31 October, 2020

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The Collapse Of Institutions

By Savitri Goonesekere

Professor. Savitri Goonesekere

Some weeks ago the post of Vice Chancellor, University of Colombo was advertised. The advertisement was impressive. It outlined the very high standards of excellence that prospective candidates should satisfy. Applicants were being considered for the post of chief academic and administrative officer of what is expected to be an autonomous and non-political institution, entrusted with responsibility for achieving excellence in university education and research.

A few days ago, after the closing date for applications, it was rumored that there were only three applicants for this post. One is a professor with recognized academic credentials and a good research record. He has also proven administrative capacity as a Dean of a Faculty and is known to be a senior academic who has dealt effectively with student issues during a turbulent period. The other two applicants are reported to be Senior Lecturers Grade II, the lowest post in the state university system regulated by the Universities Act 1978. It is alleged that both do not possess the academic qualifications required for promotion to the immediately higher grade of Senior Lecturer Grade I in the state university system. One of the Senior Lecturer applicants is now known to be the spouse of the former Vice Chancellor and recently appointed Chairperson of the University Grants Commission, Professor Hirimburegama. It is alleged that he is 61 years old, four years short of the age of retirement, and yet holding the lowest post in the university system.

Rumours floating around in the university community have focused on how and why two applicants whose credentials do not conform with the high standards of excellence in academic scholarship, administration, and leadership, outlined in the advertisement, had applied for this high post. There was speculation that prospects of political decision-making had discouraged several qualified senior professors from applying for the post. Media reports prior to the Council meeting only drew attention to the aspect of conflict of interest, if the spouse of the former Vice Chancellor, University of Colombo, and current Chairperson of the UGC, was a nominee of the Council for the post. Surprisingly, statements on this issue in the press by the Law Faculty Union and FUTA did not adequately focus on the key issue – were the two Grade 2 Senior Lecturers qualified candidates for the post in terms of the public advertisement?

The Council met on March 11. Colleagues in the university have confirmed the Island’s report of 12/3/13 that all three applicants have been nominated for the post of Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo with the single professor in the troika receiving just two more “votes” than one of the Senior Lecturers who is the current UGC Chairperson’s spouse.

Academics of the University of Colombo and the Council cannot be unaware that the last time professors applied for the post of Vice Chancellor many years ago, the professor who received the largest number of “votes” in the Council was overlooked for appointment by both the UGC and the President. It is reported that the professor who received the fewest “votes” was appointed as Vice Chancellor. In other universities too, Council “votes” for persons who are perceived as the best candidates, have been ignored in favour of appointees who do not have equivalent qualifications. Under Section 34 (1) of the Act the Council is empowered to forward the names of three nominees to the UGC, and it is the UGC that evaluates the applications in light of the Council’s views and recommends one person to the President for appointment to the post. This practice was followed by the UGC in the past, including when I was a member from 1994-1999.

The last Chair of the UGC, and by her own media statement the current Chair, have now abdicated the UGC’s power and responsibility under Section 34 (1) of the Act to select and recommend one person for appointment by the President. They have violated their duty under the Act and unlawfully clothed the President with authority to make his own choice of Vice Chancellor. Repeated violations of law are legitimized, creating the impression that regulations no longer have any relevance and can be dispensed with by a fiat by the person in authority.

Aware of these ground realities, why did the Council not raise the obvious disqualification of the two senior lecturers in terms of the advertisement for the post? If the university advertises three posts even for a junior lecturer grade, and there is only one qualified applicant who satisfies the advertised requirements, would the Council appoint the unqualified persons simply because they “applied” for the post? Councils are supposed to look at the applicants’ curriculum vitaes and documentation prior to a meeting to determine nominees for the post of Vice Chancellor, who is the academic and administrative head of the university. Did this objective discussion and deliberation take place at this Council meeting and if so how were the two Senior Lecturers considered qualified to be on a list of nominees to head the institution? Both unofficial and official members of the Council of the University are accountable for their decision and owe an explanation to the university community and the public. Why did they rely on a system of voting that is not even incorporated in the Act and yet fail in their bounden duty to evaluate and assess the capabilities of the nominees in terms of the advertisement and requirements of the post?

