22 September, 2020

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Reviving Jaffna University

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof.  S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Building upon 17 Aug. 2015

Jan. 8 this year was exciting but fascist forces loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa were still in control of parliament. No major matter could be passed except for the laudable constitutional changes. Today, after the elections of 17 Aug., parliament has only some 30 MPs owing their loyalty to Rajapakse. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena have at long last the chance to deliver on their promises and build an inclusive Sri Lanka where all can live as equals.

Obstacles at the Helm in Jaffna

The same Rajapaksa-Devananda protégés, however, are still in control of our lives, backed by the judicial system, the Attorney General (AG), the police, etc. The army’s mobile liquor outlet is actively present outside as schools close in the Vanni. At a school competition, the army sponsored the prize – a bottle of whiskey!

The Vice Chancellor of Jaffna University is one who ordered academics to sign a statement for a Rajapaksa victory. She continues to evade inquiries demanded by JUSTA, the Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association, into her unlawful appointments in collusion with Douglas Devananda. With power still in her hands, she continues her old game even after the elections. She promised him the professorship in exchange for his compliance, says an official of Jaffna’s University Teachers’ Association. Academic sexual predators have a field day as she defends them in exchange for their support. In one instance 25 girls have testified.

No-CorningHorning Aloud Jaffna’s Level of Education – A Traffic Sign

The VC finds it easy to blind UGC and ministry officials by a tour of new buildings and hosting them to a sumptuous dinner at the KKS Army Restaurant. With full stomachs, they see only the new facilities they funded and congratulate themselves, and are unwilling to hear anything they do not want to hear. They are blind to the deep rotting of the university as unqualified favorites are appointed to permanent positions. The UGC Chairman has refused to inquire into the extensive documents on corrupt appointments provided by JUSTA. “There are 100 unions, I cannot listen to them all,” he told me.

Anti-Christian Communalism

The UGC Chairman reportedly put down complaints to him by JUSTA as a Christian plot, reports an official of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations, FUTA, who pushed for JUSTA’s request for an inquiry. That Rajapakse religious communalism is trumpeted by the Jaffna VC to council members in private at a time when Jaffna has voted against communalism in line with the rest of the country. She has even twisted advertisements for engineering, violating UGC Circular 721, to keep out a Christian, Dr. Sahayan, with a Canadian Ph.D. Instead she has recruited friends and relatives of Jaffna officials to the new engineering faculty without advertisement (and one of them on transfer which does not exist for academics).

Says a Jaffna University Councilor, a retired professor, “The UGC Chairman is unfit, not for refusing to believe JUSTA, but for refusing to look into their complaints.”

The new university Councilors appointed by this government convened a Grievance Committee but have been out-maneuvered by the VC and Deans. She placed as that committee’s chairman, an external council member who stooged his way to Senior Professor at Peradeniya without the mandatory eight years as Professor. Naturally, he says old Council decisions cannot be reopened.

Institutional Continuity?

In giving justice to the VC’s victims, a key issue is continuity. Dr. Vikramabahu Karunaratne who was terminated unjustly from Peradeniya and ordered to be reinstated by the UGC when I was a member, was refused reinstatement in the Rajapaksa era on the grounds that one Council cannot reverse decisions by “another.” Even after a presidential order by Maithripala Sirisena to pay his back-wages , he still has not got his money. That is the power of the old regime.

The AG has, says the Jaffna VC, advised the same to her. Nonsense. The VC and her junior Senior Professor want no inquiries into the engineered appointments. If the AG’s advice is correct, American slavery endorsed by Supreme Courts could never have been reversed by subsequent courts. There is only one council even though membership may change.

Do Tamils have no Sound Academics?

The people of Jaffna are proud of their educational achievements. Yet, since the displacement of 1990, the university has been saddled with the worst VCs possible – i) associate professors and local vernacular PhDs, ii) a Gopallawa Batch VC whose unprofessional letters made the Japanese Embassy check with the Commissioner General for Essential Services if they were genuine, iii) a VC against whom a mason complained that from his scaffolding he saw the VC compromised in his office with a naked student, and lastly iv) a VC with 3 credits at the OL who went to do home science in Poona, applied for VC falsely claiming a special degree in biochemistry and had also been accused by the Auditor General of fraud.

