Glimpses of the Real University Crisis

Gerald H. Peiris, in The Island, 31 October 2012 … drafted 24 October 2012

Three months of agonising wait is finally over for tens of thousands of youth in the higher strata of our educational system, now that the so-called ‘university crisis’ is deemed to have ended, and our dons have decided to resume their routine duties. Many among them would like us to know that had it not been for their patriotic zeal they would have left Sri Lanka to sell their brains in far more lucrative markets. Mighty decent of them.

In fairness to this fraternity I should say that it has seldom resorted to politically confrontational trade union action, and, until a few weeks back, never took to the streets to win their demands.  This time around they mobilised considerable public support for their cause, mainly by misrepresenting their case and camouflaging their objective. They appear to have been so persuasive that even some of the sternest critics of higher education including those of the media did not (as far as I am aware) really challenge the legitimacy of the FUTA agitation for higher salaries, leave alone its other demands and claims relating to imperilled free education, inadequacy of government spending on education, university autonomy, and the brain-drain.

The FUTA strike, however, did produce a vibrant public discussion that extended over some of these demands and claims. Among the contributions by the university staff to the discussion (some of which vividly but unintentionally illustrated the crux of the real crisis in higher education) there were the attempts to present the university teachers’ perspectives on issues such as the loss of scholarly talents due to low salaries, how enhanced university grants could be used for elevating the quality of higher education (Jayadeva Uyangoda in The Island of 3 October 2012), and why politicians should not interfere in university affairs.  There were, in addition, the more focused inputs by intellectuals outside the university system which undoubtedly enriched the quality of the discussion. Those among them that were particularly useful were the commentary on the ‘Trade Union Action by FUTA’ by Jayantha Dhanapala and Savitri Goonesekere (The Island, 8 October 2012), and Usvatte-aratchi’s clarification titled ‘Expenditure on Education’ (Sunday Island, 14 October 2010). The frequent references by the FUTA to large numbers of unfilled cadre vacancies in the universities, presumably as evidence of the inability of the universities to attract suitably qualified persons to their staff, were placed in proper perspective by Rajiv Wijesinha (The Island, 10 October 2012) whose data indicated that, at least in some of the faculties and departments of study he has specifically referred to, the need of the hour is retrenchment rather than recruitment. And, had the FUTA heeded the advice given by Erik de Silva fairly early in the proceedings (The Island of 13 September 2012) it could have avoided persisting with the blunder of demanding an increase of government expenditure on education to 6% of the GDP.

It is in the hope that this discussion will continue and reach greater depths, as it surely must, and also be free of personalised vested interests including those of electoral politics, that the present paper is being written. I am conscious of the possibility that its contents will not please my former colleagues some of whom I hold in high esteem. I fully agree with Rajiv Wijesinha’s demonstration (referred to above) that, in most matters, it would be unfair to generalise on the university teaching community. Since I expect to venture into some of the less well known features of our university system, I should, in addition, make it clear that the paper is based very largely on my intimate association with the University of Peradeniya for well over half a century. My interactions with the other universities in Sri Lanka have been confined throughout to informal contact with a few members of their staff and a few of their graduates – mostly those in the Social Sciences.

Government Funding of Education: It is, indeed, quite amazing that spokespersons of the community representing the highest levels of educational attainment in Sri Lanka in which graduates in Economics probably outnumber those with advanced qualifications in any other academic discipline have continued to persist with the patently  absurd demand that the government should allocate 6% of the Gross Domestic Product – note that the phrase “equivalent to 6% of the GDP” was never used by the FUTA leaders in their oral or written representations. Certain persons outside the university system, extending qualified sympathy to the FUTA cause (‘Arthika Vishleshaka’ of The Nation of 14 October 2012 comes to mind as an example), with intentions, no doubt, of protecting the university teachers from public ridicule, have explained to us that what is really being demanded is a much needed change in the government spending priorities which should involve, among other things, a higher level of resource allocation to education. In yet another display of ingenuity, the Editor of The Nation suggested that the “6%” is a brilliantly conceived slogan – symbolically, a resounding ‘No’ to the rampant corruption and lawlessness in the ranks of the government. And then, there was this fig-leaf titled ‘Six percent of GDP on education: From fantasy to reality’ (The Island of 17 October 2012) by Sumanasiri Liyanage according to whose rationalisation, FUTA’s demand could be considered meaningful “if it is linked with such far-reaching changes in the prevailing economic system” – that is to say, a socialist revolution, he being a Marxist and that kind of thing. In the picture adorning this article (obviously not Liyanage’s) we see this delightful little kid leading the procession of the “Saviours of State Education” from Moratuwa, carrying the “6%” banner, and wearing a red T-shirt embellished with yet another banner, the ‘Stars and Stripes’. It seemed as if the picture was depicting unseen things that were really happening? I now prefer to think of it as one of many displays of insensitivity – like the salary demand.

