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.
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