Are the Tamil people so bereft of scholars to deserve these VCs? Successive governments paved the way for this disaster by appointing clerks, trained teachers, and bare-bodied soothsayers to run the Council.

This government’s new Council (with the exception of the junior Senior Professor) is good. However, can it prevail with the corrupt VC and Deans in charge of the files showing their corruption?

At last week’s funeral for former VC K. Kunaratnam at the university, hard-headed speaker after speaker lamented with literal tears the choice of political VCs and the loss of standards. The VC looked on grim-faced. Reviving the university is a matter of national reconciliation. The government must show it cares with new clean appointees. The law provides methods for this cleanup.

Looking Abroad

The university, after being run-down by the war and unqualified VCs, is essentially bereft of sound leadership. Tamils settled abroad should be attracted back. So long as local nobodies lead the university, foreign somebodies will be resented and resisted.

Reviving English and the Arts Professorships

Another priority should be reviving English at Jaffna. That is tied-up closely to the Arts Faculty, which is practically dead. The last nail was the recent Circular 04-2014, which imposed a PhD or indexed publications for professorships. The UGC that passed it had all science academics ignorant of other traditions. Suddenly arts people with a 1-year master’s and trivial papers to be professors have to produce more than others. Those with PhDs do not need a single indexed paper. We will now see many fake vernacular PhDs for professorships!

Previously people like Senake Banadaranayake looked out for the arts folk. When we drafted Commission Circular 869 in 2005 for professorships, he insisted on adding the Social Sciences and the Arts and Humanities Citation Indexes to judge papers. He made the point that the best works in the humanities are in books and kept them as a professorship pathway. The last Commission, while letting off doctors with Board Certification and no thesis, killed the Arts Faculties by requiring 15 citation index journal papers for the professorship from those without a PhD. But a PhD is not equivalent to 15 indexed papers. Just look at Peradeniya’s electrical department. While one brilliant professor, Janaka Ekanayake, has 24 indexed journal articles, the others after several years as professors with PhDs have merely 0, 0, 5, and 1 indexed publications.

The Commission passing that most unfair Circular 04-2014 had its Chairman Prof. Kshanika Hirimburegama with an impressive 22 indexed publications. Other Commissioners, however, after many years as Senior Professor, were well below the 15 they imposed for new Arts professorships. The new UGC Chairman has 9 indexed papers and no PhD. How can he demand 15 from Arts folk? Circular 04-2014 must go with the Jaffna VC.

English in Jaffna

The Faculty of Arts is the natural engine to drive Jaffna’s revival of English. We need programs in the English language led by academics trained in English. Till then, we will continue to see frequent odd turns of phrase and peculiar grammar in official documents which only diminish the university.

Without English, there is no reading. Research suffers. Jaffna VC’s paper at the research sessions on ingredients in Jaffna ice cream misrepresented to students a lab technician’s routine work in food inspection as advanced science. There are many sociology topics that the arts faculty can develop and usefully disseminate if they can write in English – e.g., why there were caste clashes at the recent Kandasamy Thiruvila, etc.

Outsiders’ Influence

The return of English in the University is evident now in Jaffna’s science faculty where half the students are Singhalese. Suddenly lecturers speak English to their students. Much more needs to be done – for example at the Kunaratnam funeral all speeches from the VC’s to a UGC Member’s to the Science Dean’s were in Tamil in the presence of Singhalese students. They just cannot instill inclusions in their students.

Like the Singhalese students, foreign students will increase the use of English, widen the reading material, and enhance quality. Foreign student numbers and academic standards need each other to grow. This will be helped by foreign teachers.

*The author was awarded the D.Sc. (Eng.) degree by London for his work in Computation. He has 115 indexed articles, some 40 other journal articles and several textbooks, besides his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon. He is the winner of the Gowri Award for 2015 by India’s Institution of Electrical and Telecommunications Engineers for his work Honest Ethics for Engineers. His next textbook, “Ethics for Engineers: An Internationalist, Human Rights Perspective,” is scheduled for release in June 2016 by Cognella Publishers, San Diego, CA. The author is settled in Nallur, Jaffna.