I was an ex officio member of two university councils as Senate nominee and Vice Chancellor and was privileged to serve with many eminent personalities from the public and private sectors. Senior academics on the Council considered themselves accountable to the university community and the public. Those Councils would never have considered a Senior Lecturer Grade II in the lowest academic grade as a person qualified for the post of Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo. The Law Faculty teachers’ union in its press statement had referred to the high quality of academic and administrative leadership required of a Vice Chancellor of a university. Vice Chancellors, among other responsibilities, chair meetings on key appointments and award of degrees and also chair regular meetings of Council, and the Senate which is the highest academic authority of the university.

And yet extraordinarily the current Council has nominated the qualified candidate (in terms of the advertisement) and two candidates who do not conform to the requirements of the advertisement. How did this transformation take place? Some members of the current Council of the University of Colombo are distinguished professionals or have wide experience in the university system. There are two President’s Counsel who should know the law, and a former Registrar of two universities including Colombo and a long time Secretary of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Directors. The Deans of Faculties have been elected for their qualifications and leadership qualities. Have they not failed the university community in this matter? Does the Council consider that it has fulfilled its responsibility to do what is right by the university community and the higher education system of the country? Is there a cynical sense that it is uncomfortable to contradict the chairperson UGC who has publicly stated that her spouse is qualified for the post? Or is there a naive belief that sanity will prevail and the single qualified nominee will be selected?

If sanity is indeed to prevail, every Faculty Board and the University Senate must in one voice indicate to the UGC and the President that they want their institution to be headed by a person whom they respect as a qualified and competent academic and university administrator. If a smear campaign is launched against the single qualified nominee – the only senior don who had the commitment and the courage to apply for the post – such a “dirty tricks” campaign must be publicly challenged.

Faculties, Senates and Councils have been appointed as the agencies responsible for university governance by the Universities Act, following academic traditions in many countries. The day before the critical Council meeting on March 11, the Head of a Department of the University of Colombo and member of the University Senate, waxed eloquent at a public meeting on the importance of sensitivity to social issues, particularly conflict and disempowerment in our country. Is it not the responsibility of these same academics to be concerned about university autonomy, the governance in university administration, and the subversion of these institutions by politicization of key posts in the university? It is the gap in consciousness and the infinite capacity to enjoy the perks of office without any accountability for the responsibilities of that office which has contributed to the collapse of institutions of governance in our country.

Many years ago Faculty Boards and Senates would have held emergency meetings on issues of concern in the university. Sadly, we now have a deafening silence from many of these bodies that are meant to support accountable university governance. FUTA and a small but dedicated pool of academics struggle to be vigilant of political interference, striving desperately to achieve standards of excellence in the state university system by their activism. I do not wish to discourage this minority of my friends and colleagues who want to stem the decline of governance in the university system. If I thought cynically I would argue that the time has come for all Sri Lankans to recognize that they no longer have institutions that can function with a sense of accountability and responsibility to the people. We have a parliament and public service where members (with some exceptions) engage in strident rhetoric on maintaining professionalism and high standards of excellence to achieve progress and development. In fact many members of these institutions enjoy the perks of office but become in the words of Shakespeare “rocks and stones and worse than senseless things” in their approach to the responsibilities of office.

Why should we as citizens collaborate in the erosion of the rule of law through disempowered institutions that cannot fulfill their responsibilities? Should we not dismantle the “institutions of governance?” Why do we need Faculty Boards, Senates and Councils if they are useless appendages of a politicized university administration? It is so easy to cocoon ourselves in a comfortable mantle where we can be “rocks and stones and worse than senseless things.” Blindfolded we can all march to a common political drum towards that vision of “a small miracle” and the “knowledge hub” of Asia.

We have seen much suffering and are grateful for the end of a fratricidal war. But do we not have the right and duty to weep for the collapse of national institutions that we value. We are told that it is only traitors who criticize the quality of governance in our institutions. Yet I cry for my beloved country. I can only cling to the hope that some day, some time we will recreate the institutions we have collectively destroyed by our apathy and indifference. Who knows but there may come a time when as the poet Rabindranath Tagore said “the mind is without fear and the head is held high, … knowledge is free. … the clear stream of reason has not lost it’s way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit,” and we can realize the promise of peace and freedom.

