30 July 2012

No cheers for Govt. or FUTA

The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) is up in arms.  University students point fingers at the government for non-resolution of issues raised by their gurus.  University aspirants, victims of the Z-score imbroglio, are waiting on politicians to sort out the blame-game.  Add to this the fact that there is a huge mismatch between the education system and overall national skill requirement with a view to the future based on long term development policy with not even a whisper regarding the compilation of an occupational classification and we can conclude ‘Education is a mess’. 
FUTA has now gone beyond the salary issue to talk about education in general and specifically about budgetary allocations, countering claims made by the Government (a statement on the subject authored by FUTA President, Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri is carried in these pages).  It is incumbent on the Government therefore to respond as comprehensively to each and every point made.  Telling lecturers to get back to work and mouthing promises about redress will simply not work because a) FUTA has determined to dig its heels in for a long struggle, and b) broken promises have robbed value from pledge. 
FUTA has now moved from petition and strike to public agitation.  It has taken to the streets.  There is a big gap between taking to the streets and taking the streets of course, but there are talks of an ‘Academic Spring’ and FUTA feeding on general dissatisfaction and disappointment.  It makes political sense in terms of achieving objectives.  The downside is that such a course of action automatically turns teachers into pawns of broader political projects, some of which are orchestrated by forces that really don’t give a damn about education, ‘free’ or otherwise.  If FUTA or anyone else is unconcerned about the names and purposes of political bedfellows it only means that integrity is up for barter. 

FUTA may be made of academics but right now it is made of politicians, activists and, let’s face it, agent provocateurs. Right now it is in unionist mode.  Still, given the vocation, it is not out of order to toss back to FUTA certain tenets that are central to the membership. 
We can ask about academic honesty.  We can ask Dr. Dewasiri if FUTA is ready to write about all the negatives of the academic community that makes its membership.  What about competencies, for example?  How about the incessant infighting for the so-called voluntary posts that the FUTA membership has self-righteously resigned from on occasion?  FUTA’s professed love for students and scholarship does not right true when one considers rank favoritism and a culture of down-grading students who are considered potential threats to position, would Dr. Dewasiri disagree?  Can all of it be put down to fund-lack and flawed government policy? 

How about rampant mediocrity?  Will FUTA admit, for example, that its membership happily made use of a scandalous decision to count in even newspaper articles and appreciations when awarding professorships?  When will FUTA tell us how many peer reviewed articles have been published by individual members in various internationally respected journals? 
Prominent members of FUTA have on occasion written tirades against private universities, even as other prominent FUTA members have openly advocated capitalism and submission to market forces.  In fact the latter kind was conspicuous in their silence in the first two decades of the ‘Open Economy’.  Is party loyalty driving academic thrust, then?   Why have those who opposed the Malabe Medical facility on grounds of quality-lack remained silent about even poorer facilities and human resources at Rajarata?

The Government certainly does not have the moral right to ask such questions.  The people can, though.  Many would prefer academics as opposed to politicians playing Opposition in a nation that sorely needs strong critiques of regime and system.  No one expects anyone to be a saint, but ‘saintly’ is the unnamed tag that FUTA in its many missives have used.  FUTA is a body that has largely concerned itself with any major national issue.  That’s not wrong because unions typically focus on issues that are peculiar to the vocation.  Right now FUTA seems to determined to take on broader issues.  That has to be applauded in the better-late-than-never sense.  It requires responsibility, however.  And responsibility requires honesty.  That’s lacking and that lack may prove fatal in terms of winning over public trust, so important for the role that FUTA seeks to play, going strictly by its statements.

Right now, no one is applauding the government.  There are some hand claps for the academics, but they are guarded.  Rightly so.  Both parties have poor briefs to defend.  That shows how poverty stricken we all our as a people and as a nation. 
['The Nation' Editorial, July 29, 2012]


Academic trying hard said...

