On 12 July, 2021, Dr. Thampoe Mangaleswaran received his letter of appointment from the Presidential Secretariat as the first VC of the newly founded Vavuniya University.
Dr. Mangleswaran is from the Department of Economics and Management of what was until now the Vavuniya Campus of the University of Jaffna, and has been serving as its Rector and Associate Professor. A Commonwealth Scholar, he holds a doctorate in Business Administration from Madras. His area of interest is Human Resource Management in which he has a good publication record in solid journals.
His wife, Ms. Kulathilakam Mangaleswaran is attached to the Zonal Education Office, Vavuniya. His children are Pavithra doing her ALs at Rambaikulam Girls Vidyalayam, and son Pathushan, studying at Vavuniya Mahavidyalam. The point being made is that although Mangaleswaran is from Jaffna, he shifted to Vavuniya and had made it his home for nearly 20 years. In contrast, most previous Rectors were based outside Vavuniya and came to Vavuniya and went home every weekend. The Vavuniya Rectorship was often a place for Jaffna academics to carry as a label on their lapels; not to develop that campus.
Mooting Vavuniya University
I am proud to say that Vavuniya University is probably an idea I mooted when I first applied for the post of VC at Jaffna. Making the campus a university was part of my vision in my application. Many from Vavuniya Campus and the Vavuniya Community came forward with petitions supporting me. The Tigers opposed my appointment and went so far as to say that I was advocating regional division of the Tamil people (pirathesa vaatham). Everyone who wanted the university went dead silent. It is now, 2 decades later, that my vision has come to pass.
Incubatorships: Campus to University
The UGC has in general expanded the university system by starting a needed university as a campus under the management of an established university. The campus would be grown into an experienced university and made independent. This is how campuses under the more mature universities were made independent universities. Examples are Batticaloa University College established under Peradeniya. This soon became the Eastern University Sri Lanka. University of Rajarata and University of Sabaragamuwa are other examples. These incubatorships were in general successful.
Notable and exceptional failures however were the Vavuniya Campus under Jaffna and the Trincomalee Campus under Eastern University. The parent campuses, unfortunately, saw these as reward postings for professors, and never wanted to wean them into mature institutions. So Rectors came and went and were opposed to university status which would take away the reward system for internal staff. When I was on the UGC there were horror stories from students of a Rector who never came to work and used the posting to earn an external law degree by being in Colombo.
Another advantage to the parent university was the provision in the Universities Act that the external appointed members of the governing Council should be the statutory members (VC, Deans and two Senate nominees) and their number plus one appointed by the UGC. These seats on the Council are matters of prestige for Tamils and involve intense political lobbying. In Jaffna, Vavuniya was a campus for them to get more Council seats.
On paper the UGC appoints these external Members. In practice the Minister tells the so-called independent UGC whom to appoint. The tale of how Jaffna University does this is in the numbers. Peradeniya with 11,065 students has some 13 internal council Members and 14 external members. Jaffna with only 7972 students has 17 internal members and 18 external members These numbers are from the university websites. I have not included the Registrar of Jaffna who is listed as a Council Member although he is not. The illegal practice flows from the UGC where the treasury representative who is invited to UGC meetings as an observer to answer finance questions is also reported as a UGC Member to inflate his ego. It is a game of sucking up to a person to get favourable decisions.
Problems from Vavuniya
A problem for the Council now is that 4 internal members are gone from the Jaffna Council – the Rector and the three Deans from Business Studies, Technological Studies and Applied science. That means to be in line with the Universities Act (external members = Internal Members Plus 1) 4 external members of the Jaffna Council need to be knocked off.
But how is that to be done when nearly all of them were appointed politically with sound backing? Consider the UGC’s more questionable appointees to the Jaffna Council:
1. P. Sutharshan appointed on the recommendation of Minister Douglas Devananda’s EPDP. He was in the provincial teachers’ service. He was found guilty of molesting a female teacher and transferred to Madhu after being found guilty by due inquiry. Such are the dregs that find shelter in our political counter-culture and a home in the EPDP.
2. K. Sivaram. Aged about 30, a cousin-brother of Angajan Ramanathan’s. He has a degree but no experience in university governance.
3. K. Rushangan Co-Secretary and personal assistant to Douglas Devananda. He too has a degree but no experience in university governance.
4. T. Vimalan of the Land Reform Commission Office. He is being presently investigated by journalists for allegedly alienating lands to some high officials. His Council appointment is believed to be on the recommendation of Angajan Ramanathan.
5. V. Vithurshan, the youngest member of the Jaffna Council, also is believed to have been appointed by Angajan Ramanathan. He is aged 26 and decides on high university matters. Few know what his credentials are.
Who will be removed from the Jaffna Council to bring the university into compliance with the Universities Act? Or transferred? Or will the lawless methods of the government continue?
