The appointment process and subsequent conduct of some of the Vice Chancellors of Sri Lankan Universities have been controversial topics among the academics as well as in political circles in last few years. There has been many public debates, and displeasure shown towards the selection process, qualifications of the individuals been selected, and their conduct once been selected.
One such subject which did not come into light and is crucial was the appointment of the University Council Members. This is the most critical part of the process since it is this council who nominate three potential candidates selected through a vote to the President through the UGC for the final decision. Unfortunately general public has very little awareness or familiarity of the mechanism of selecting a Vice Chancellor, and therefore do not know that they have any voice in determining the people who would become the decision makers in our institution of highest leaning in Sri Lankan education system.
Let us look at the recent events that took place at the selection of the VC for the University of Peradeniya. It was first reported in the media that three professors had been short listed to be recommended to the President for his final selection by the recently shuffled University Council. Then it was revealed that due to the incorrect application acceptance process, the Attorney General’s department had advised re-selection with fresh nominations. Now we understand that the new selection date is fixed for 27th June 2015.
As per the results published, we noticed that a total of only 37 votes have been cast by the Council members. This amounts to only 56% votes out of potential 66 votes (since each council member is entitled to 3 votes and there were 22 eligible council members – 66 votes). This also shows some council members were absent to perform one of the key duties. All the council members except the VC/DVC/Deans of faculties are appointed by the Higher Education Ministry. For reference, the criterion for appointing the council members is articulated below. As can be seen, these positions carry huge responsibility in guiding and shaping the future of higher education of the country. It would be a good exercise for the general public to compare the profiles of the council members with the eligibility criterion. In this instant, it seems that some of them do not appear to have understood their role in nominating 03 candidates to the short list (Not first-second-third) for the President’s final selection. President in turn needs to take much broader and holistic view in choosing the right candidate for the greater good of the higher education. Therefore, in the first round we think 44% votes have been wasted. In fact if we consider the votes of absence council members only about 50% council votes being used to select the Vice Chancellor!!!!
The public ought to know these facts and figures, and generate a serious debate to ensure accountability to remove these historical mistakes. We should demand that the right people be chosen to lead our youth to the future. Here is one such opportunity to proactively participate in that pursuit.
Here are some critical facts to provoke your thoughts and create the debate.
Value of the Peradeniya University
‘Sarvasva Lochanam Sasthram’ – (Knowledge is the eye unto All)
The above is the motto of the University of Peradeniya. The creators deserve a great tribute for finding so succinct and compelling futuristic statement which amply reflects the intellectual and spiritual intents of the University as a place of learning. This complements well the wonderful physical environment of the location of the institution that was created for young talents to blossom. The University of Peradeniya is a paradise of its own.
The true meaning of the motto goes far beyond the academics taught in the faculties of Arts, Science, Engineering, Medicine, Dental Sciences, Veterinary Medicine & Animal Sciences, Agriculture, Allied Health Sciences and Management. It talks about taking lessons from the past, using them to build on current knowledge and to create a platform to acquire more knowledge in the future. It also talks about unleashing the abundant and (sometimes hidden) talent of the youth, harnessing their potential for the future, releasing their energy to build future knowledge … and many more.
The individual who leads the translation of the motto to the reality has to be someone special and unique. She or he, in our view should be able to comprehend the full meaning, articulate it, demonstrate it in actions and live by its spirit. That one person is none other than the Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya.
Role of the University Council
‘According to the Universities Act No 16 of 1978, the University Council is the Governing Body of the University. They have to play the pivotal role of ensuring governance, management and performance of the University in accordance with the national policy, goals and objectives of the higher education – The Council members should possess Bachelor’s Degree or recognized professional qualification, at least 10 years in a senior capacity in distinguished services (Education, Professional, Commercial, Industrial, Scientific and Administrative) and commendable grasp of higher educational challenges.’
As we know the University Council is expected to recommend 03 candidates through the University Grant Commission to the President for the final selection of the Vice Chancellor for a term three years. By deference the council therefore becomes the unbiased think tank for the President.