The plain fact is that the “6% demand” was nothing other than a blunder kept alive through cupidity by those of the university community who should have known better (I am glad that Liyanage has exonerated a small group of Economists of the University of Colombo from this charge). This is not to deny that it attracted support ‒ it did, from a whole array of disparate forces that see the university system as the Achilles Heel of this powerful regime.

It was finally left for Usvatte-aratchi, our expert on Public Finance and aficionado of Education, to educate the public on the difference between the GDP and Government Expenditure, and to show that the latter was equivalent to only about 21 % of the former in 2011, an year during which the government expenditure on various fields of formal education was about 9% of its total expenditure (1.8% of the GDP). In simple arithmetic based on 2011 values, in order to ensure an educational expenditure equivalent to 6% of the GDP (without an increase in private expenditure on education) it would have been necessary for the government to raise its financial input to education from 9% to about 29%. Such a scenario would have meant a drastic curtailments of expenditure on other things the government is required to do such as debt servicing, payment of salaries to its employees, and capital expenditure (which, in 2011, accounted for 25%, 17% and 48%, respectively, of the total government expenditure).

Milton Rajaratne, the ‘Management’ expert from Peradeniya, attempted (Sunday Times, 7 October 2012) to show how the government, with sound management of the economy, could meet the “6% demand”. Having prefaced his thesis with an unfortunate falsehood that the allocation of “6% of GDP for Education was advocated by the government itself”, he argued in more reasonable vein that what the government needs to do in order to meet this demand is to: (a) eliminate waste, (b) re-prioritise expenditure, and (c) improve tax collection. Yes, there could be no serious disagreement on these necessities.

There is, in fact, a great deal of almost criminal waste associated, not so much with incompetence, but with the “boast of heraldry, the pomp of power” which we see at all levels of government activity including the universities. Here is a little story to illustrate what I say. A few years ago the authorities of the University of Peradeniya, acting on instructions of the UGC, set about the task of formulating a long-term plan for its development. Having gathered information for this purpose from various sections of the university (but not, apparently, setting plan targets), what do they do?  They (a fairly large group consisting mostly of academic staff) shifted their planning venue to luxury hotels ‒ over a spell at Ahungalle, and thereafter at Kandalama. Is this the way to set about planning for a university which cramps 4 students to a room in its Halls of Residence? Is this not the same mindset that makes the President of the country take an entourage of some 160 (the number reported in the media) to New York in order to address the UN General Assembly which, as everyone knows, is a massive yawn of a ceremony? The world over, it is not only the kings and queens who squander tax-payers’ money for personal joy and splendour. That apart, it is also relevant to note that even if all our leaders were to suddenly embrace a Gandhian way of life, the resulting saving will make up only a tiny fraction of the “6%” the FUTA demands. There are ways in which far more substantial savings – not only of money but far more important things ‒ could be achieved, the most urgently necessary among which is the abrogation of the Provincial Council system foisted on us whimsically by the government of India to cater to its own needs. It didn’t solve any, but created many problems. But that is a different subject.

There could, I think, be no serious dispute on the need advocated by Rajaratne for certain changes in the government’s spending priorities, although the view that the prevailing focus on socio-economic infrastructure represents a misplaced priority is debatable. What I think Prof. Rajaratne has meant when he says “reprioritise expenditure” is merely that government should spend more than it does on Education. OK, we agree.

Improving tax collection? The ‘Rajaratne formula’ could be summarised as follows. The 2011 “tax revenue” (not confined to income tax) was 12.4% of the GDP. If it could be raised to 16.9% of the GDP, the government will (he says) have at its disposal an additional Rs. 272 billion which, if spent on Education, will make the total educational expenditure of the government approximate 6% of the GDP. It requires expertise (which I do not possess) to consider whether the Rajaratne proposal is feasible. No expert, as far as I am aware, has hitherto commented on it. But assuming it is worthy of serious consideration, I have a better idea. Why not introduce into our system of taxation an ‘Educational Tax’(involving, inter alia, the extraction of a flat 10% of income from those with annual incomes of over Rs. 600,000, without any exemption from the usual income tax, but with a P.A.Y.E. system designed to minimise evasion), the entire revenue from which would be channelled to educational development. Needless to stress, the university teachers, all of whom are within the highest 10% of income-earners of the country even now, and are so totally committed to educational development, will gladly contribute to this tax.