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    There is no point weeping over the collapse of National Institutions.

    The problem even at this late stage is we cannot even get a quorum of Academics to publicly accept that there is a collapse of National Institutions, as demonstrated in this case that eminent members even considered unqualified candidates for the post of VC as being candidates without them being disqualified as not even meeting the basic criteria.

    If such people are afraid to speak in public for fear of their own sinecure, and what awaits them a white van perhaps, we have no hope of expecting the lesser mortals, to rise up.

    It is incumbent upon the intelligentsia to risk their positions for what is morally right. However after the fiasco of the FUTA fight, even they have decided to be steamrollered and effectively flattened.

    Our fight against tyranny is now made harder when people of standing are nothing but not even fit to lie down, but instead prostrate themselves at the feet of the one who determines if they live or die.

    Don’t come asking for favors when we overcome tyranny. Perhaps you may find yourselves on the dock for culpability. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Your lack of vision, questions your right to hold your current posts anyway.

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    No another words country and all gone to dogs.

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      Prof Goonesekere
      Many congratulations for your excellent analysis
      However, we must bear in mind that the calibre of the “academics” who are aspitants for the post of VC, those who has publicly commented on the eligibility of the 61 year old Grade II senior lecturer and some of those members of the Council who have been appointed by such people atr incapable of comprehending or responding to your arguements!

      Nowhere in the world, except Sri Lanka, would a 60 plus exist having wasted decades in the university and remained at the lowest level!

      Substandard political appointees have ensured that people of similar standards, values and ideals being placed in “high” positions (including the Council) so that low standards are perpetuated and preserved!

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    Very well said Madam. This is a gross violation of basic things. I feel ashame if one of these two Senior lecturers were appointed as VC of University of Colombo.

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    Didn’t this university award honorary doctorates to politicians? That taught the politicos that educated morons run the universities and not any great intellects. No wonder these institutions are becoming politicised.

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    This University has family dept therefore becoming husband VC is not wrong at all. See Economics Dept in this university all are family members and family members friends and grandfather is a emeritus. This emeritus sacked by CB sometime back from VC position. Whole Sri Lankan University system full of mafia and jokers. Take professors qualifications. No PhDs from good ranking and accredited Universities and not at all any single publications in ISI level international journals. Even Sudan and Ethiopia is better than this. International qualifications to appoint professor your PhD from good reputable ranking and accredited University and you have to have minimum 15 publications in ISI and Scopus level international journals. But in Sri Lanka none has this qualifications. All professors are fakes. Colombo University inside not even worth to talk. Family to sex dept you find in many faculties.Therefore Do not blame to this UGC Chair-woman. Why no one is talking about the Colombo University history the most [Edited out] VC and his family dept. Now this man is in this family dept living like king (Emeritus) with his all henchmen, kith and kins. Even Rajapaskaha family did not do that much harm to Sri Lankan education system. His (former VC) first son entered to Kalaniya University medical faculty without Sri Lankan A/L by using a foreign passport. Second son became Lecturer his own family Dept and his uncles and sons freinds are also became Lecturers and all Lecturer positions given to henchmen and all the best qualified PhD Lecturers left this Dept because of his huge [Edited out]. Even he [Edited out]. He [Edited out]. Many japanepese got degrees in that way. His daguter also became Lecturer for this Faculty and he [Edited out] and all harm did for Sri Lankan University Education. Finally Chandrika said him to resign.He resign from VC but stay in his familiy dept inside. These are the things you have to highlighted not this UGC woman and husband case. This VC did not do any harm except serving and giving degrees to MR family. Sri Lankan degrees who care they just a paper without any value.

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    From this year onwards university admissions are completely irregular UGC is not capable of taking a correct decision on correcting irregularities.

    Best way to compensate is to list the appeals in each subject stream in the order of merit that is in the order of highest z scores and Island ranks.