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Latest comments

  • 13
    6

    Obviously Mr Prabakaran has done a lot of damage to our Vellala brothers competency in Elite dialect..

    Or did they engage a Dalit sign writer..?…

  • 6
    36

    Dr. Hoole,

    Seems like you are back in Jaffna for good. You deserve to be at least the Dean of Engineering, if not the VC at the Univ. of Jaffna.

    The process of restoring the university to normal functioning with credible scholars will take quite a long time. (I saw emails from the current Dean of the engineering faculty in Jaffna; the writing was so poor–in word choice, grammatical structure, spelling, etc. — that it was hard to guess what he was trying to say.)

    In the mean time, working with NPC and the new regime in Colombo, push for visiting lecturers from other universities. Also look for people in the industry who may not have a PhD but have rich experience in the field with good language skills. Some expatriates may be willing to come in for the summer break.

    Such a stopgap measure will still require a government approved process with adequate funding.

    • 41
      3

      Agnos — true, we could do with better standards of English in Sri Lanka — Jaffna in particular, but it is not very nice of you to make such an explicit comment on the quality of English in the emails of an individual. He (and others who have worked with him) have put in an enormous amount of hard work, under very difficult circumstances, to get the Faculty up and running. There is an awful lot of things those like you and I working/living in more comfortable settings can do to help out in post-war Sri Lanka, but to claim that you can’t do that because you don’t understand what the Dean is trying to say in his emails is utter nonsense. I also have seen the emails and I know he is suggesting different ways in which you and I can help a bit. If you couldn’t understand what he was saying, it is not too difficult for you to pick up the phone and talk to him in Tamil, is it?

      • 2
        8

        Chandra,

        I was trying to give some “tough love” to the Jaffna Univ folks, so obviously there is no nice way of saying that. Where did I say that I can’t work with him? There are several different ways of contributing to the society back home. I don’t have to do what everybody else is doing.

        I have been critical of Dr. Hoole in the past, and I believe all the people giving me “thumbs down” are looking at his controversial background in seeking the support of Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his undiplomatic comments, such as on Hinduism vs Christianity in Jaffna. It is possible that he has angered too many people. But when it comes to academics, one should go by merit and not be swayed by such controversies. A university is supposed to be a bastion of free thought and open inquiry, so people can condemn his views and respond in kind if they want, but cannot hold that against him when it comes to academic and administrative appointments.

        The university, the students and the community will benefit by academics who hold the bar high and push students toward higher achievements. If professors and administrators themselves are lacking in certain critical areas of learning, then even the achievements of their excellent students may well be devalued by others such as employers or graduate schools. A Dean or VC is often called upon to interact with other universities locally and globally, with the UGC and other organizations. Those are highly visible positions.

        It has been more than 6 years since the war ended. It is time to start giving some tough love to improve things in Jaffna. If that requires some administrators going back to their teaching duties, or less visible administrative positions, such as a head of department, in order to bring in administrators with better skills, international connections and stature for the highly visible positions, that is just a natural process, and none should decry it.

        • 8
          0

          Agnos:
          I was kind of hoping you would have the strength of character to say
          “Sorry I was a little out of order. I meant well, but I should not have been so specific of an individual’s email. No offence intended.”
          Instead, you come up with a “tough love” excuse — bollocks!
          Try again, please.

          • 1
            5

            Chandra,

            In the context of far more serious cases of lack of professionalism in Jaffna engineering that I have seen, what I said is relatively mild criticism. So I don’t see why I have to say sorry, but you are welcome to disagree.

            • 4
              1

              Ha ha… now you hide behind “more serious cases”. “Tough love” suddenly changes to “mild criticism”. The likes of you are the spoilsports the Tamil community could do without! Being picky and insulting towards people who actually did a lot of hard work — while living in a comfortable setting far away. You cannot even acknowledge your error when pointed out. Shame on you, Agnos, shame on you.

