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Are our Universities keeping out our Best?

Panel and Council Endorsing Abuse of Power

| by Arul K. Selvaratnam

( February 16, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) At a time when our universities badly lack qualified staff and are trying to rebuild themzelves, a Selection Committee meeting on Jan. 30 2014 found Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole unqualified for the post of Professor of Computer Science on all the measures specified by the UGC’s Circular 916. So says the report of the Selection Committee consisting of Prof. V. Arasaratnam (VC), Prof. S. Srisatkunarajah (Dean/Science), Dr. E.V.A. Charles (Head/CS), Prof. N.D. Kodikara of Colombo and Prof. N.G.J. Dias of Moratuwa (Senate Nominees), Prof. Mrs. Pushpa Wijekoon of Peradeniya and Prof. D.D.S. Kulatunga of Kelaniya (UGC Nominees) and Mr. P. Thyagarajah and Mr. M. Balasubramaniam (Council Nominees). Their minute to the University of Jaffna’s Council on 8 February reads that they do not recommend his appointment because he has not, to quote exactly, “obtained required minimum marks for teaching, scholarship & Academic development and Contribution to University and National/International development.”

This is impossible say Prof. Hoole’s students: “Peradeniya assessed him as passing on the same measures 15 years ago. He has earned many more points since and even more in the last three years since his application. London saw fit to give him its D.Sc. degree. The IEEE made him a Fellow, the first from Sri Lanka. He has taught computer science at major US research universities. He was University of Jaffna’s, Eastern University’s and South Eastern University’s moderator and external examiner in Computer Science. To check I googled “Google Scholar Hoole.” This independent web site tracking research output lists 861 citations for him. At the 0.5 point per citation under Commission Circular 916 on recruitment of professors, this gives him 430.5 points for just one measure in the scheme of recruitment while the total required for all together in a successful application is 115! How can he fail on all measures?

The Council minute shows Prof. Hoole’s self-assessment in the three areas of assessment, namely 1) Teaching scholarship and Academic Development 2)Research, Scholarship and Creative Work and 3) Contribution to University and National Development, to be 50, 261.25 and 44, respectively.

A very upset Jaffna University academic had this to say: “We rely on the Council and the Selection Committee to check there is no wrong-doing by the administration. But here, senior responsible persons from the entire system are endorsing wrong doing and giving it the cover of respectability through their signatures. It then makes administrative manipulation more difficult to challenge. With such a big discrepancy I wish someone on the Council had queried how that was. They have failed us.” He pointed to International Development, not seen anywhere in Circular 916, as an additional requirement the system has required of Prof. Hoole.

According to Prof. Carlo Fonseka (“Returned academic excellence vs entrenched academic mediocrity,” Island, May 12, 2011) the President in 2010 ordered Prof. Hoole’s appointment and his wife’s at Jaffna and the UGC then asked Jaffna to advertise the post. The Hooles applied early in 2011. Mrs. Hoole was summoned to an interview last year and she came all the way from the US. She was not selected allegedly for not having the required points. It is said that they fiddled her categorization between internal candidate and external to disqualify her although she could have fitted under either.

Prof. Hoole himself was summoned at the end of January, three years after his application technically expired under UGC Circular 699 as amended by Circular 732. Is it a coincidence that the closing date for VC applications was Feb. 12? Contacted by email for this piece, Prof. Hoole wrote: “I only want to say that after my wife’s experience I did not want to cancel my classes and run suddenly for the interview. So I asked for a Skype interview. I was then asked to be ready between 10 AM and 2:30 PM which was 11 PM to 4:00 AM in the US. I waited in front of my computer all dressed up and went to bed at 4:30 when there was no call. I understand the committee dispersed in a few minutes and left without a message to me to go to bed. I wish we can cultivate greater courtesy towards people. The system will automatically get better.”

A student , now a senior engineer, was very sad: “I was in Trincomalee when the war and curfews prevented my admission letter from being delivered. I was denied admission because of being late. Prof. Hoole, a total stranger, befriended me, fought for me, took me to his home in Colombo to meet some pressmen and got my story published in the newspapers. The authorities had to change their mind. I am an engineer today because of him. We need academics like him to be our role models.”

Prof. Carlo Fonseka in his article admits to encouraging the Hooles to return and explains, “In a system with many mediocrities those of exceptional quality make the mediocre look ugly! So the mediocrities do their damndest to eliminate the truly exceptional.”

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