Universities – for better or for worse - Sri Lanka Guardian


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Friday, March 7, 2014

Universities – for better or for worse

| by Gajalakshmi Paramasivam 

( March 7, 2014, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I write in response to the letter written by the Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association (JUSTA) published in Sri Lanka Guardian under the heading ‘Woebegone: Rejection Of Hoole’s Application’

I identified with many parts of Professor Hoole’s reactions and responses through my own frustrations at the University of New South Wales. I was able to release myself from the political prison that the University had become – due to my belief as an Administrator. Like Professor Hoole, I also applied for many positions – including for one that was structurally established due to my work as a Management Accountant. As Management Accountant, I was highly recognized by the Faculty of Medicine headed by Professor Bruce Dowton who is now Vice Chancellor of Macquarie University. Now I realize that I could not have succeeded to my earned position because I was recruited by those who had politically empowered themselves through the old structure. They were the parents of the University that recruited me and they were still active in their positions not through their performance but through the positions they held. To me that is political power and the money and/or status through such structures are welfare benefits when they are not underpinned by genuine belief.

My belief in God helped me realize this and the experience was painful. But I went through the experience until I identified with this Truth about the University through my own Truth. To the extent I believed – I did feel supported by parts of the University. The rest was to ‘show’ others and to the extent my family, community and society valued this University I had to accept it with all its weaknesses. Even recently, when someone suggested that we have a community meeting at the University of New South Wales – I had to excuse myself. I signed bail conditions undertaking not to enter the University - as required by the courts to release me from custody. Such a request would not have been made by a University committed to the intellectual path. The recollection brought with it also the pain of armed officers entering our home and removing family assets and placing a caveat on our home unit to recover legal costs. But by accepting that as part of Australian life as a migrant – I felt I am deeper owner of Australia than anyone who participated in and/or contributed to this unjust outcome through negligence of their duties.

No I did not win the positions on merit basis but in my mind due to my belief that I was the best candidate for the positions I applied for I was naturally elevated to the position of owner - the power represented by the Governing Council - by accepting the weaknesses that had their roots beyond the current generation. That is the ‘for better or for worse’ commitment that we undertake in marriage. This ownership was confirmed in action by both Chancellors of my time – Sir Anthony Mason and Dr. John Yu. Those who are governors need to have the heart to accept those who are worse. That is pardon at human level that all of us are capable of but not many exercise. In turn I believe that when the University of New South Wales adopts a more democratic and merit based structure – it would include the contribution I made which would naturally empower all those who feel part of that University. In a democratic system, the belief of the person with lesser status would be taken as the primary power until proven otherwise.

Ultimately the driving force is our Truth within and this becomes active when our bodies become weak and our brain is no longer desiring for us to look better than others. When there is a need to be recognized through our earned higher position we would feel that urge from within. In order to enjoy retirement, those who are yet to become independent would need to add themselves to those who have this strong inner powers.

To take similar approach with the Sri Lankan Universities I would need to renounce my status as an Australian and resume my status as Sri Lankan only – as it would have been if I had continue to live as Sri Lankan. Otherwise the effect of my actions would be interference in the sovereign affairs of another country. It’s our belief that gives us that sovereign / ownership power. To exercise that power legally – we need to show that legal form. Once we believe, we would give it Natural form whatever the obstacles – and in turn that manifestation would empower all investors at that place at that time. Once we believe we drive the system. A government / Council elected by such believers would never fail them.

JUSTA states in its letter to the University Grants Commission (UGC)‘The strategy followed by the University of Jaffna has been to make the applicant reapply again and again for no fault of his own, each time incurring a delay of around three years or more. When reapplying in a hurry details such as service on committees which bring points get lost. Besides, those with a phenomenal publication record tend to be diffident when asked to produce certificates and proof of past activity, when publications speak for themselves. Another application and another three years would bring Prof. Hoole to the threshold of retirement and he should not be asked to go through this again.’

My heart goes out to Professor Hoole and his supporters. If indeed the UGC shows the merit based outcome by appointing Professor Hoole to the position he has applied for – their status in my mind would be higher than that of the status allocated to Australian Executive Government. I have no doubt in my mind that on merit basis, Professor Hoole was the best candidate for every position he applied for. But the reality is that in a political organization – merit can win only after some irrecoverable losses. Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that the University of Jaffna was not born out of merit but as the political power to balance ‘Sinhala Only’ karma. All graduates and staff of the University of Jaffna carry this political disability in an academic environment.

My recommendation to Professor Hoole and his supporters is to continue to contribute to the University of Jaffna through academic freedom. There are other arms of the Jaffna education system that could be used for this purpose. The wide investments made by Professor Hoole would certainly become the deep root that Jaffna needs in Higher Education. Often we expatriates have to show only that level of status that the locals think they need. I recently observed a former Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna sitting on the ground outside the locked gates of Nallur Temple in Jaffna - with a few others who seemed to be about his age. The temple authorities did not allow him free entry just because he was once Vice Chancellor. To the extent that Vice Chancellor failed to uphold the merit based system during his time – he became a nobody in Jaffna. He talked as usual – but as per my observations no one was listening – or even pretending to listen, because without the University he was very ordinary! That’s Natural Justice.

As stated recently by me in relation to the Chief Minister of Northern Sri Lanka being expected to deliver quickly as per political merit - ‘The simple rule is that administratively a child is never above the parent in a family. At best they become equals through their commonness. One who seeks to achieve more than the parent – needs to separate first and become an outsider – using the laws of equality to treat their parent as an equal parent. That is devolution when the parent facilitates this. Then we carry the old values instead of abandoning them. If the child separates without the consent of the parent – the child has the obligation to renounce all benefits from the parental structure’