By Malinda Seneviratne –
‘Governments are held to higher standards than terrorists’ is a line that was often used by LTTE apologists who routinely brushed aside criticism of the terrorists even as they demanded and conferred parity of status. The proposition makes sense though. By the same token, judges should be held to higher standards than ordinary citizens. Academics should be more academic than non-academics. Teachers and teachers’ unions should not behave like students and student unions. From academics, moreover, by dint of professional training, one expects a greater degree of objectivity, close-to-comprehensive analysis, sober reflection and even more sober self-appraisal and so on.
One expects more from academics (than from the government) because at this point FUTA (Federation of University Teachers’ Associations) is playing holier-than-thou. This does not follow the logic of the LTTE-backers referred to above because government policy on education (and much else besides) is deplorable, a point which we have made frequently. These thoughts are written down therefore in the firm belief that a FUTA with more integrity would not only be a boost to the larger struggle to obtain more allocations and better policy, but help bring some semblance of a scholar-culture to the university system.
A placard raised at recent FUTA protest a placard carried the legend ‘Prevent brain drain’, implying that if salaries weren’t raised, academics would migrate to greener pastures abroad. No mention of the millions spent on FUTA members from cradle to academic position by way of midwife care, delivery, healthcare, education and loans at next-to-nothing interest rates. Nothing on pay-back. FUTA has joined hands with the JVP, a party that has caused untold damage to university property and wrecked education in ways that make them seem like blood-brothers of those who oppose free education for they make a huge case for privatization by their acts of vandalism and other antics. The ghosts of Vice Chancellor, Colombo University, Prof. Stanley Wijesundera and Prof. Patuwatawithana, murdered for the ’in of trying to keep the universities open against the will of the JVP, have not haunted FUTA and this says a lot about FUTA’s integrity and politics. Even as FUTA spokespersons rant and rave about the incompetency of the UGC and Examinations Department it was found recently that A/L papers set by academics have contained errors. FUTA, in union-mode, is naturally silent about these things.
That’s hardly the story though. I am wondering why no one in academe have ventured to speak on the gross happening within the fold as laid out in ‘Mage Naduwa Iwarai’ (My case is over), a no holds barred account of academe authored by Dr. Sarath Wijesuriya, Senior Lecturer, Sinhalese Department of the University of Colombo. The sloth that pervades academe, the aversion to reading and research, manipulation for perks, misuse of research grants, promotion of favorites, rampant cases of conflict of interest in setting and marking papers for the near and dear and much more is laid out in the book, which was banned by the university until Wijesuriya sued and obtained redress. It was a work of fiction, officially, but every member of FUTA knows that Wijesuriya’s ‘story’ is true.
There are people who tweak the rules for personal benefit, even wrangling circulars to say that no MSc (except from AIT, Bangkok) can be considered for position of Senior Lecturer. No guesses for who had the AIT degree! FUTA has the scholar-ability to tell us that it is no coincidence and not about love-at-first-sight when academics marry recently appointed junior lecturers. Much time is spent on getting ‘nominated’ for scholarships offered to the particular institution. That politics is more important than the politics of ‘free education’. There are faculties which are full of academics who obtained doctorates from Japan simply because JICA dishes out loans. If JICA generosity was absent, one wonders who many would end up with PhDs!
Academics have been caught leaking exam papers to their blue eyed boys and girls. Some were caught stealing microscopes from the very faculty they work. Some were caught fixing video cameras in girls’ toilets. Hard disks of the university computers have made one way journeys to the homes of academics. Many ‘academics’ were found guilty of using their research grant money to buy furniture and build houses. Many have produced documents little better than toilet paper in order to secure promotions and professorships. In one instance a ‘preliminary’ study was submitted to secure professorial points!
The Internal Audit unit of Peradeniya has reports asking some Senior Lecturers to pay as much as Rs. 6 million ‘misappropriated’ during the medical exhibition. Indeed, some sociologist could peruse the records of the internal audit units of all universities and write a classic about the culture of theft, misappropriation, loss of dignity and intellectual dishonesty that pervades the university system. Those who study literature might even consider dislodging some fiction and replacing some fact in the syllabus for more informed and insightful perusal by students. FUTA can tell us how many of its members were investigated by these internal audit departments.
FUTA is fighting for moral high ground. Why then is this community so terrified of scrutiny? Forget scrutiny, shouldn’t FUTA start with sober self-appraisal? Cannot FUTA tell us how many of its members got their jobs courtesy of political clout, sexual favors and other non-academic ways? How many have been caught, will FUTA say, submitting false or fraudulent certificates to prove they have higher degrees (Remember 13 day PhD?)? How many go behind politicians for consultancies, advisory posts etc?
FUTA is in competition with itself in this moral-high-ground match. The university depends on the public. FUTA is seeking public support. The honest and decent thing to do is to come clean. Until then, FUTA will flounder in its battle with the Ministry, the UGC and the Treasury, all institution which, we can safely say, are made up of people who can rub shoulders with the academics as same-clan fellows.
FUTA can and must lead the way for education reform, for among its members are those who have the minds and the hearts. They are being dragged down by the mediocre, slothful and dishonest. Pity.