April 19, 2017
Colombo Telegraph has come to know that the professor of Mathematics at the University of Jaffna who topped the VC’s election held recently has a questionable track record as academic administrator and public figure. Members of the University Council, as electors of Vice Chancellors, are obligated to search for and elect leaders with inclusive social vision for the highest administrative seat in the public university. If a candidate with a narrow social vision and proven history of sectarianism was able to secure the support of 17 out of the 23 Council members who cast their votes, it is a sad reflection of how these members appointed to the University Councils on the basis of their academic eminence, administrative experience and contribution to social progress evaluate the candidates, the political and ideological affiliations and preferences of the council members and their understanding of the role of the public university and its relationship to the marginalized segments of the country’s polity.
Jaffna University Council
We reliably learn that this professor of Mathematics, who received the highest number of votes, attempted to block the publication of an article that was scathing in its critique of casteism in Jaffna society two years ago. This well-researched article was written by an academic attached to the University of Peradeniya, for a felicitation volume for the Late Mr. Thangavadivel, a Left-wing activist who was involved in people’s struggles against caste discrimination in Jaffna and a well-known teacher at Udupiddy American Mission College. Both the writer of the article and the professor of Mathematics are alumni of Udupiddy American Mission College.
The article (click here to read the article), as it was submitted by the author for publication in the felicitation volume, appeared in a magazine called Aakkaaddi in 2015 with prefatory notes by the author about the attempts made by the said professor to block its publication. Academics and researchers who have contributed to academic conversations on caste and participated in public campaigns against caste-based discrimination wonder how this professor of Mathematics who tried to suppress freedom of expression in a public forum will ensure academic freedom at University of Jaffna, if he is appointed as the VC of the University by the President of the country. Some even questioned the wisdom and politics of the members of the University Council who voted for this professor of Mathematics in the VC’s election. They note that most members of the University Council are either deliberately blind to and complicit in practices of social exclusion that happen along lines of ethnicity, religion and caste in the University or out of touch with the realities on the ground.
The said professor of Mathematics also took efforts to move the university’s main entrance to face the Parameswaran temple inside the campus with a view to giving the University a Hindu character. Moreover, when he was the Dean of the Faculty of Science last year, he gave in to the demand made by the Tamil students to not include Kandyan Dancing in the procession held at the welcome event for the freshers though he initially supported the Sinhala students’ demand. When the Sinhala students defied this decision, and tried to perform Kandyan Dancing during the welcome procession, they were attacked by the Tamil students and the University was temporarily shut down. Colombo Telegraph reliably learns that some members of the Tamil People’s Council, a Tamil nationalist body that includes representatives of political parties and civil groups, actively campaigned for this professor’s victory. Even as the academic community in Jaffna is awaiting the appointment of the new Vice Chancellor, some newspapers in Jaffna have already declared that the UGC would soon announce the appointment of this professor as the University’s new Vice Chancellor and a letter in this regard had already been sent to the UGC by the President. He is also described as the next Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna at public events that he attends in the peninsula.