2 December, 2020

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University Crisis

By Godwin Constantine

Dr Godwin Constantine

Dr Godwin Constantine

The present crisis in the university system due to politicization of the universities has attracted attention of the general public in the recent times. This issue has been highlighted in the new government’s 100-day programme. Though it is said that the politicization of the university system started during JR Jayewardene’s tenure it was perfected during the tenure of the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

It is indeed commendable that the new government has appointed a suitably qualified person as the State Minister of Higher Education. However, the Ministers’ stance to maintain status quo by continuing with the political appointees is disheartening.

The present controversies surround the vice chancellors of universities of Colombo, Jaffan and Baticoloa and the Chairperson of the University Grants Commission (UGC) who are political appointees of the state through the powers wrested on the head of state by the Universities Act of 1978.

There are numerous glaring examples of abuse of power by the political appointees in these institutions. The mounting pressure to remove the political appointees from the position of power is understandably done with the hope that the new government with an objective to introduce good governance would act swiftly to restore the dignity of the universities.

During the past 10 years we have witnessed extensive politicization of the universities in this country. The high authorities in the university system (regrettably who are academics) have stooped to the level of issuing political statements and involve in political campaign of party in power using their position as heads of institutions.

 Rajiva Wijesinha - Minister Higher Education

Rajiva Wijesinha – Minister Higher Education

Hence it has become a norm for aspirants for vice chancellor post to go behind politicians to secure their appointments. This has marginalised good and efficient academics who would like to epitomise their carrier by becoming heads of institutions in this university system. Moreover many excellent academics shy away from these posts as they are embarrassed to undergo and identify with this process of appointments.

As the chief administrators are appointed through their political affiliations and connections, in the exercise of their duty display of intellectual honesty has become a rarity. Appointments and promotions are made on the basis of favouritism and personal opinion. Appointments which are made through elections which cannot be controlled like the Dean of a Faculty is differed by appointing an acting Dean if the elected person is not one favoured by the chief administrator.

Undoubtedly the Universities Act of 1978 has contributed to the present state of affairs in the universities. Recently Professor Hoole noted that the Act is good but those who implement the Act are at fault. And the ‘human tendency’ for favouritism has been cited as the cause of this fault in the implementation of the Act. It is further stated that the academics are influenced by the social contacts and relationships to deviate from the correct path. With all due respect I differ. As the same argument and more will apply for the politicians may it be the minister or the head of state.

In making these appointments minister and the President are influenced by factors ranging from political, relationship and social factors. As the sphere of influence of the politicians are much wider than that of the academics, the argument that the decisions of academics are subject to influence by the society and there for the present Act which gives the power of appointment to the external source namely the Minister and the President should be preserved is not tenable. If we consider the dean’s election which is held at faculty level is completely independent and usually takes place without much controversy except in places where the higher authorities want their person of choice to be elected.

We have witnessed as Professor Hoole states, in Boards and Senates only a few senior academics speak up and other remain silent, this culture of silence has to change. Board and Senate meetings should become places for intellectual discussion and constructive criticism. The culture of silence will only enable a few to manipulate the system to achieve their personal goals.

The appointment of the Council members is also a contentious issue contributing to the present crisis. At present the UGC is entrusted with the responsibility to appoint the external members to the Council who amount to internal plus one in number to make external majority. The external members are usually appointed in concurrence with the vice chancellor (VC) and the politicians thus giving the VC overall control of the Council. The number of times an external member can be reappointed to the Council is not specified in the Act, hence the VC has the opportunity to reappoint persons who are likely to support him/her and avoid persons who are critical.

The third issue which needs attention is the recruitment of non-academic staff based on the “Minsters’ list”. This system has enabled many inefficient uninterested party supports to find jobs in the universities. Since these employees have political connections they can interfere with the smooth functioning of the universities.

Solution

At present the selection of the VC is a prerogative of the president. The council through an election selects three names, which is sent to the President through the UGC. At this point all three are considered equal and the president selects one as the VC. In this process as the VC has overall control of the council VC can manipulate the council to achieve desired ends. This needs to be changed.

A VC selection committee could be constituted comprising of equal numbers from the council which is the management body of a university and from the Senate which is the academic decision making body of the university. This committee should elect on person and forward that to the President who will endorse the appointment. However, the President should be able to decline if he feels the selection of a particular person can lead the university into the hands of few with extreme view may it be political or otherwise.

The selection process of the external council members also need to be changed. Universities have wide range of study programms which necessitates a council comprising of persons from diverse interest and fields; this could be achieved by seeking council nominees from each faculty along with VC’s nominees. The UGC in concurrence with the minster could choose the final council members. The council members should not be reappointed to prevent the VC from continuing to have their favourites in the council for long.

The recruitment of non-academic staff should follow standard procedure based on qualification and experience and politicians should not have a role in recommending people for university vacancies.

The function university is not only limited to producing employable graduate for the consumerist society, it also has an important social function as a place for intellectual discourse and opinion making. Academic have a duty to maintain intellectual honesty and integrity to guide the society in issues of social concern. To fulfil this role academics should be able to stand-up for justice and fair play at crucial times. If we choose to maintain a ‘culture of silence’ we deserve what we get.

