Mr. M. A. V. Devanathan

The Island of Sept. 6 carried a biography of Mr. M. A. V. Devanathan. I say Mr. as appropriate for someone who was awarded by London its higher doctorate, the D.Sc. degree, which in fact is omitted in the biography.

It is important not to diminish his record even by oversight because the University of Ceylon and its successors have for long tended to oust people of high quality like Mr. Devanathan who too was pushed out by a university system that cannot stomach merit.

Sabbatical leave is routinely awarded with a rarely exercised clause that for institutional needs it can be denied. As I understand it from my time at Peradeniya, Mr. Devanathan earned his sabbatical leave and, after his Department Head and Dean had approved it, he accepted an appointment abroad, sold his car and vacated his university quarters. At that point, on the eve of his departure abroad, the Vice Chancellor - Sir Nicholas Attygalle, said to have been the only Vice Chancellor without a degree who was appointed because of his position in the Senate and his being President of the Buddhist Theosophical Society. He had a licentiate in medicine and FRCS with no academic accomplishments. Senathi Thambirajah in an article in The Island of April 21, 2003 has remarked that so powerful was he that he was appointed after reaching the retirement age so that he could not be retired because he would never reach that age. It took student riots to make him go – refused him leave and by then it was a matter of honour for Mr. Devanathan to take the appointment he had accepted and therefore he resigned.

There was no institutional reason for the VC to refuse leave after the Dean and Head had approved it. But when the teachers’ union took up the issue, the brief response from the small-minded VC was that sabbatical leave is a privilege and not a right.

On his return Mr. Devanathan was never able to get a suitable appointment in the university system which was his natural home, given that fundamental research was his base. (At the TRI he dabbled with instant tea. My wife Dushyanthi was given an early sample by him to take to Peradeniya as a student, as he had roomed together in Colombo with my father-in-law in their bachelor days).

If I am not mistaken, he went to the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania on sabbatical leave where his daughter was born giving her citizenship rights. Thus during the 1983 riots, his widow and daughter fled to the US from the country they had continued to serve despite the shabby treatment they received. I was privileged to meet them occasionally at a Roman Catholic Church in Pasadena when I went to drop-off and pick up an aunt of mine, Jeyaranee Vedanayagam, who knew them well, and be subsequently invited to their home.

I wish people of that period would add to the necessary documentation of the life of this truly great man of whom all Sri Lankans can be justly proud.

Prof. S. Ratnjeevan H. Hoole

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