              • 0
                0

                Hard work? After all, the LTTE did a lot of hard work.
                It is the results that count.

                You probably know nothing about the intrigue that went into
                the oil contamination issue, the role played by the Jaffna engineering guys, the damning criticism by the doctors of these guys. I have better things to do with my time.

                • 0
                  0

                  Tell us what you know about the oil contamination issue, Agnos. You deviate from the point being discussed rather well (now bringing the LTTE for support, wow!), but we are keen to listen.

                • 0
                  0

                  Agnos,

                  “You probably know nothing about the intrigue that went into the oil contamination issue, the role played by the Jaffna engineering guys, the damning criticism by the doctors of these guys.”

                  Is the silence in this matter caused by an order from powerful Jaffna politicians?

                  The fact that almost nobody appears to be interested in the Kelani river pollution shows the level of our general apathy. Chunnakam affects some in a remote rural area but Kelani affects many in the greater Colombo area.

  • 3
    27

    Why not Dr Hoole initiates a Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Jaffna?

  • 5
    5

    The biggest Anti-Christian Communalist is the CM. And the other side of the coin – the biggest Anti-Hindu communalist is ….you know who.

  • 31
    2

    Agree with you Hoole on most of what you say.

    Arts education took a nose-dive with the virtual elimination of English and the consequent inability to read anything other than the lecturers’ notes in Sinhalese or Tamil or the so called books which were mainly summaries of elementary introductory texts.
    Hundreds of thousands of books collect dust and rot unread in libraries all over the island including Peradeniya.

    The fools who called themselves educationists and progressives joined the chorus but did not insist on the need to strengthen link language in schools when changing the medium of instruction. English teaching and English teachers were allowed to die. Colonialism or neo-colonialism if you like, Imperialism, bourgeoise etc. still serve as argument winners in many discussions.

    Now those who can read and write English or have studied abroad have become kings in the land of the one-eyed.

    However, on another matter that gets me a bit worried about you: ” bare-bodied soothsayers ” ???

    Reminds me a bit of the “half naked fakir” dismissal of Gandhi.
    Or is it from the tool book of our ancestors who made their living as catechists of the new religion running down idolators etc.?

    What is your problem with bare-bodied? Would a soothsayer be any better if he wore a coat and tie?
    How do you regard the bare-bodied people around Nallur?

    Makes your very correct anti caste writings a bit suspect too!

  • 1
    11

    ‘Reviving Jaffna University’

    Lessons must be learnt from past experience of heavy political involvement of the state, LTTE and the Jaffna based paramilitary.

    LTTE is gone but the hero worshippers are still playing balls there.

    Douglas’s EPDP was playing hell during Mahinda regime. Douglas must be put to trial and justice provided for his misdeeds.

    The government has done the right thing by keeping this goon out and hope this will marginalise his paramilitary authoritarian rule once and for all.

  • 2
    4

    If Rajapakse was a fascist, how come he spent rupees 90 million upgrading the North for the racist fascist Tamils. His downfall he didn’t spent it in the South.

  • 34
    1

    Hoole is now attempting to get the Vice Chancellor’s post by his proficiency in English language and other professionals’ lack of knowledge in that language. Earlier poor Hoole tried through Douglas and Mahinda Rajapakse but it did not work. He took recommendation letters from various people but Douglas who supported him first turned against him later and spoilt Hoole’s every attempt to become the Vice Chancellor. Will he succeed this time by his high standard of English language and Christian education. With the support of his English educated Christian friends journalists and his brothers, who write under different names, let Hoole make another attempt.

    Hoole Sir do not ridicule others educated in Tamil medium. Get the message they are trying to convey without laughing at their grammar. Their mistake was that they did not go behind Christian missionaries and changed their religion to get food and English education.

    In spite of all his appeals and cases why was he not reappointed to his post in Peradeniya University? Does his superior knowledge in English language come to his rescue in anyway ? Can he explain.

    It is very obvious that Hoole is an anti Hindu. If his articles and book were translated into Tamil and published in local news papers no doubt there will be a backlash from ordinary Hindu public including liberal Christians. Such a nasty anti Hindu.