There is another implication of the “6% demand” which tends to be overlooked – namely, that such a level of educational expenditure without a substantial increase of government revenue from its present levels would unavoidably result in a curtailment of resources allocated to other segments of the economy which, in turn, would have a disastrous impact on education. Only a few would recollect today the dreadful conditions of the early 1970s (with average annual real growth rate hovering around 1.2%) when the government found it difficult to employ (even as ‘Interns’) the meagre output of the two medical faculties in existence at that time. For many Arts graduates it was a time of despair, the continuing absorption of some among them into school education, notwithstanding. University learning in the Social Sciences, for instance, was made to appear utterly redundant by the spectacle of some of the more talented graduates, recruited as ‘Development Officers’ and distributed among the ‘DRO Divisions’ of that time, being made to idle, loitering outside their office buildings, sometimes in groups of 15 or 20, because their bosses – the DROs – did not have even chairs, leave alone work, to offer them. (I have documented the related details in a research paper on the so-called ‘Divisional Development Councils Programme’ launched in 1972.). The gist of what I say here is perhaps a well known fact – namely, that one of the vital necessities for educational development is that of ensuring productive employment to the products of the educational system, much of which has to be generated outside the educational sector.

Higher Salaries for University Teachers? According to information furnished in an article carried in a recent issue of The Sunday Times, the FUTA demand in respect of salaries is, (a) an increase of 20% of the existing salary, backdated to 1 January 2012, and (b) a further increase of about 16.5% , with effect from January 2013, without a change in the existing allowances – in short, a steep salary increase, when compared with previous salary increases for state sector workers in Sri Lanka including the university staff. The main reasons adduced to justify this demand are (a) the failure of the universities to attract the most gifted scholars to their staff, (b) the failure of the universities to retain those recruited – i.e. ‘brain drain’, and (c) the inability of university teachers to perform their functions at optimum levels of efficiency and commitment on account of dire economic hardships. These deserve to be placed under careful scrutiny.

It was, once again, my friend Usvatte who presented the most persuasive case supporting the recruitment problem attributed to low salaries by showing that executive-grade officers of the Central Bank whose qualifications are similar to those of the university teachers are paid substantially higher salaries than university teachers (Note that there has been an acrimonious refutation of Usvatte’s data – which is of no consequence to us unless, of course, the refutation is a prelude to a “Save Free Banking” struggle.). Usvatte is correct. Long years ago, he, along with A S Jayawardena from the Bank (who went along to become its Governor) and I, along with Leslie Gunawardena (who went on to become the Vice-Chancellor at Peradeniya, and then, the Minister of Scientific Affairs) were literally in the same boat, but with a huge difference in the salaries and other benefits made available by our respective employers. This difference between the Central Bank and the university is nothing new, and was never a grievance. It remains a fact however that, with its higher salaries and other lavish benefits, the Central Bank (or any other bank) has hardly ever been able to entice those recruited to serve our universities in Economics and allied fields of study. Over many decades since the establishment of the University of Ceylon in 1942, for graduates in almost all academic fields, university teaching was invariably the first choice in employment. This was the case, as Usvatte would recollect, even for the hero of Aluth Māthanga (his fascinating semi-autobiographical novel). That preference is observable even today. The university has continued to be a very attractive place – to begin one’s carrier, launch a family, become your own boss at the work-place where you don’t need favours from anyone, and, if so inclined, work hard.

Salaries at the university have hardly ever been particularly attractive, but there are the perks and privileges not available to almost all other employees of the state sector – higher retirement age, paid overseas leave to pursue post-graduate studies and/or professional qualifications, additional payments for internal examination work and graduate-level teaching (a practice not followed at universities elsewhere, but a substantial supplementary income), a provident fund that grows monthly at the rate of 25% of the salary, easier access to scholarships and fellowships (for those maintaining a reasonably good record of research), paid sabbatical leave, flexible daily work schedules (especially in the ‘Arts’), less stringent promotional prospects, and opportunities for private practice including consultancy assignments outside the university system. University teachers have also been free to participate in any kind of political activity including campaigning for or against the ruling parties. This is probably why there has always been a “special relationship” between dons and politicians. I’ll come to that later in my observations on ‘University Autonomy’.

