Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Colombo Uni in turmoil
By Ranga Jayasuriya
President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday evening appointed Dr. Kumar Hirimburegama, a Grade II
Senior Lecturer and the spouse of current Chairperson of the University Grants Commission (UGC), Prof.
Kshanika Hirimburegama, as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo.
From now onwards, the country’s premier university, Colombo will have a Grade II Senior Lecturer, the
lowest post in the State university system, as its Chief Executive Officer. Dr. Hirimburegama was also the junior most candidate
among the three names submitted by the University Council of the Colombo University to the UGC, for the VC post.
However, his marital relationship to the UGC chairperson appeared to have been an effective substitute for Dr. Hirimburegama’s
relative dearth in academic and professional credentials and in the race for the VC post, those attributes and his and his wife’s
loyalty to the current regime seems to have come in handy. Senior Professor Lakshman Dissanayake, the most senior among
the three nominees was overlooked by President Rajapaksa in favour of Dr. Hirimburegama.
The appointment itself was announced surreptitiously in the evening of Thursday, ahead of a long Vesak holiday.
The news of the appointment was received by the university dons with disdain. Now the academia is up in arms and an
extraordinary meeting of the University Teachers’ Union of the Colombo University has been summoned tomorrow to discuss
future course of action.
“Our position is clear. We are against this appointment because it is made with scant regard for meritocracy or seniority,”
President of Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA), Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri said.
“This is a political appointment and a disgrace,” he charged.
“The entire process (of the appointment of the Colombo VC) has been subjected to manipulation. Dr. Hirimburegama’s
appointment is clear proof that political loyalty has been the main and only requisite for the appointment,” Dr. Dewasiri alleged.
He also said the University Teachers’ Union of the Colombo University, an affiliate of FUTA, would announce its future course of
action. “We will shun him and we will give him time to resign,” he said.
“I don’t know how he acts as the Vice Chancellor when his appointment itself is illegitimate and he is disqualified to the post, in
the eyes of the majority of the university community,” Dr. Dewasiri claimed.
However, Dr. Hirimburegama appears to have one distinction – irrespective of the relative dearth in academic or professional
credentials, he has the support of the powers that be.
Minister of Higher Education, S.B. Dissanayake, said, “The President wanted someone who would stand with the government for
its policy. That may be why he was appointed.”
Dissanayake, who is known to have a severed relationship with FUTA, was dismissive towards concerns raised by the Federation
and the Colombo University dons.
“They can say and do whatever they want. We don’t care. Remember they held a major strike recently,” he added.
Dr. Hirimburegama’s appointment is the lowest point in the politicization of local university appointments in recent times.