Every tidbit of news from University Jaffna seemed troubling if not horrible over the past years – a don caught having sex in his office with a student and still being appointed VC, the present VC forcing senior academics to endorse best wishes for President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s re-election, a Dean altering receipts and still continuing in office, violation of tender procedures and the person responsible being appointed VC, pre-Council meetings where Council members were told exactly how to vote, a book discussion banned by the present VC and the VC telling the BBC that the Teachers’ Union and students had asked for the ban even as the University Teachers’ Association President Amirthalingam Rasakumaran denied that he had written to the VC asking for the ban of the book discussion, appointments in violation of the ordinances of the UGC and the Universities Act, etc.
Problems at other universities seemed to have been decisively cleared afer the new government was returned but not at Jaffna. It was said that the old council members appointed by Douglas Devananda and dutifully rubber stamped by the UGC had refused to resign upon being asked to do so. Ironically the UGC chairperson had resigned but the council members at Jaffna were hanging on under the leadership of Council Member and former VC Prof. P. Balasundarampillai. Even within the TNA which had worked for the election of this government, cracks were emerging as some TNA stalwarts grumbled that the reforms of January 8 did not seem to reach Jaffna. However, Mr. R. Sampanthan, the staid TNA leader, remained complacent and confident. And he was right.
For suddenly the skies seemed to clear. Global Tamil News just reported that a new set of external council members have been appointed. In effect, the old incorrigible Devananda Council had been fired. The TNA had made input to the process. Mr. R. Sampanthan had devolved the responsibility of liaising with the government to MPs Mavai Senathirajah, M.A. Sumanthiran and E. Saravanapavan and they have done an excellent job working with Minister for Higher Education Sarath Amunugama. Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Union too had worked with the TNA in successfully getting sound people on board.
The new Council members are a diverse group and were clearly not appointed to serve any particular ideology. Indeed they reflect a diversity of political leanings and thereby reflect the liberal ethos of the government without any fear of those who hold different opinions. That is as it should be. They have been appointed to bring to the council the diversity of strengths so important to a university. One might say that Jaffna now has the best Council among all the universities in Sri Lanka. The new members are:
1) Prof. S.K. Sittrampalam (Emeritus Professor of History, Jaffna), 2) Prof. V. Tharmaratnam (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Jaffna), 3) [Medical] Dr. Lakshman, 4) Cancer Specialist N. Jeyakumaran of Jaffna Hospital, 5) Finite element computation pioneer Dr. K. Vigneswaran of the All Ceylon Tamil Maha Sabha, 6) Rtd. Skanda Principal Aaru Thirumurugan, 7) Rtd. Permanent Secretary Devanesan Nesiah, 8) Jaffna GA and District Secretary N. Vethanayahan, 9) Prof. Ratnayake (who I believe is the former UGC Vice Chairman Lakshman Ratnayake, 10) Prof. S.H. Hasbullah I believe from Peradeniya and the National Peace Council, 11) Kanapathipillai whose initials were not given to permit firm identification, 12) Rtd. Prof. from Peradeniya’s Mechanical Engineering S. Sivasegaram, 13) Mano Sekarm who I believe is the business leader, and 14) S. Rangarajan the former Chief Secretary, North East Provincial Council
The government, minister Amunugama and the TNA have to be warmly congratulated for this council that brings variegated points of view to the university’s management including diverse political views. I do not think any previous government has done as well in this important matter.
University of Jaffna now has no excuses and we look forward to a return to the rule of law and commitment to freedom of thought as it should be at a university worthy of its name.
I wish the university the best. We all must.