Pillai
          The reference to Manager’s qualification is important because there was only one qualified candidate (Ganeshathasan) and that candidate was not the manager. The qualified candidate had the same qualification as the manager + the mandatory teaching experience. But he did not get the job. So it is important to mention the class.

          What are the other aspersive innuendos?

    • 2
      0

      Our Crusaders of Morality have many a mission.
      It does not take long for the better-informed to suss things out, and learn that more than bias is involved in their verdicts.
      *
      I am sure that you are pretending ignorance in places.

    • 3
      1

      Dear Pillai, alias SJ!

      Your obsession with distorting the plain meaning of what Hoole says from behind a cloak of anonymity is an abuse of that facility.

      The LTTE after all was a military organization. And the military aspect determined its outlook. The organisation developed in such a way that it had to control society with an iron hand. It realized that university academics were far more easily controlled than students. This is why it largely left the academics alone while it brutally terrorized dissenting students.

      By 1990, LTTE’s recruitment had become almost entirely rural. Thus it was natural for it to respond to complaints of Jaffna-centered favoritism in university recruitment. It was also an opportunity to infiltrate the institution.

      Wherever the LTTE infiltrated it handily used existing corruption. In this case, the LTTE would soon turn to favoritism to further entrench itself on the university. This is not specific to the LTTE: any military movement would have behaved in this way. A more politically alive movement would have thought carefully about the long term effects on society that result from such excesses in important public institutions.

      The EPDP, too, effected a top-down control of the university exploiting the same weaknesses.

      • 2
        0

        P’s P
        You are desperate aren’t you.
        We have seen this kind of red herring been drawn when some people get cornered.
        *
        The human rights mafia made much hay when the LTTE shone, by attacking it. After the LTTE’s sunset, it curried favour with other miserable politicians to get things done behind the scenes.
        There are too many untold stories..

  • 4
    2

    Hoole willfully repeats a lie propagated by a JUSTA spokesperson about Sivasegaram’s role in the Grievances Redressal Committee. The lie was exposed an year ago; and distortion of facts is not new to Hoole as readers of CT would know by now.
    *
    The Committee met the Unions and explained that its mandate as laid down by the Council was confined to grievances of individual employees.The JUSTA spokesperson had things in mind which the GRC had no authority to deal with.
    To my knowledge the GRC has addressed matters without undue delay, and none has complained about rulings by the GRC or its conduct of business.

  • 2
    0

    I have not objected to anybody writing anything.
    I pointed at certain falsehoods.
    If you are pointing fingers at people produce your evidence.
    I did not name anyone, but I have sufficient basis to say what I said.

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