*Dr. Godwin Constantine – Senior Lecturer in Medicine, University of Colombo

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Latest comments

  • 4
    0

    Recheck all qualifications of Sri Lankan professors. No PhDs from world class universities, no 20 publications in ISI/SCOPUS level journals, no 10 books, no three countries professor appointments. Then 99% sri lankn professors are fake jokers. Ruhuna University Econ Dept three profs do not have anything but only professors. Abolish professorships given to Mahinda’s letters and VCs henchmen. Have an inquiry about Colombo University Arts faculty family dept and its corruptive emiritus and his VC regime.

    • 2
      0

      Yes I also got to know about this family dept from UK white professors and its corruptive Emiritus and his underhand business and foreign aids misused and his all kids entered and got positions in wrong way in his own University. Even one of his son entered government medical college without sri lankn A/L. Even his son’s friend became lecturers in this family dept. Need inquiry about this dept by using retired high court judge.

    • 2
      0

      Yes this family dept and its corruptive low level emiritus, his henchman team and fake degrees world famous for bad things. Even Dean and Head of the dept of this place during this time must be subjected to check and inquiry. During Mahinda time also this Emiritus did many bad things while serving in many places and promoted his [Edited out] and corruptive group to many positions.

    • 0
      0

      Even this Emiritus wife caught by education dept while giving a false birth certificate to extent her service. Why only law for Wimal Weerawansa’s wife.

  • 0
    0

    Universities are institutionss which should produce the well educated and highly skilled people for the good of the country.

    Where as in Sri Lanka its all gone to dogs, neither teaching nor learninng, teachers and students are at all kinds of confrontations. Its looks, uneducated street people are better in finding solutions to their issues than these useless lots.

    No any sort of pain for them for all are free due to too much politics. Stop free education, tell them to pay, then they would know the pain and would have well.

  • 4
    0

    What Dr. Constantine says is very true. The highest level political appointments make sure that an unbroken chain of political appointments are maintained up to the lowest level of the University administration. The sad part of this is the cheap intention of controlling the university system according to the political whims of the ruling party. This has penetrated the system from the appointments of the VCs to the Heads of Departments. Even though the Dean selection is based on a voting system, the nominees should be from among the Heads of the particular Faculty. Therefore, the VCs do an excellent job to make sure that the Heads having an integrity are replaced by their henchmen so that “one of the favourites” gets appointed. This has been witnessed at several different instances at the University of Colombo. So, the degradation of the system at all levels is inevitable under this culture. Therefore, it is high time that the Minster of Higher Education acts to safeguard this national heritage of free education.

  • 4
    0

    This is a very good analysis of what is exactly happening in Sri Lanka – in the political appointment of a VC, followed by selection of Council members influenced by the VC not based on their expertise, and keeping them on selection boards to get VC’s own candidates with or without requirements, appointment of Heads by the VC- one of them becomes the Dean of the faculty ultimately to be in the council and again vote for the VC the next time! This can happen only in Sri Lanka.

    Dr Constantine has located the current problems in 3 places, which if NOT fixed by the academic State Minister – will continue to more locations in our university system. Let us hope for the best!

    Dr Jayawick

  • 2
    0

    The first thing to do is to chase all VCs who are political henchmen.

    VCs of Colombo and SJU should asked to resign immediately. How about the other VCs?

  • 7
    0

    Godwin,

    You are great, I thought people like you disappeared and do not exist in SL anymore

    Thought we have people like Rajeeva and Dayan in all universities

    Academic have a duty to maintain intellectual honesty and integrity to guide the society in issues of social concern

    Really appreciate your civil courage

  • 4
    0

    do you know the research capacity of the Eastern University VC? he had mentioned the followings list on his research publication; whether the MSC , PhD thesis and TEACHER’S GUIDE can be considered as research publication. we can see the same titles are repeated in different places. Imagine how he is cheating. this is submitted with theVC application too. EUSL council also appreciated his research performance and nominated again.

    1.Inequalities on All Arcs of the Circle, Journal of Approximation Theory, 116 (2002), 343-368.

    2. Inequalities on All Arcs of the Circle for Generalized Polynomials, Approximation Theory X: Abstract and Classical Analysis (2002), 267-27

    3. Inequalities for All arcs of the Circle, “Advances in Constructive Approximation”, Vanderbilt University, USA (2003).

    4. Inequalities for All arcs of the Circle for Generalized Polynomials, Annual Research Session, Eastern University, SRI LANKA (2004).

    5. Markov-Bernstein Inequalities, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Witwatersrand, SOUTH AFRICA (2001)

    6. Survey of Approximation Theory for Muntz Polynomials, M.Sc. Thesis, University of Witwatersrand, SOUTH AFRICA (1999)

    7. Teacher’s Guide on Set Theory and Mappings, Published by Education Department, Batticaloa, SRI LANKA (1997) (Manuscript 40 pages)

    8. Teaching and Learning Mathematics: Real life oriented Mathematics Curriculum, “Educational Studies in Mathematics” (submitted)

    9. Cultural Barriers for Women in obtaining their Higher Education in Developing Countries, “International Journal for Mathematics Teaching and Learning” (submitted)

    10. Inequalities on All Arcs of the Circle for Generalized Polynomials – An Alternative Approach (in preparation)

    11. Teaching and Learning Mathematics: Asian and North American Perspective (in preparation)

  • 6
    10

    Yes Dr Constantine we must not choose to maintain a ‘culture of silence’.
    By the way you attended the ‘last minute’ desperate meetings held by Mahinda at five star hotels and even actively involved in supporting that regimen.
    Along with identifying bogus professor we also have to identify bogus intellectuals like you.

    • 3
      2

      Mithun. What do you mean? You uneducated faceless plonker

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