Friday, June 18, 2021

FUTA unhappy over arbitrary rejection of nominations for the post of VC of Open University of Sri Lanka. Writes to President expressing extreme displeasure and strong opposition

Sri Lanka university teachers’ union, Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) writes to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressing extreme displeasure and strong opposition regarding the arbitrary rejection of the names of candidates recommended by the council of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL), for the post of Vice Chancellor (VC).

According to FUTA, President’s office has arbitrarily rejected the shortlist names with no apparent reason. FUTA says they believe such an arbitrary action creates an extremely negative precedent for the entire university system. This arbitrary rejection implies that President has no faith either in the VC selection system introduced by the government or in the council of the university, which is the supreme governance body of the institution. This message sent out by this action is that the President will reject nominations for the post of VC until such time that a name acceptable to the him is forwarded and it will lead to the direct politicization of the VC selection process. Such an impression within the academic community will discourage many highly qualified and independent academics from applying for the top position in the university, leaving the door open for mediocre and politically partisan individuals to become the VC.

Arbitrary rejection of the nominations for the post of Vice Chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL).

Full Letter – As the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA), the body that represents all academic staff of the entire state university system in the country we write to express our extreme displeasure and strong opposition regarding the arbitrary rejection of the names of candidates recommended by the council of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL), for the post of Vice Chancellor (VC) of that University, which falls vacant on 23/06/2021.

We would like to bring to your attention that these candidates have been selected following a procedure introduced by your government through the University Grants Commission (UGC) Circular No 02/2020 of 4th May 2020. Under this system, five candidates are selected at first by a five-member committee comprising two academics from within the university and three members nominated by the UGC. The circular requires this committee to allocate marks to the applicants according to a pre-defined set of criteria as specified in the aforementioned circular. Then within the same day, the council of the university re-allocates marks for the five candidates based on their qualifications, experience and a presentation they may before the council, and select three names which are ranked according to the marks they receive. This list is then forwarded to the UGC and the UGC is expected to forward this list to your excellency with its recommendation. As mentioned in clause no.34 (1) (a) of the Universities Act of 1978 it is the President’s duty to then appoint a suitable candidate from the three names thus sent considering the UGC’s recommendation.

We observe that this entire procedure, which took up to 06 months was carried out properly in this instance, but your office has arbitrarily rejected the shortlist with no apparent reason. As FUTA we believe such an arbitrary action creates an extremely negative precedent for the entire university system. This arbitrary rejection implies that you have no faith either in the VC selection system introduced by your own government or in the council of the university, which is the supreme governance body of the institution. This message sent out by this action is that the President will reject nominations for the post of VC until such time that a name acceptable to the him is forwarded and it will lead to the direct politicization of the VC selection process. Such an impression within the academic community will discourage many highly qualified and independent academics from applying for the top position in the university, leaving the door open for mediocre and politically partisan individuals to become the VC.

In the current period of crisis where the Corona virus pandemic has caused multiple negative impacts on Sri Lanka’s economy and society, we need independent and qualified academics to lead our university system. Upending an established procedure and creating confusion within the academic community is not the kind of action that we as FUTA expect from an enlightened political leadership. We also believe that the arbitrary rejection of the nominations undermines the core principles of autonomy and democratic governance enshrined within the Universities Act of 1978 and creates an impression of highly politicized executive overreach in university governance. Given the above context, FUTA demands that the re-advertisement process for the post of VC of the OUSL be immediately halted and that a suitable candidate from the already recommended list be appointed as soon as possible. Your excellency’s failure to act responsibly and transparently at this juncture can lead to the destabilization of the entire university system of the country.

www.lankauniversity-news.com

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