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Woebegone: Rejection of Hoole’s Application

( March 5, 2014, Jaffna, Sri Lanka Guardian) Following the rejection at the February Meeting of the Jaffna University Council of Ratnajeevan Hoole’s application for the Post of Senior Professor of Computer Science, the Executive Committee of Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association was outraged that the services of an academic ordered in February 2006 by the University Services Appeals Board can be rejected on various transparent pretexts at a time when they are so badly short-staffed. The following letter of protest was circulated among the members of the University Grants Commission and the Jaffna University Council. Theirs is a demand asking why the university decided to refuse the application submitted by Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole, a prominent academic, and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna.

In 2002 Hoole applied for both the advertised chairs of Engineering and Computer Science (CS), and was processed for neither.

In July 2004, Hoole applied for the advertised post of Professor of Computer Science (CS). Without appointing a selection board to decide his suitability, SAR Academic (as minuted by him) suppressed it after consulting the Vice Chancellor, following adverse minutes by Dean Science and Head Computer Science to the effect that the applicant was unsuitable because he had neither a doctorate nor a first degree in Computer Science.

Hoole upon seeing the post re-advertised in May 2005, learnt about the suppression of his application the previous year and contested it before the University Services Appeals Board (USAB). In its judgment of 21st February 2006, the USAB ordered the University of Jaffna to process Hoole’s application for the post of Senior Professor of CS and make the appointment before 31st March 2006.

The university authorities in Jaffna, were extremely reluctant to let a selection board, comprising mainly its appointees, decide on Hoole’s suitability. The Dean Science in his personal capacity petitioned the Court of Appeal on 30th March 2006 to quash the USAB’s order. He said, “The material issue before the [USAB] was whether [Hoole] possessed a degree with specialization in the relevant subject [of Computer Science]”. By making the University a respondent, he made it cough up large sums in legal fees without achieving the objective of the Court endorsing him.

Dean Science, who was subsequently made Acting Vice Chancellor, writing to the Chairman UGC on 4th July 2006, gave additional reasons for not following the USAB’s order. One was the time given being insufficient, the other importantly, that it being 21 months from the closing date of the advertisement (July 2004), ‘the validity of the application is lost according to UGC Establishment Circular [Letter] No.17 (CL 17) of 3rd November 2005’, wherefore the post is being re-advertised. Ironically, CL 17 provides rather for expeditious appointment to senior professor of eminently qualified persons and says nothing about the validity of an advertisement.

Upon Hoole’s return to Sri Lanka, having resigned his position at Rensselaer Polytechnic in the US, His Excellency the President wrote to the UGC Chairman on 13th September 2010, calling for Hoole to be appointed as Senior Professor of CS in Jaffna in accordance with the orders of the USAB.

The Vice Chancellor, writing to the UGC on 4th December 2010 repeated the same positions taken by the former Acting Vice Chancellor, including the applicant not having a first degree in Computer Science. Without any reference, he claimed that the validity of an advertisement lapsed after 18 months. On this misunderstanding, his response to the President’s order was to re-advertise the post on 14th January 2011 calling for a fresh application from the applicant.

In response to Hoole’s fresh application to the USAB, the present Vice Chancellor responded on 26th July 2011, justifying the misuse of CL 17, claiming the University has acted reasonably in implementing the USAB order of February 2006, and is further implementing the President’s directive by processing the fresh application made by Hoole.

Thus all three chief executives of the University have acted on a gross misrepresentation of CL 17 as regards validity of advertisement without the caution of checking back and piously claimed to follow the rules. The period of validity of the process is addressed in UGC Circular 699 of 1997, qualified by 732: A decision must be reached on an application within six months of the advertisement, extended maximum two times, three months at a time, with UGC sanction. This takes into account the fact that a qualified candidate cannot and should not be kept waiting indefinitely. It is certainly unacceptable for the University to sit on an application without processing it and then demand a fresh one claiming expiry of the advertisement. More pertinently, the University ignored the salient fact that a cutoff date does not apply to a court (i.e. USAB) order. The University of Jaffna has wantonly violated the rules without the UGC checking it. Two important points stand out in the entire processing.

First, none of the four subject specialists in the recent selection board, the two senate nominees and two UGC nominees, assessing Prof. Hoole’s application has a first degree in Computer Science. CS is a new area and practically all senior academics in the field are from engineering or an allied field. Indeed, Jaffna’s first CS department head, Dr. S. Kanaganathan, was Prof. Hoole’s PhD student.

And second, the interview arranged for Prof. Hoole on 30th January 2014 was a fraudulent exercise unworthy of a university of standing. The Vice Chancellor assured the USAB in July 2011 that Prof. Hoole’s application to the post advertised in January 2011 was being processed. The fact of making him apply again was based on the inexcusably fictitious representation of CL 17 as pertaining to the expiry of an application, ignoring the USAB order. Thus interviewing Prof. Hoole for the post 36 months after he applied was a parody of the rules alien to CL 17 and completely against the spirit of Circular 699 (732), besides an affront to the President’s directive. It was an exercise in fooling the applicant and members of the selection board.

As said earlier, there is a commonsense answer to this problem, recognized in the much abused CL 17, which says, ‘an applicant for the post of Senior Professor does not have to be evaluated according to the strict marking scheme for the post of Professor.’ It is meant to allow persons who have earned international renown and distinction to be recruited without the red tape that has been abused in Prof. Hoole’s case. Asking people who do not have a corresponding level of attainment to sit in judgment on persons with undeniable international acclaim, leads to the kind of unfortunate situation that brings down the system’s reputation for integrity and commonsense.

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.

In making Prof. Hoole apply three times afresh, it is likely that documents he had submitted earlier would not all have been submitted again and were lying in the University’s basement without being used to complement fresh applications. However, UGC Circular 838 does not require an applicant for senior professor having to submit all documents. The Panel knew that he had been senior professor in their system. They had kept him waiting to be interviewed on Skype for over four hours in the night. They could have asked him to show important missing documents or significant new documents. They dispersed after meeting briefly ostensibly upon discovering that he lacked points, without a word to him out of courtesy. Going by their training in the local system, they simply totted up points on documents the University provided for miscellaneous things, as a clerk could have done, and completely missed out on the larger picture of a scholar and his work. (Why did they ask him to come all the way for an interview when he lacked the points?) The ordeal has been very unjust, and even vindictive, to Prof. Hoole and destructive to the University of Jaffna. While good universities seek out scholars and bend regulations to accommodate them, we have abused and misinterpreted regulations to keep out those who come.

We, the Executive Committee of the JUSTA earnestly seek the UGC’s intervention to take the commonsense view of Prof. Hoole’s case and urge upon the University of Jaffna to appoint him as Senior Professor of Computer Science on the basis of his senior professorship at Peradeniya. Obliging him to repeat the process once more will only make him ineligible on account of age. Circular Letter No.17 above provides a way to do this expeditiously. His experience and presence would also benefit the newly founded Engineering Faculty.

Thank You

Yours Sincerely
President, on behalf of JUSTA

General Secretary, on behalf of JUSTA

Copy to: Members of the Council /University of Jaffna

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