    Fill the large number of vacancies now available in the order of Z score, compensate the victimized students who appealed in the order of merit. Otherwise there will be endless complaints to the human rights commissions, not only it gives a bad reputation to the UGC that gives an adverse international mage to the Sri Lankan government as well.

    Don’t they have adequate IQ and back bone to take a strait forward decision on compensation of students on the basis of order of merit?

    This whole issue and irregularities took place due to the fact that merit order was ignored and arbitrary percentages were enforced upon the students without any prior notification before the examinations.

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      This matter was mentioned in the Courts and requested to direct the victimized students with very high Z score to the additional secretary admissions and he agreed to attend to this issue.

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    A commendable and eloquent article by Prof. Goonesekere. But she has missed two vital points.

    Firstly, at the eve of her departure the former VC & current UGC Chairperson has appointed a Deputy VC – a person who was close to her though it was objected to in writing by all of the Deans of the Faculties. Even then she pushed the decision through with the support of outside members in the University Council from the commercial sector. According to the UGC Ordinance, the minimum requirement required for the a Deputy VC is Senior Lecturer Gr.1 but the same Lady says that her husband is qualified for VC post with a qualification of Senior Lecturer Gr. II. It would be the joke of the millennium to have a Deputy VC who is more qualified than the VC.

    Secondly, the application closing date was the 28th of February but the UGC Chairperson (whose husband is one of the applicants for the post of the VC) appointed 2 more members to the University Council on the 1st of March. They are qualified to vote at the VC nominations election. Both these appointees were from the commercial sector and one of these appointees is the husband of a member of the Council. The Council is now becoming commercialized.

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    Council members are appointed by the minister and they are individually telephoned by the minister to instruct as to whom they should vote at VC elections. This is the usual practice at other universities. This happens everywhere including Peradeniya last year. Unless you have that political clout no respectable academic applies for the post of VC. Usually respected academics do not go after politicians and they will never get a chance to lead our universities. This writer should have thought about this much maligned procedure when she was a member of the UGC. So much for transforming our universites to wonders of Asia

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    All the problems will be solved if you appoint one from the “family” one of the two who got their doctorates confered by the University. I f anyone dares to oppose send the white van

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    Where has this government done the right thing to preserve and enrich the time honored institutions and traditions that were once a pride to our nation and that propelled the easy transference of ethos of a society in a democratic and consensual manner.Look at this country today.We are earning the ire of international community because of our own stupidity.The parliament which was once a house of gentlemen is now by and large a house of depraved politicians. The independence of judiciary has been encroached upon to suit the needs of the powerful in the country.Crass impunity shown in favour of political henchmen is alarming and has no bounds.Buddhists monks have taken to the streets on a different mission in total disregard to the dhamma and in a seemingly government backed exercise.Management of educational institutions and policies is chaotic and farcical and remains the bone of contention of many an academic and and professional bodies with an interest in the future of education.Name anything that really matters to the well being of the ordinary people of the country that has not yet been put to a mess by the present rulers but the truth of which being stifled under a garb of rhetoric and a submissive and guided media. Your grouse over the relevant issue is well appreciated but is sure to fail in raising any whiff of interest from those who matter.

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      Have no doubts learned professors, lowest qualified person will get the chair.Take a bet.Look at all other high level officers. Academically O.L or A.L qualified police, army,navy,or airforce people are the big bosses in Sri lanka and look at foreign missions?
      A major Genaral with O.L qualification is more than enough for any post in Sri lanka.
      Pl appoint a O.L qualified soldier as the V.C

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    are there institutionsin teh country. This country is not ruled by laws and institutions but by the Family. why bother. This ocuntry has to face especially the Majority community for having repeatedly elected leaders who were perfroming ethinic cleansing from 1956 onwards. Tarchie Vitachi documented how teh Tamil children were thrown into the boiling Tar alive. Is teh University thing worse than that. Did anyone raise any question about bringing the culprits to books. IN 1983 JR justified the balck July. Now the best Tamisl gone abroad living happily, Majority Sinhala race outside teh Family should face what Tamil edcuated faced for 60 Years

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      Majority community suffers due to lack of Law and order, there is a looming financial crisis due to wastage and corruption. Economy may collapse due to lack of democracy and law and order.