Role of Vice Chancellor
‘As per the Act 16, the Vice Chancellor shall be a Full Time Officer of the University and the Principal Executive Officer and the Principal Academic Officer thereof. He is also the ex officio member and the Chairman of both the Council and the Senate. It is also the duty of the Vice Chancellor to give effect or to ensure that effect is given to the decisions of the Council or the Senate.’
The University of Peradeniya is the premium higher education institute in the country which has long traditions and high standards. Therefore the role of Vice Chancellor is pivotal for the intellectual standards and the future of the country. It is also one of the key establishments that will link youth to the modern world and bring the modern world to the youth.
Questions to the Council Members
All council members should be present and should exercise all their votes (not just 37) to nominate 03 qualified candidates. Some of the council members have already created doubts in our minds,
based on their past voting pattern, of their abilities to fulfil this vital duty. If they are not exercising the full quota of the votes, we may be compelled to assume some of the following key reasons as the causes:
- The Council Members have not comprehended the requirements of the role of the Vice Chancellor both in terms of content and its spirit.
- They are less knowledgeable about some candidates and prefer to pass them off instead of making a sound decision
- Some candidates are not suitable for the role of Vice Chancellor at all (hope they are not plants of the interested parties)
- The Council members are influenced by the external forces
Criteria for selection of the Vice Chancellor
Since we do not know the criteria of selection, we have looked at the profiles of some of the well respected and successful past Vice Chancellors of the Sri Lankan Universities in general and Peradeniya University in particular. Here are the attributes we came across:
Since we are not experts on the subject, in order to validate our findings and also to take a lead from world’s most successful universities in the British system, we also looked at the profiles of Vice Chancellors of:
The Oxford University, The Cambridge University and Imperial College UK, University of New South Wales and Monash University of Australia, the University of Toronto, McMaster University and the University of British Columbia of Canada and the National University of Singapore.
It was heartening to see how relevant the attributes we figured out.
We sincerely hope the University of Peradeniya Council Members will exercise the mandate bestowed upon them wisely and set an example for the rest of the University Councils so that the general public is assured the future higher education is in safe hands.
In conclusion, it should be mention as an alumnus on the University, how much I got inspired and guided by the true meaning of the University of Peradeniya motto – ‘Knowledge is the eye unto all’ in compiling this article. I hope it will work for the council members as well to rise to the occasion without any biases.
Village Green Guy / June 20, 2015
Who is Rajapaksha Premarathna?
The spelling of his Sinhala name gives us a clue. He is not a kalu sudda who belonged to the Peradeniya kultur clique of the ’60s.
If he were, he would have used a more direct style of writing to point out the unsuitability of those who make up the Council. He speaks in terms of generalities, no specifics–not even the names of three VC candidates.
Is he avoiding specifics to hide a conflict of interest?
Clearly, Mr Premarathna has in mind a VC candidate who has foreign educational experience and doctoral qualifications from a Western prestigious university to head the university. Apparently, he wants to influence the Council’s voting on JUne 27 in favor of that candidate. Who is he?
Ariyaratne De Silva / June 20, 2015
Who is village green guy? To my knowledge the meaning is “Stupid guy from a village”. Forget about the author. He has identified himself by his name and says that he is an alumnus of Peradeniya. Village green guy should also identify yourself by name. It seems that you have been hard hit by the facts given in the article. Time has come to resurrect Peradeniya University and bring back its former glory. Rogues who robbed the University should be removed. In fact, they will be eliminated by natural causes. Peradeniya University is a sacred place. Anyone who does harm for the place will be punished. Council members should keep it in mind. Take experience from the past. Don’t bring politics into the University!
justice / June 20, 2015
Any academic with all the ‘attributes’ listed must indeed be a rare individual.
There was a VC who sent female undergrads for “virginity tests” because they were friendly with male undergrads – this type of academics need not apply.
What is an “incorrect application acceptance process”?
The president is a politician. How can he select from the list given to him, unless on political criteria – he may reject those who favoured the ‘MR regime’.
Why not select by a “secret ballot”?
Shyama Perera / June 20, 2015
Mr. Justice, you don’t understand the process. Council is appointed from among ruling party members and not from among distinguished personnel who have rendered an unbiased service to the society/ country. And they will or they are forced to vote (it is a secret ballot) for their own party candidate. This is simple logic. This happened in all the Universities during the past regime. If the council members want to show that they are independent and appointed genuinely to serve the University, they could do so. But if they do so they will either be reprimanded or removed by the same people who appointed them. This is the simple truth and we blame the Universities for not having an international ranking. This is Sri Lanka!
