Tuesday, March 26, 2013

FUTA Media Release on the ban imposed on the Student Unions at the Sabaragamuwa University

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22-03-2013, FUTA

The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) is deeply concerned about the situation that has been created by the ban
imposed on student unions at the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka by its higher authorities. FUTA considers this move as a grave violation of the democratic rights of students and a provocative action that could produce extremely dangerous consequences. FUTA notes with concern similar efforts to suppress lawful student union activities in other universities as well as attacks on student union leaders that have been reported recently.

The right to form student unions is a democratic right recognized by the Universities Act of 1978 and they have a significant role to play in ensuring the normal and healthy functioning of the student community. On one hand they function as a coordinating bridge
between the university administration and the student community and, on the other hand, they provide practical understanding and training to the student community on their social responsibilities. There is no doubt that there are instances where certain behaviors of these student bodies appear to be problematic and unacceptable. However, the university administration and the academic community must have an intelligent and mature approach to deal with such situations. Unfortunately, the politicization of the university administration has meant that they have lost any moral authority to take a principled, responsible stand with students.

One of the fundamental problems faced by the current university system is that senior university administrators view their primary task as pleasing the higher echelon of the state political authority. This is because they have acquired these positions not because they are qualified for these positions but because they have the backing of these politicians and the latter is convinced that they can manipulate the former. Under these circumstances university administrators do not have the integrity or character to directly confront the student community with any degree of moral authority. Therefore, the only alternative available when the students behave in a manner that displeases them is to unleash repressive measures on student activities. Students are viewed as enemies to be brought under control even by unlawful means.

The situation in the Sabaragamuwa University which has culminated in the ban imposed on Student Unions is an ideal example of this situation. FUTA does not consider such attitudes and measures as challenges faced only by the student community. FUTA is of the view that such measures are logical outcomes of the appointments of political loyalists to the University Grants Commission, Vice Chancellor positions of universities and other high posts in the university administration affecting the entire university
system including the academic and non academic community. The heart of the problem lies in the issue of university autonomy that the FUTA has been consistently highlighting recently. This is also why FUTA recently raised concerns with regard to the appointment of the Vice- Chancellor of the University of Colombo. Therefore, the FUTA reiterates the need to intervene actively and effectively to defend university autonomy and resist political interference in order to rectify this situation as an issue not merely relevant to the student community but to the entire university system. At the same time FUTA urges the administration of the Sabaragamuwa University to lift the ban on Student Unions and to initiate a fruitful dialogue with the student community.

Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri

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