As an academic, I take offense to your characterization of the academic community. When I returned to the country after the completion of a PhD at a leading university in the US, I was enthusiastic about being able to return to my students and share the knowledge and experiences I had had there. It wasn't too long before I realized that I did not have the basic facilities to conduct a lecture. I have no access to a updated library so I cannot encourage active learning in my students,when I buy my own book I am not able to make enough copies for my students because of budgetary constraints in the faculty. I will not burden them with the expense of buying textbooks even if it is only an Indian edition. I wanted to use short video clips in my lectures. Finding a projector is a problem and getting a suitable room is even more difficult. I am expected to teach much more than the 3 - 3 load that my peers in foreign teaching universities teach. This is because the department is unable to increase cadre positions and hire new people. To all those people who believe that lecturers work three hours a week, I am up late in to the night just trying to prepare and be creative about the way I conduct my courses so that I am able to give at least some of what I saw US undergraduates get, even with the resource constraints we have. So please don't tell me I am not a good teacher. I am trying my best to work within a system that is broken.
Then there is the research. I am unable to access any of the leading journals in my field. I have to email me friends abroad if I need to read a journal article. It is embarrassing to say the least. I would have access to a few of these journals if I maintain memberships to professional organizations. But with the salary I get, I would be doing my family wrong if I kept renewing my memberships, so I have to limit myself to the bare minimum. Then there is the question of attending international conferences. I don't make enough to fund my own trips, but there is no support for it either. Getting a grant through the university means I am not likely to have access to any of the money when I need it. I don't want to deal with the red tape that is the university administration. The administration is chock full of political appointees. We have no lab space, the statistical software we use in all the labs in our faculty is a crack version, all ILLEGAL. In addition, all the teaching leaves very little time to actually sit down and design good quality innovative research. I hope you will permit us a few hours with our families. I hope that is not too much to ask. Please don't accuse me of not having publications in leading internationals journals in my field. I have done so even with these constraints and one tenth of the research facilities that my peers abroad have.
Besides that I have to serve on numerous committees and organize events again with not even the basics we need. I am not the only one. My colleagues fight the same battles I am fighting.
The hardships that students go through (please do not say that all university students are only interested in protest, because like everything else, is a lie) and the injustices that are done to them because of government actions is not even discussed here.
I am tired of being told I am useless. You as a journalist need to stop perpetuating a myth that is created by people who have little understanding of what goes on in the universities and the government in whose benefit it is not to recognize academics as useful members of society. You are doing a disservice to society by disseminating misinformation and lies about us.

Suranga Kodithuwakku said...

I feel pretty sorry about the remarks you made over the publications by the FUTA members. I would suggest you to go through the individual profiles of FUTA members e.g. Agriculture, UoP and see how much they have contributed to the academia. Also I would like to ask from you how many have you published in international level? The things you have mentioned might have done by few individuals. but do not try to generalize things for all the FUTA members. If you have a backbone, question the wastage and corruption done by the present government and ask them to divert that money to R &D and then question the research out puts of the FUTA members. I think you may know that none of the state universities have any access to data bases e.g. science direct and ask the UGC as how much they pay for international journal acquisitions per year? I challenge you to generalize your comment on R & D to all the FUTA members and prove that FUTA members are not working and publishing Mr. Malinda.......

Anonymous said...

In Malinda's generalization about FUTA and the Government (there is truth in what he says), a more important point has been raised by the two previous commenters. As an foreign academic in science, myself based outside of Sri Lanka but with many close ties to academia, and a former graduate student now back in Sri Lanka teaching and conducting quality research, I strongly empathize with their situation. The level of support for those who work 10 time harder than some of their foreign colleagues, for less than one tenth of the salary deserve more credit then they get. It is inexcusable for a Government to let this talent be abused while mediocre faculty members are being made professors based on dubious credentials while truly talented people have to sneak into their offices during strikes to do their work and risk not getting their meager salaries because others are striking. Something needs to be done. There are too many talented and energetic students and academics like 'Academic Trying Hard' and Suranga who deserve better for the commitment they are making to their profession and the countries future.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Suranga, I feel sorry that you've missed the caveats in my article. I would suggest that you go through the individual profiles of FUTA memebers in the Arts Faculty, Peradeniya and check their publications. Asking me how many I have published is silly (and, if you are an academic, sad). It's like me saying someone is a quack doctor and someone else asking how many patients I have cured. I am not an academic.

I have questioned and pointed out wastage and corruption, thank you very much. If you have a backbone (since you brought it up), can you tell me who you are, what kind of work you do and so on?

Malinda Seneviratne said...

I did not generalize, Academic Trying Hard. You need not wear hats that don't fit you. I am full of sympathy for hard working people, including academics with integrity. FUTA struts around as though its membership is made of saints. It is not.

Suranga Kodithuwakku said...