On the ‘brain drain’ (i.e. the alleged inability of the university to retain its more competent staff) there are slightly different perspectives which need to be looked at against the backdrop of the fact that brain drain has, since ancient times, been a fairly common phenomenon in higher learning the world over. And, needless to stress, the brain drain from countries like ours cannot be plugged by increasing salaries. Those who would go for money will go anyway.

The Arts Faculty at Peradeniya began to lose some of its more talented scholars in their mid-career to other universities in Sri Lanka from about the late 1950s when, in fact, the emigration of scholarly talent from Sri Lanka to universities outside the country had already begun in incipient form. From about the early 1970s there was a sharp upsurge of this outflow, with some of the best products of the so-called ‘Jennings-Atygalle Era’ leaving the faculty. Apart from their own scholarly competence, there was a whole range of factors that provided them with this mobility, such as the international “recognition” of their credentials (which invariably included doctoral degrees from some of the best universities), patronage from their former supervisors and others with influence in foreign university circles, relaxation of ‘White Australia’ restrictions, and, more generally, the ‘Friedmanite’ economic boom in the west.  Having known most of them at a personal plane, I should also say that, to the majority among them, low salary was not the reason ‒ certainly not the main reason ‒ for their decision to emigrate. Many other reasons – frustration generated by declining job-satisfaction (one of the best among them,  a Sociology guru, once lamented that his students don’t like him anymore because he does not dictate notes), estrangement of Sinhalese-Tamil relations (huge losses on account of this in all faculties), increasing levels of violence within and outside the university, desire to give the best possible education to the children, scarcity of essential consumer goods – probably served as the main “push factors” in their departure. For most of them there were also the “pull factors” – those that made it possible for some among them to reach positions of eminence in the world of learning.

By about the early 1990s the brain drain from the ‘Arts’ segments of our universities had reduced to an inconsequential trickle, mainly for the reason that without the required level of competence in English, it became difficult for their teachers to compete for the increasingly stringent and restricted opportunities for employment in foreign universities. We continued to have a small minority of scholars in the Social Sciences, Humanities and Language Studies with the required level of competence to serve at good universities anywhere in the world. But the reality is that even they face almost insurmountable odds in their struggle to get at least short-term ‘sabbatical’ assignments, leave alone tenured jobs, outside the country.

In numbers (and probably in quality as well) my impression is that the largest ‘brain drain’ losses in the long term have been from Medicine, Dental Science, Veterinary Science and Engineering,  followed by Agriculture and the ‘pure’ sciences.Not only do these faculties skim the cream from our schools, but they have continued to produce graduates, the best of whom regularly demonstrate their ability to meet the rigorous requirements of internationally recognised academic and/or professional qualifications, and to work efficiently at some of the most prestigious institutions abroad. Many among those of their younger staff who go abroad for higher studies never return, and many of their seniors have also left and keep on leaving. But note that it is not only the high fliers in fields such as medicine, dentistry and engineering that easily find lucrative jobs abroad. Is there an interesting irony here – I mean, in the fact that those segments of the university system that have suffered most as a result of the brain drain, continuing to produce “world class” graduates? Maybe, the brain drain doesn’t make a difference so long there is a constant inflow of talented and motivated students. Furthermore, a substantial brain drain from a university could also mean that it is a “world class” place.!

This brings us to the issues pertaining to economic hardships of university teachers – the third rationalisation of the salary struggle. In the early stages of our university, Ivor Jennings made sure that the university community lived in reasonable comfort. It was well fed and well housed. Even some among those of Assistant Lecturer rank lived in those beautifully designed ‘C Bungalows’. The transformation from that resplendent ‘Vishwavidyalaya’ to ‘Ashwavidyalaya’, however, took less than a decade; and thereafter, the trend was downhill. The aggravating problems of the university staff since that time to the present were, it should be understood, not more severe than the usual middle-class problems in countries that are at transition from the global ‘low income’ to ‘middle income’ range. In order to realise this one has only to look at what teachers in places like University of Delhi or JNU go through despite salaries higher than those in Sri Lanka. But what should not be ignored is that, at least in certain fields of higher education, the university segment of our middle-class includes some who possess scarce skills and talents that must be preserved and nurtured. There are ways and means of doing that, even if a large salary increase to university teachers is ruled out as an option on the grounds that it would inevitably have an explosive chain reaction in the form of salary demands, not only from other categories of university employees (who could bring universities to a standstill), but also others of the country’s workforce.

