By A member of FUTA, University of Peradeniya –
Sri Lankan university system is dysfunctional since early July. The federation of university teachers associations, FUTA, is on a trade union action close to last three months. Among FUTA’s demands, allocation of 6% o GDP for education, stop politicization of universities, ensure autonomy of universities, are included to make sure the university system could function in its true spirit of intellectual capacity. And, for any government that is serious about the development of the country, issuing a policy statement in support of these justifiable demands immediately cost nothing, and, there is ample time for planning. Instead, Sri Lankan government, through unprecedented manipulation of electronic and print media, is trying its best to mislead the general public framing this trade union action as an international conspiracy. Another allegation is that this is an attempt to topple the government where university teachers play third fiddle for leftist parties and various nongovernmental organizations allegations etc. The media suppression on publicity of FUTA activities is such that private TV channels would not dare to accept even a paid advertisement from FUTA.
The present minister of higher education, who is famously notorious – with imprisonment for contempt of court and changing political parties for personal gains – engaged in misleading the masses through lying using baseless facts. The minister appears to be worried much about the growing concern of general public and support FUTA draws out of that, this support was amply demonstrated during the march from Galle to Colombo. Recently he started to manipulate few political stooges found among the academic staff to make counter arguments on state controlled TV against the FUTA demands. These nincompoop come from Open university and Kelaniya university and they openly denounce the action by FUTA on state controlled television; (ITN and Rupawahini and private channels such as Swarnawahini) – hope these so called patriotic academics know the damage they are doing to the very system in which they are a part of. Then, the minister got some of his allies, students of course, to file human right cases against striking teachers, also went for a forced arbitration process against FUTA, all seems to have failed now. To misguide the public, the latest trick of shameless higher education minister, nick named as ‘supiri boru’ (meaning – super lies), is the personal attack on FUTA leadership, ample examples appear in local week end papers. So by now it is more than convinced that the government wants to crush this TU action, which focuses on important national and social issues, in their usual style – similar examples are found in the recent history.
Request for a planned approach to allocate 6% of GDP have been argued widely in favor by professionals who know the value of education, while argued against by politically motivated academics stooges and other nincompoop, in many forums. Therefore let us try to understand why the demand of – Stop politicization of universities and Ensure autonomy of universities – are in the FUTA’s list. Some example from university of Peradeniya, the oldest and the largest university in the system, are cited as examples of why FUTA included these two demands. Hopefully, upon reading this, one could see how the present minister of higher education inflicted long lasting, very sever damages to the state university system, where the recovery process would take years of hard work of real patriotic academics – of course, at least if these undesirable influences and inflicting are stopped now.
Appointment of Members for the university council
Our first example is appointment of members to the council of the university. The fact that ‘supiri boru’ minister of higher education manipulated the appointments to get his henchmen into the council is widely published in recent ‘ravaya’ paper and other concerned media. It is not a secret that this was done even at the expense of the eliminating position available for minority representation in the council. Such manipulation makes sure that whatever decisions the minister wants to implement (usually undesirable for the existence of autonomy) will be pulled through the council (as he got 11 out of 21 members) such that it looks legal so that there is little room for challenging the decisions made at the council.
Chairman of university grant commission (UGC)
The present chairman of UGC continues his term in office, with special permission from cabinet after and presidential blessing, after his proper term of 3 years was over. It is a well known fact that the present chairman is a leftist and JVP activists who has been imprisoned in 1970 for his anti-government activities. Rallying for present president during early stages while he was member of arts faculty academic staff here at Peradeniya was the main qualification for him to be appointed as the chairman of UGC. Since his appointment, he has issued many UGC circulars in violation of the members of staff, both academic and non-academic. In fact withdrawal of these circulars is one of the FUTA’s demands. Famous circular 890 is one example of such violation of fundamental rights of the workers.
Appointment of acting Deputy vice chancellor – DVC (acting)
DVC position is mainly there to look after student welfare aspect of the university, which is a residential university in this case. However, when new vice chancellor assumed office during the TU action (another controversial appointment of ‘supiri boru’ for which more qualified and capable candidates were nominated by then council), the DVC position was entrusted with a person whose history with this university is written only by clashes with students. The only qualification to be appointed as present DVC (acting) is his pact with ‘supiri boru’ minister, that he would do anything to disrepute FUTA and its TU action, to bring it down. Being a member of FUTA, this person has always been working against its interest and it is sensible question to ask why he is still a member of FUTA ?. When inquired from VC why there is no proper appointment (where suitable candidates are available within the university), the answer was VC is under immense pressure from top such that this person had to be appointed. In recent weeks, he went on national TV to ruthlessly attack FUTA with baseless facts and to buy confidence for supiri-boru minister.
Appointment of a registrar with military background
The registrar position of the university was vacant more than three years, without a proper person being appointed. The application process was delayed, and finally, few months back, an ex-military person was appointed. With this appointment, which was made during the trade union action of the academic staff, enough ha-ho has been created within non-academic staff due to implementation of military style administration in the university. For example, the university security service has been demanded to salute when passing executives of university administration system.
Appointment of technical staff
The applicants are to be selected from list which minister sends. The only qualification is affiliation with the present government and be supportive of the corruption. Without the enrolment of qualified technical level staff, conducting the academic program in science streams, and maintaining the required standards is becoming extremely difficult. The main issue is, once appointed; these people are there in the system for their whole life, so the menace will not be over for decades.
As one could see, the political influences on appointment of key administrative figures and other staff has already been done severe damages to the university system and its existence. Though this is the case of Peradeniya University, this situation is far worse in regional universities where the number of staff is smaller, they virtually have no voice. In such places the VCs act like dictators and direct agents of H.E minister. Continuous suppression and subtle but persistent manipulation of the administration of the university system has lead to a very serious breakdown of discipline among the staff, and in senates and councils. Some members of academic staff directly get involve with the government and the ministry in order to get into admin seats – become members of UGC, VCs, or other posts that are important for the development of the society.
As shown by the examples above, the policy of scratching each other’s back with the politicians have caused serious damages to the autonomy of university system. This politicization is the one FUTA request to be stopped.
On behalf of – Peradeniya university community, who love this beautiful university / Sept 2012