To Malinda,
You just google my name then you will find what kind of work I do and who I am . Even in the arts faculty , the new generation is pretty good when compared to many of the older generation and still some very good old academics are there I believe. If you specially refer to the Arts faculty academics in your writing, you should have a back bone to mention that you are referring to the Arts faculty academics. Mind you , you shouldn't be an academic to publish internationally.There are enough people I know who publish international with out being an academic.I too feel sorry for your poor knowledge on that aspect as well.What I meant was to criticize others work in a particular area, you must show first that you are capable enough to do that my friend!!!!! Otherwise there is no difference between you and our hon. minister.....

Suranga Kodithuwakku said...

p.s.you must use google scholar to find out what type of work I do.... sorry I mentioned as general google browser....

Malinda Seneviratne said...


You brought up the Agriculture Faculty. That's why I brought up the Arts Faculty. I did not generalize, so to talk about backbones here it rather puerile. You know, going strictly by what you've written here, I wouldn't even bother googling you. Logic is clearly not your strong point. Who is 'my' minister? I have none. I am not only not an academic, I am not interested in publishing in academic journals. To say that I have to in order to find fault with 'quackademics' is downright silly. If this is the best you can come up with, then YOU have proved my point: FUTA is out of order.

Anonymous said...

This is a response by one of our students who migrated to Australia looking for better opportunities while politicos and their henchmen like you eating out whole economy and the country for their own hegomony, making people to suffer like i
n "Hitlers era". Person like Milinda I don't think falls into group identified by dr.Mervin "අරක්කු වීදුරුවට ලියන මාද්ය කාරයො." at least try to understand why our talented future generation leaving our country like a hell.With very limited resources we produce world class citizens but as long as they are in SL they are worthless gradutaes for politicians.
Harinda Induruwa Thank u for ur wishes sir. I my self feels guilty for getting free education from my country and offer our knowledge and skills to well-being of some other country. But as you have mentioned the country is no more good place for educated people. It won't get developed till this opportunistic party politics prevails. Pity to see almost all educated young blood leaving the country at a rate.

Senal said...

If you aren't bothered to look at what the academics are doing even by at least googling and you do not like the field of scientific writing, how the hell can you say that they (academics) have got poor journal publication record.Can you give us some statistics about the claims that you are making with credible sources. I'd imagine that you'd say that you are not even bothered about my request (exact way you replied Mr. Suranga).

It is not FUTA that is out of order. Your blatant hypocritical journalism is terribly out of order.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

@the student who migrated to Australia. It’s easy to leave, harder to stay. We never find ourselves in ideal conditions. If name calling helps you deal with your guilt be my guest.

@ Senal: Look, this Suranga demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that he doesn’t have the intellect to comprehend a simple question. Why on earth should I bother googling him? I know enough of our universities (having been a student and a teacher) to know about the humbuggery. I’ve asked FUTA to provide details of the publications records of its membership. The UGC has made this request from universities for purposes of record-keeping and they’ve not responded. They will not. I know of people who print just 3 books, get an ISBN number and submit these with their promotions-applications. I know of one professor, a head-of-dept no less, who went on a Fulbright Schol to Cornell University and who smugly said ‘I didn’t do anything during that year’ (after I asked, in sequence, a) did you have to teach? b) did you have to present a paper, c) did you have to attend a seminar series, d) did you write anything at all?). ‘Blatant hypocritical journalism’…..well, I’ve got under the skin of a bunch of self-satisfied academics. I think I am doing my job.

Senal said...

I am sorry I couldn't find this particular link for a prompt reply

Yes you are right. You seem to be getting under the skin of many and at the rate you are writing about academics, you seems to be returning favors to many as well. What you are doing can be done by anyone and I believe you are better than this Mr. Malinda. It is a shame that you find fault only in academics while completely ignoring relevant authorities. There are cases of rotten apples which can be found in any sector. Not all academics are "13 day PhD", "Improperly appointed/promoted", "Doing noting at Cornell for one year" type. Despite meager resources many are doing an impressive job given the current context. It is not perfect but yet impressive. You point out few isolated incidents and insult many others who are worthy of their qualifications. If you don't agree then please provide sound evidence. Even I can say he said that they said that and concoct a story. If that is journalism then please forgive me, I didn't know. FUTA need not be a saint. We want somebody to represent us and talk of our grievances.

Incredibly none of your articles fail to evaluate what the government is doing to education. You are too smart to forget and not see it. For me it is still arrogance and hypocritical writing. CHEERS