Appointment of the Colombo University VC


Permit me some space to congratulate Professor Savithri Goonasekere on her article entitled, "The collapse of institutions" and your forthright editorial - both in the Sunday Island of 17th March 2013.

The present University of Colombo has gone through a long process of evolution from the Medical School established in 1870, the Ceylon University College of 1921, the Colombo Campus of the University of Ceylon founded in 1942, and it’s final establishment as a full fledged University in 1967. The alumni of the University of Colombo, previous Vice Chancellors, Deans, Professors and present academic staff regard it as the jewel in the crown of Sri Lankan Universities.

An institution with any pretensions to being a University must necessarily have as Vice Chancellor a person of impeccable academic, administrative and research credentials and leadership qualities. As pointed out by Professor Goonasekere , if laid down procedures are not followed, the integrity of the system comes into question. A very basic recruitment or selection criterion is that applicants who do not fit the specifications in the advertisement cannot be entertained . Furthermore, as explained by Professor Goonasekere , there can be no rationale for the UGC to ignore the dictates of section 34(1) of the University Act.

The phrase ‘conflict of interest’ has been bandied about in statements and counter statements to the media. When a Vice Chancellor of the South Asian Institute of Technology and Management (SAITM) was concurrently a member of the UGC, the Sri Lanka Medical Council raised the question of "conflict of interest". The then UGC Chairman blithely replied (verbally) that when SAITM was discussed the person concerned left the meeting room. The present UGC Chairperson appears to have borrowed a leaf from the former and expressed a very narrow view of conflict of interest, a sad comment on academics in high places. A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that actions regarding one’s primary duties will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest. Ethics and public perceptions apply. Among its many duties, the UGC allocates grants to Universities, recommends additional cadre, approves the setting up of university units and departments, regulates the administration of universities and admission of students and investigates matters relating to student discipline and student unrest. There lie the possibilities of conflict of interest. It would be absurd to envisage a situation where the UGC Chair has to walk out of the meeting room when any of these matters pertaining to the University of Colombo are discussed.

There is a stated vision that Sri Lanka should become an educational hub. Countries that are presently recognised as educational hubs did not achieve this global status by declaring themselves as educational hubs. Among other things they appoint Vice Chancellors and Deans who are educationally savvy and who have demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities. These academics delivered through the innovative measures they introduced. The University of Colombo deserves such a Vice Chancellor.

Many alumni of the University of Colombo are gravely concerned about this issue, and hope that the matter will be settled in the best interest of the University system and especially the University of Colombo.

Vidyajyothi Professor

Lalitha Mendis

Emeritus Professor, University of Colombo

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