    • 2
      28

      I am quite upset by the following statement from MP about Christians: “Their mistake was that they did not go behind Christian missionaries and changed their religion to get food and English education.” My father got a sound English education without becoming a Christian. I was educated at a Christian school where the majority were not Christians. I did not see Christians speaking better English than others. Many non-Christians spoke better English without being Christians.

      I have seen an editorial reflecting MP’s mindset in a European newspaper where the Hooles, the Kadirgamars and D.B.S.Jeyaraj are attacked because their ancestors left their religion to become Christians and that Hoole should not be allowed to walk on Jaffna campus because it would pollute the temple that is there.

      I am the child of a Tamil lady and a Buddhist gentleman. I live in Colombo. Recently I married a Singhalese. Identity is important to me and I am trying to find my way about. In this context I am proud of how the recent elections went.

      Except for the recent BBS, has anyone seen this anti-Christian communal venom from Buddhists? Why do some Hindus react like this MP who seems utterly communal but thinks he is liberal? Why don’t I read similar things from Buddhists about Christian converts?

      I do not believe that Singhalese and Tamils are different. But in this area they seem different. I seek to learn.

      • 17
        0

        There are many Buddhists who express anti-Christian sentiment. Do Lanka Web and the Sinhala electronic media. They are very communal.

  • 29
    0

    // The university, after being run-down by the war and unqualified VCs, is essentially bereft of sound leadership. Tamils settled abroad should be attracted back. //

    Why should Jaffna Uni VC be Tamil? Why not say we need a competent academic administrator who aims for high standards.

  • 27
    0

    Seeking Identity

    There is a vast difference between The educational standard in the North and South. It appears that you have not studied in Tamil medium and in Jaffna where the University in question is situated. Your family and educational standard and background is different from the people living in war torn areas of North and East. You are the lucky one with affordable means. I agree non Christians in Colombo or from best schools in the South like you could speak write better English.

    The subject matter of this article is Jaffna University and its teachers, most of whom studied in Tamil medium and English language was only one of the subjects. They do not speak English at home. When missionaries were present in Jaffna , converts to Christianity were given English education, teachers training and jobs. With due respect Hoole’s ancestors used this opportunity and thus able to see that their children master the language. Tamils who write articles in good English are the one educated in English medium and you could hardly find any of them in present day Jaffna. Most of the teachers at Jaffna University did not have that luxury. I am aware some of these teachers sought help from late Mr. A J Canagaratne, English tutor for the students at the University and well known literary figure in North and South, to correct their drafts in English.

    My position is do not condemn anyone for not proficient in English language. Accept what is conveyed instead of passing unsympathetic comments.

    I do condemn if anyone says that Hoole should not be allowed to walk on Jaffna campus due to his religion. I condemn him for another reason – his meeting with Mahinda for V.C post.

  • 3
    0

    So Okay Prof – you better go to Jaffna.
    They’ll start calling you Mr.COOL.

  • 5
    7

    Dr. Hoole,

    Why do you continue to yet call an institution that is nothing but a degraded degree awarding ‘Higher School’ a university? Unless we and the society at large understand what a ‘University’ should be, there will be no change for the better. It is a degree awarding ‘High School’, comprising a mediocre and corrupt leadership, a mediocre council, mostly mediocre faculty and mostly students who are only seeking a piece of paper called a degree and not ‘Education’.

    Vice-Chancellors and councils favoured by a 8th grade educated Paramilitary leader and before him an 8th grade (mis!) schooled ‘Wise man’ leading the LTTE, could not have moulded a ‘University’! It was too much to expect, considering how most universities in the south have been fouled.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 2
      0

      Dr RN,

      “Unless we and the society at large understand what a ‘University’ should be, there will be no change for the better. It is a degree awarding ‘High School’, comprising a mediocre and corrupt leadership, a mediocre council, mostly mediocre faculty and mostly students who are only seeking a piece of paper called a degree and not ‘Education’.”

      Due to the long conflict most of the talented people have left Jaffna. A friend of mine who is a frustrated senior public servant repeats that we have to do our best with the people who are available. Very few of the ones who have migrated ever return.