What all these add up to is that the case for a general salary increase to the entire community of university teachers is not very convincing, unless its capacity to blackmail the government more effectively than most other categories of workers is added to the weight of that case. There are many in this community that need and deserve a substantial pay hike. There are many who do not. Rajiva Wijesinghe’s analysis on ‘hours of work’ (referred to earlier in this paper) is of utmost relevance here although it reveals only a part of what goes on. In fact, the reality is much worse. In certain faculties at Peradeniya the convention is that teachers arrive at their workplace between about 8 and 9 in the morning and remain there up to about 4 or 5 afternoon, regardless of the number of hours of formal teaching. In others, especially where the teachers are expected to spend much of their time at the library, there is no such regularity, even though only a very few are ever seen in the library – perhaps they have all their books at home. I have known teachers (not in my faculty, though) who loved to teach. A few of them routinely taught hours and hours, well into late evening, with no reward whatever other than the satisfaction of breeding competent graduates. I recollect a professor at the very apex of his profession, who could have minted money in private practice, but lived frugally,  rode to work on a Vespa, and took a break off his work at the university and the hospital only for his lunch from the Milk Bar at the entrance to the Peradeniya Gardens. They are the legends, adored by their former students.  I also know of a Peradeniya don who had a full-time private sector job in Colombo with a spacious office and support staff, and whose appearances at the university were few and far between. There were several I knew whose contribution to higher education was through private tutories and not the university. No need to go into other sordid details.

There must surely be at least the semblance of a link between work and pay. Admittedly, devising a system which would facilitate the targeting of higher salaries and other benefits on those who need and/or deserve is not easy. But certain steps could be taken in that direction.

On the basis of impressions (which obviously require verification) I am inclined to say that it is those in the middle grades of the university academic staff who need and deserve a substantial increase of their emoluments. That stratum consists largely of scholars who have been exposed to recent advances in their specialities. Those fresh from their probationary study leave tend to carry heavy loads of teaching, and also have the drive to engage in productive research.  At the same time, it is they who face serious problems in respect of housing, children’s education and other essential needs. Since the intrinsic worth of the doctoral or masters degrees varies widely, a system should be devised to take into account the “value” of each such qualification (the type of research done, the source of the degree etc.) in the salary ‘placement’ which need not be at the bottom the ‘Lecturer Grade’ scale. Again, there are certain loosely applied requirements for promotion from ‘Lecturer’ to ‘Senior Lecturer’ grade that should be made more rigorous, but with the promotion being made more rewarding to those who pass muster. In short, the university system must devise methods of rewarding exceptional merit. In certain fields of study the “merit promotion” system, supposedly based mainly on internal evaluation, has become a joke.

It is also possible to use ‘Housing’ for staff (and students) as a mechanism of targeting benefits within the university system in a meaningful manner and improving the quality of its education. It appears in retrospect that Peradeniya at inception was somewhat over ambitious in the way it attempted to cater to this need. The buildings in the less ‘landscaped’ campus backyards such as Mahakanda, Upper Hantane and North End could have been less ornate and more functional like, for example, those provided at the universities of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore; and thus made to cater more effectively to an expanding demand which ought to have been foreseen. At other universities in Sri Lanka the housing need has been almost totally neglected. In the case of the universities located in the metropolitan area, providing a residence within easy access to the university at (which is certainly within the capacity of the government) would, I think, be equivalent to raising the salary of those at the middle grades of the service by at least 50% (at prevailing levels of house rent and costs of commuting); and it would have an invigorating effect. This could be done if those in authority are less enamoured with under-utilised and over-ornate constructions ostensibly to beautify the city and to “serve the people”. But both these objectives would be better served by reducing the need for large numbers from all over the country to come crowd the city.