In the meantime, the race is on for who will be the seven new external members of the Vavuniya Council (VC, three Deans, 2 senate nominees plus 1). Political suckups may throw in their hats. No qualifications necessary. SLPP Connexions an asset. Absence of principles a plus.
Appointment of VC for a New University
The process of how a VC is chosen is carefully regulated by UGC Circulars. In that process the Council plays an important role. However, with a new university there is no council until Deans and two Senate Representatives and their number plus 1 external members are appointed by the UGC.
Therefore that role of recommending a person to the President falls on the UGC – or usurped from the Council is the right phrase as there is no spelt out process, and unassigned powers are arrogated by the UGC. I myself have played a role when Chandra Embuldeniya was chosen by my UGC as the first VC of Uva Wallassa University. He had his degree in mathematics but had not been an academic and came from the private sector. We, under the leadership of Chairman Ranjith Mendis, decided it was an opportunity to investigate new paradigms for VC Selection and we chose Embuldeniya. My understanding is that he was an outstanding success as VC but to date no one who is a private sector success story has been appointed as VC because for regular appointments the Council dominated by academics has to vote for him. But thankfully then President Chandrika Bandaranaike, was willing to take the gamble by accepting our recommendation which provided a better model. But alas it is not followed by the UGC for regular appointments through suitable amendments to the relevant Ordinances.
First VC for Vavuniya
Dr. Kuganeswaran as Rector was the natural and pre-eminent choice to be the first VC as the Rector of the campus. But he was not the favourite of Vasanthi Arasaratnam, former VC of Jaffna and now a member of the UGC.
The UGC itself is a notable failure in good governance. Under the Good Governance regime a Secretary who asked Dr. Devansean Nesiah (Director Plan Implementation then) to give him signed tender recommendations with all else to be filled by him, was on the UGC. Under the present government Vasanthi Arasaratnam came on to the UGC with a clear record of malfeasance on which no action was taken by the spineless Council of people appointed to uphold the government rather than the university itself. Two of many matters on which I have evidence are 1) Her untruthfully writing to the Council recommending the appointment as a Visiting Professor of a person who had been an Assistant Professor in the US and then moved into hospital administration. She wrote to the Council that he had retired as a full professor. 2) Turning down written proof from a Council Member that a candidate for professor of Agriculture had made untruthful claims on publications that did not fit the relevant circular. When she ignored this proof, the Council Member sent his complaint to the UGC, it did not even acknowledge his letter. How could the UGC, despite its pretensions to good governance, act when one of its own members was a crook identified with the UNP, and when VCs have impunity in defying circulars?
When I returned from the US in August 2015, I was desperate to work at Jaffna. Since my professorial application was dragging on, I who had been a Senior Professor of Electrical Engineering at Peradeniya applied for Senior Lecture in Jaffna which may be processed in two months. Because Jaffna had few qualified lecturers, I applied for Senior Lecturer and thought the university would be grateful to have me. Vasanthi Arasaratnam chaired my interview which she scheduled one week short of a year since I applied. This meant she could refuse to reopen the matter citing the expiration date on advertisements. The others consisted of Prof. S. Sivasegaram and 4 former Peradeniya engineering students of Sivasegram’s obedient to him (with the exception of the VC): Dr. A. Atputharajah (Dean), Dr. T. Thiruvaran (Head and my student who in my opinion went to graduate school because of my exceptionally strong recommendation), Prof. J.B. Ekanayake (Senate nominee and illegally so because he is not from the Jaffna Senate as required) and Mr. R.M.W. Ratnayake (Council Nominee). They unanimously found me unqualified to be Senior Lecturer. None of the castrated Council Members questioned the absurd recommendation, including the soon succeeding Vice Chancellor Dr. Vickneswaran.
Such are our UGC-appointed Councils. Councils are there not to provide a check and balance on the VC but to sit back and let the VC do anything and say “It is not my decision. The whole Council agreed.” For that role we need stooges on our Councils. That supply is great.
Now coming to present times, the UGC had the power to recommend the first VC for Vavuniya. Pushed by Vasanthi Arasaratnam, the UGC’s pick was Prof. A. Atputharajah, its recently retired Dean of Engineering who was part of UGC member Vasanthi Arasaratnam’s intrigue-filled appointment of the Visiting Professor from America to the Kilinochchi Engineering Faculty. It meant that Mangaleswaran would be kicked out if his job as Rector, well short of his three-year appointment period. To the UGC these things do not matter.
Atputhatajah in 2011had been picked to replace me as Coordinator and was made Dean when false criminal charges were filed against me (and since dismissed by the courts) that I had tried to foment a riot. The Minister who got the police to do that is still a Minister. That Minister also was Vasanthi Arasaratnam’s patron when she was made VC.