      Dr Hoole has again returned. I have nothing against him but doubt how much he alone would be able to do if he were the VC. One man is not enough to change what has been created during the conflict.

      Instead of knowledge most of the students are seeking a degree that serves as a ticket to leave Jaffna or to join the government sector.

      • 0
        0

        TRA,

        Thanks.

        I believe that unless there is a ‘demand’ for quality education from the public, it will will never be ‘Supplied’. The demand is for pieces of paper called degree certificates. “Neer alaway aahumaam neeraambal (The height of the water lily can only be as high as the water it grows in)”.

        Sadly, very few know what the word ‘Quality’ means in this instance. Vice-Chancellors who took instructions from the LTTE or until recently took instructions from the EPDP, obviously cannot raise public awareness of what ‘Quality’ means. They were men who should have been jailed for what they did as Vice-Chancellors. There are faculty who are yet sexually abusing their female students. There are also female students who sell themselves to get a higher grade. The rot is indeed deep and wide.

        Where do we begin. Rottenness breeds further rot. Mediocrity breeds more mediocre. Excellence will breed more excellent! Unless our society demands excellence,we will not get it.

        Dr.RN

        • 0
          0

          Dear Dr. Rajasingham,

          “……… or until recently took instructions from the EPDP”

          The present VC is still under the clout of EPDP, that is the main problem now,
          I was an Academic Staff Medical Faculty of this University for very short time, and that was enough for me to gather and smell the putrid foul of all nonsense of unfortunately of these so called highly educated elites, though LTTE or EPDP could not impose anything to the administrative level.
          I am fortunate enough to be the stint I had with them was a short one!!
          Thanks

  • 0
    0

    Dear Dr Hool,
    You wrote
    // (and one of them on transfer which does not exist for academics)//
    Most of the Jaffna university founding academics were relived or transferred from other universities. Prof K.Kunatatnam was one of them. Several academics were transferred from UOJ to EUSL and vice versa in past. Please explain your claim.

    • 1
      0

      That no transfer of academics is allowed is clear from the Universities Act, Section 15 (xi) and Section 78.

      Section 15 on the powers of the Commission:
      15(xi) “to transfer or re-allocate the holder of any post other than that of teacher, students, equipment and other facilities of any Higher Educational Institution as may be necessary in consequence of any determination made under the provisions of paragraph x”;

      Section 78 on Appointments to Staff:
      78. “The holder of any post other than that of teacher, shall be transferable within the Higher Educational Institutions, from a Higher Educational Institution to the Commission or from the Commission to a Higher Educational Institution. Such transfers shall be made by the Commission which may for this purpose appoint a Transfer Board, the composition of which shall be prescribed by Rules.”

      The Universities Act was passed in 1978. What happened before is irrelevant, partly because there was only one university then and the question of transfer did not arise. Transfer just was not an issue.

      Now with separate universities we do not want a favorite from a low level university to be transferred to a higher level university when there may be persons of higher quality interested in the position and cannot apply if the position is filled by transfer. Even if a VC believes that the transferee he/she wants is the best, there could be others better out there that he/she does not know about. This is addressed only by open advertisement.

      The transfers from “UOJ to EUSL and vice versa” that Kumar refers to, if they happened, could have been temporary (a university releasing an academic to fill a position for a limited period on contract). If not, it was clearly illegal. The Act is by Parliament. To go against it, even the UGC has no authority.

  • 0
    0

    Don,

    “If not, it was clearly illegal. The Act is by Parliament. To go against it, even the UGC has no authority.”

    Our MPs have passed many nice Acts but they are not implemented. Common people don’t know of them, don’t care and the authorities don’t implement them.

  • 0
    0

    Dear all,

    The decision is bound to be misunderstood at the Jaffna University. It will be used as another excuse to continue mismanagement.

    “On a policy decision of the UNP, no interference into the activities of universities will take place again. University administrators can take their own decisions such as selecting lecturers, utilising funds, addressing issues etc,” he noted.”

    http://dailynews.lk/?q=local/no-interference-university-activities-kiriella

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