M .Irugal Bandara / June 20, 2015
I guess it is very crucial for the honorary members of the University Council of Peradeniya involve in the process of nominating and choosing a Vice Chancellor to the University (to the University of Peradeniya) this time.
Generally what happened in the past was when the final names go to the President, the President consults his advisors after going through the resumes of each person for the final selection.
But present President may not have broad experience particularly in the field of Higher education.
Therefore my suggestion is that the honorary members of the council such as Prof.K.N.O.Dharmadasa, Prof.Meegaskumbura and Advocate Lal Wijenayake and a couple of seniors should visit President with the list of names and advise the President to make the beast decision on this matter.
If proper representations are not made by the University Council in this matter, it is very likely that a political henchman (/political hack) close to a Minister will end up getting the Vice Chancellorship. It
will have tremendously negative impact on the higher education and on the university system in the country.
Veronica De Silva / June 20, 2015
Mr. Bandara, the same honorary (Questionable?) members of the Council mentioned in your article will present or nominate their political henchman for the post. Just search for those so called honorary members’ political party? One of those honorary members is responsible for the decay of the Faculty of Arts at Peradeniya. Because they brought politics into the University. Now, after retirement, they continue to ruin the University. Those rogues should be removed not only from the University but also from the earth!
fedrick / June 21, 2015
Jaya Weerasinghe / June 22, 2015
I first of all, express my great appreciation and thanks to Mr. Rajapaksa Premarathne for opening a forum to discuss an important issue that is relevant and crucial in the academic arena and pool of wisdom of the Island. As open minded readers and active recipients being exposed to unlimited media messages, we should look at the article under review and the author who wrote it objectively. In this respect, we should not react harshly in unethical style as ‘Village Green Guy’ did.
Politics is an unavoidable spear in any social shackle, within the family, group, community, academy, country or anywhere else. We should not mix this with present dirty party politics. As a matter of facts, politics is a governing force in the selection process of VCs for any University from the history. On the other hand, once, after anybody become an element of one system, he or she apparently looses his or her impartiality. This is common for the Vice-Chancellors too. Specially in a rotten system where everything is controlled by party politics and a handful of people who are incapable, self centered, unethical and less competent, we cannot expect the best candidate to be selected through an ‘ideal’ selection process to the uppermost position of a University.
However, council members behaviour which is seemingly lethargic and overtly irresponsible in attending important council meeting is highly questionable. In my opinion, community of the University of Peradeniya that include teachers and all academic staff, all students, technical people and all workers should be vigilant about this pathetic situation of the University of Peradeniya (and other Universities too). This is the high time for them to open their voice together with the rest of activists among citizens’ groups. But, the tragedy is that the most of the university teachers and staffs who have more responsibilities and relevance in this election process are (party) politically biased and self-centred. “If the fence and bunds of the field are eating paddy plants, to whom shall we complain about it”.
Wilbert Fernando / July 3, 2015
I am a Pera alumni. I have been watching the success story of my alma mater through the past few years after returning from abroad. I have visited the University several times thereafter. I talked to many students whenever I sat in the WUS canteen and talked to often busy teachers too. The general picture in my mind is a completely a different one. The University of Peradeniya is rising out of ashes ( I remember the times the students burnet down the famous lodge, occupied the same with female students etc..). Its teachers are now engaged in highly valued research. Publishes world class research papers. They win big research grants from international donor institutions. Foreign faculty are seen walking in Peradeniya walkways. Present administration has added few new hostels for its ever increasing student population. As I can see, Peradeniya is rapidly elevating to global recognition. It has reached top 8% among the World Universities.
Please dont disturb my Alma mater. Let it find its destiny where it belong. Keep dirty politics out of it.
Wilbert Fernando / July 14, 2015
Now the real image of the task bound council members appointed recently is appearing in news papers. Some of them are in the National List of Political parties. It is sad to note that the Council of this great university is now getting filled with active political agents.