The existing provisions for an year’s sabbatical leave with pay and travel allowances at the end of seven years of service could be made more meaningful than at present. The large majority of university teachers are unable to make use of this privilege on account of their inability to find paid assignments at universities abroad. A few of them I know have hence resorted to the hilarious practice of getting their friends at other universities to invite them as ‘visiting professors’ and collecting, in addition to their normal salary, a salary from the university they ‘visit’. This is not what sabbatical leave is meant for. It is intended to facilitate the periodic exposure of our university teachers to the academic world outside and to thus upgrade their scholarly experiences. As a corrective measure it would be possible to device a system under which the option of shorter periods of overseas leave (not necessarily in the west), with substantially enhanced allowance (to levels adequate for the recipient to spend time at a good university abroad) is offered to teachers who qualify for their sabbatical leave. There is no doubt that host universities could be found without difficulty for those with reasonably good records of research and do not have to depend on payments from the host universities. And, some of the prospective hosts will offer reciprocal exchanges of scholars, leading sometimes to highly beneficial link programmes.

University Autonomy: The recent infamous ‘UGC Circular’, the gist of which is that Selection Committees for recruitment and promotion of university teachers should have two UGC (i.e. ministerial) appointees with veto powers is, arguably, the most blatant and insidious attempt hitherto made to pave the way for political control of university affairs. It represents a crude infringement of the only aspect of university autonomy that has hitherto remained largely (but not entirely) uncontaminated by political interventions. At one of the Selection Committees in which I served (before my retirement from university service in 2003) the telephone call from the President on behalf of one of the applicants came (it so happened) while the very same applicant was being interviewed. We listened with much appreciation to the Vice-Chancellor’s end of the conversation in the course of which he respectfully explained to the President that the selection is being done impartially by a committee in which no one has overriding authority. The unanimous decision of the committee was to disqualify the applicant in accordance with regulations pertaining to “canvassing” in such selection procedures. I still do not know whether we did right, because the rejected applicant was the best of the lot. If it is OK for Vice-Chancellors to be political appointees, what it wrong in appointing Assistant Lecturers on the same basis?

As everyone knows university governance in Sri Lanka has never been free of political interventions. Political control of university affairs through the exercise of powers over key appointments (and dismissals) in the university system – ‘National Council of Higher Education’ (1966-70), Vice-Chancellors (from the very beginning), ‘University Grants Commission (1978 onwards) and Councils of all universities (throughout) existed all along. Since 1966, all Vice-Chancellors (including certain activists of the ‘Friday Forum’ referred to above on whose scholarly credentials, I should hasten to add, there is not the slightest doubt) were appointed by politicians. And, I know of only one Vice-Chancellor who had the guts to resist the intense pressures for his removal following a change of regime. He told the government: sack me if you will, I won’t resign. The new government did not have the legal powers to sack, and he was spared. Moreover, even some of the most vociferous champions of university autonomy have hardly ever turned down offers from political leaders. For instance, there was fierce protest when M. J. Perera, the eminent ministerial appointee to the post of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ceylon arrived at Peradeniya in 1968. Within a few brief years several who had been at the forefront of that protest gladly accepted political appointments within and outside the university system – most of them picked not so much for the expertise they possessed but as reward for political support. This has been the case ever since. Here again, I know of one person who, when nominated to the Vice-Chancellorship with greater backing of the University Council than any other, stipulated in a memorandum submitted to the minister various conditions (pertaining mainly to university autonomy) under which he would, if offered, accept the post. Needless to say, no offer came his way.

My recollection is that it was on the eve of the parliamentary elections of 1971 that, for the first time, a large group of university teachers published (through purchased newspaper space) an individually signed ‘Appeal to Voters’ to support the oppositional coalition. The “appeal” itself was brief, but the list signatures and names was long and prominent. One cannot say whether the voters were swayed by the appeal. But we do know that the ‘coalition’, after its electoral victory, was swayed to give some of the dons the administrative posts which they asked for. Such appeals have, since that time, become a regular pre-election ritual. I have been told by a person whom I trust that a former Chairman of the UGC kept in his office drawer these ‘appeal to voters’ as ‘works of reference’ to guide him in matters such as appointments to posts in academic administration  and nominations for fellowships and scholarships in the university system over which he was the final arbiter.

So, my point is that political interference in university affairs is, at least partly, a problem of the dons’ making. Politicians will always want to control everything. Over many years politicians of the parties in power have tended to treat the universities as a job bank for non-academic jobs; and most of the Vice-Chancellors readily accepted lists of persons already selected by their ministers for such appointments. And now, the minister wants to extend that power over academic appointments.  That is no surprise. If, in the present instance, the minister insists on sending his nominees to Selection Committees, why don’t the deans and the dons boycott the committee sittings, and make an issue of it. They will, I am sure, have enough backing of the desired type (hopefully, not from politicians struggling to make their way back from political wilderness) to make the minister succumb.

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