During a function recently at the Engineering Faculty there was a telephone call to Atputharajah from the UGC asking for his willingness to be the first VC. He had agreed. Because of the hullabaloo following the call and its venue, and because he withdrew from commitments he had made at Kilinochchi saying he would be available, everyone knew. It was widely expected that he would be the first VC.
Some felt very upset for lack of goodwill because Atputharajah was vengeful towards Dr. Sivakumar of Civil Engineering and was known to go after anyone who opposed him. I personally felt devastated because he had lobbied for my removal as UGC Coordinator founding the Engineering Faculty for Jaffna. He went against written and backed up recommendations I had commissioned from Prof. K.K.W. Perera and Prof. Lakshman Ratnayake. They were clear that the new faculty should be sited in a place close to where industries and consulting opportunities are available. This was why Moratuwa, founded in 1972, overtook long-established Peradeniya. They recommended Jaffna.
It was a time when, despite its demise, the mindless LTTE recommendation to have the faculty in Arivu Nagar (Knowledge City) in Kilinochchi, had a following. Arivu Nagar is a copy of The Human Resources Management, Professional Learning and Educational Free Trade Zone Campus in the city of Dubai established in 2003 – what they called Knowledge Park. The LTTE also had wanted Jaffna University to be moved Arivu Nagar. Some supported that too. At the time the Council was determined to keep up the LTTE’s wishes. VC Shanmugalingam wanted to go by the LTTE’s wishes. Atputhrajah followed. So long as he is there at Kilinochchi, Atputharajah had told my friends, I would not be allowed to step on to the campus. A few weeks later I was invited as a former Jaffna VC to a function in Kilinochchi where the Indian High Commissioner came and I sat next to him during lunch. The rest is history.
My only empathy for Atputharajah is that in 2011, I had been elected one of the three to be recommended by the Council to be VC. Douglas Devananda threatened to quit politics if his choice, Vasanthi Arasaratnam, was not picked. That would have meant no Tamil with the government. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, knowing that the LTTE had chased me off in 2006 and not wishing at the same time to lose the only Tamil in his cabinet, sought a compromise. He conveyed to me through the Secretary for Education that I would be sent as High Commissioner to the UK if I did not press my case to be VC. I responded that I am trained to be a VC but knew little about being a High Commissioner. I was called to Temple Trees thereafter for which a cabinet meeting was delayed. My wife and I were offered tea and I was asked as is custom if I would accept the post of VC. Upon my agreement, I was promised the appointment letter the next morning. It never came. Arasaratnam was appointed.
Something similar seems to have happened to Atputharajah. But here, Mangaleswaran in my view is the superior choice based on character and entitlement as Rector.
I believe the Kilinochchi Engineering Campus was set back deeply by the choice of location. It has little more than buildings to show. Would it have been better off in Vavuniya? Vavuniya was my second choice based on its business activity. Few were willing to support it saying the Sinhalese would take it over. Perhaps true, but the irony is that today even Jaffna University is part of the government’s colonization strategy.
We live in dangerous times. A good friend called me on the 9 July telling me “Please do not write” after my last article. I asked him if someone had asked him to convey this message. He said no it is his own view. That did not calm me.
I remember by experience in Kayts from 2011 where a Minister said I had fomented a riot and the pliant police kept asking for time to investigate. I was on bail. Fortunately the magistrate threw out the case when the Police kept asking for time to investigate. He wrote that he did not see any evidence of an investigation and did not believe one was going on. He invited them, tongue in cheek, to refile the case if they ever found the evidence.
A reporter friend from Jaffna was summoned to the Kilinochchi Police yesterday (14.07). He had reported on an Audit Report from the Kilinochchi Regional Director of Health Services’ Office on massive mismanagement and loss of funds. Dr. N. Saravanabavan, Director, complained to the IGP who started an inquiry against the reporter. After avoiding the summons from Kilinochchi police for days he went yesterday on legal advice for a hostile reception. He told the police that he is only reporting the government auditor’s report. “Who gave you the report?” he was sternly asked. He refused saying audit reports are not confidential. “I can charge you for theft of the report,” he was told. The reporter asked to see the complaint and told the police that they have no authority to inquire against him and that they should really inquire into the missing funds. The reporter challenged the police to charge him. The matter remains there. The danger is that the Kilinochchi Police, like the Kayts Police, will charge him and go month after month for time to investigate and keep the reporter as a fugitive awaiting judgement as happened to me. In my case even after the charges were dismissed they came home to arrest me on the cancelled warrant.
The police are a tool of corrupt administrators in suppressing dissent of any sort. These may be the last window of opportunity for us to voice our opinions and dissent. In the meantime, I hope that VC Magaleswaran can make Vavuniya a truly great university, despite the new Council he will get.