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    This writer gave all coverups for her predessor (CB sacked VC of Colombo University now running family dept in Arts faculty with all his henchmen and kin and kiths). This writer at least could check and correct them and penalised him. But she did not do anything today preaching something (WADI BANA) to media.
    [Edited out]

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    The best way to control all the institutions in Sri Lanka is to appoint incompetent poorly qualified people who could easily be manipulated by Rajapaksa. That is what is happening in this case. It is surprising though that the FUTA has not said anything about the two underqualified senior lecturers being considered for the post.

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      That may be the reason why it is described as futile attitudes.

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    If you really want to get Sri Lankan Universities to right track sack fake bogus professors from Universties and give due recognition to the PHDs of Western accredited and ranking Universties. Sri Lanka is the only country without PhD from top ranking good Universties and without minimum 15 publications in ISI and Scopus level journals can become a professor, even senior professor. An interesting SENIOR PROFESSOR (the most humerous title in Universty history) can be found. Abolished quickly that. You never find any Senior Professor winning NOBEL price. You can see how laugfable this title. Lady fight to correct these not petty persoonel things. Remove family tree dept from Universties. You have evidence in front of your eyes. But you are not figting to correct it.

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    Dear Mada,

    The continuation of collapse is here to stay as long as the Chinthana clan is in power.
    THey lack CLASS and DECENCY so they need to attack all forms of Decency and decorum.
    Especially Kshanika Hirimburegama, shamelessly defended the BIGGEST Blunder EVER in A/L exams and scored a BIG Brownie point from MR.
    She is a shame for her Illustrious father’s ( Dr. Punchi Bandara Sannasgala).
    But what Mahinda needs is more and more of these STOOGES to deceive the general ( GULLIBLE) public.
    Just look at the Electricity TARIFF hike is wrapped in the MATTALA Runway( leave the international Air port claim.
    It will be just like Hambanthota Port, How many ships do dock there per monwth???
    Same fate on theis Mattala blunder topo.
    aj

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    The problem in sri lanka is that everyone one has the solutions and a list of complaints after they retire and DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in office.

    As a member of a Friday Forum – we can but ask what Prof. says about Jayantha Dhanapala …… obviously an investigation should commence.

    integrity cannot be commanded by people who have skeletons in their closet… thankfully that makes people look at these preachers with disdain…

    better the friday forum take an easter break.

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    Madame, with reference to the comment made by Ms Sheela, I think you should have undergone Leadership Training.

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    This institution was politicised by the UNP. They appointed their henchman all over the place without out much out cry from public as they had the money and power to supress.

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    Who is this women? She needs to open her eyes and look around and come out of her glass office.

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    why is this women being agist?

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    Thanks for showing us who is in the lowest level by creating a such a horrible article ! It is you (savitri Gu)and your henchmen. Insulting other humenbeings with jealousy is an evil thing to do.
    sena

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    Committed evil doers behave towards themselves like their own worst enemies. They are like creepers that strangle the trees which support them.

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    Professor Kshanika Hiriburegama was qualified to appoint (2007)as a VC of Uni of Colombo by the President due to Former GIRL FRIEND of current speaker Chamal Rajapaksha. It was obvious that Prof. Lakshaman was the only qualified among the nominee in 2007.

    she did nothing to the development of the University but recruited people from the faculties to get details about other lecturers and professors. She appointed some SPY (IR department, sociology and econ Department…)
    She always attemted to sort out social issues immidiately, ultimately which makes the issue bigger and sorted out without understanding deepness of the issue.
    She completely contriute to the decline of the university.
    Now she is appointed as a UGC Chairman. It means the whole university system will be collapsed.

    She is quite interesting to rule the universities. And she will not leave her post for another six years. Unfortunaly the universities in Sri Lanka will go back for another some years.

    She is totally politically appointed person. Why these scholars go behind politicians if they are genuinly scholars?

    Further, she is a SINHALA NATIONALIST (I am sorry to say this)

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