Joint media statement regarding the Vice Chancellor selection crisis at the Open University of Sri Lanka

Joint media statement regarding the Vice Chancellor selection crisis at the Open University of Sri Lanka

11 June 2021 01:59 am

This media statement is issued by a joint alliance of unions of the Open University of Sri Lanka representing all academic, non-academic and student communitiesof the university.

We  express  ourstrong  opposition  and  alarm  at  the  arbitrary  rejection  of  the  Vice  Chancellor shortlist of the university by the Presidential Secretariat. As the term of the current Vice Chancellor ends on 23rd June2021 the university began the processfor identifying and selecting a successor almost 6 months ago. This process took place under the new Circular No 02/2020issued by the University  Grants  Commissionon 04thMay  2020.It  is  under  this  circular  that  all  current  Vice Chancellor  selections  in  state  universities  is  taking  place. This  is  a  nationally  advertised competitive selection process during which candidates are screened by two independent panels. One  panel consists  offive  members  drawn  from  the  academic  community,  state  administration and the private sector. The applicants shortlisted by this panelsubsequentlymake presentations in front of the University Council –the supreme body entrusted with the governance of the university under the 1978 Universities’ Act –and thereafter the Council nominates three names to the UGC which in turn sends thesenames to the President to make afinal selection. However, in this casethe Presidential Secretariathas created confusion and crisis by informing the university through the  UGC  that  all  three  names  are  rejected  and that the  position  needs  to  be  re-advertised.  The relevant section in the Universities Actof 1978regarding the appointment of the Vice Chancellor givesno  provision  for  such  a  rejection.This arbitrary  act  by  the  presidential  secretariat sets  an extremely dangerous precedent for the university system as a whole.

The joint trade union alliance believes that the system in place and the system under  which the nomination list was selected needs to prevail. Our position is that government needs to honour its own  rulesintroduced last year  and that  the autonomous  function  of universities  is  ensured.Arbitraryexecutive interference with this system can lead to a chaotic situation where systems and processes of governance become irrelevant.We urge the government to appoint a suitable person from among the list already sent by the council of the OUSL without wasting precious resources and time of the university by re-advertising,the position. In a time of global crisis created by the Covid-19  virus  the  OUSL  should  be  able  to  serve  its  student  population  without  spending  its energy on issues of this nature.

Prof. Anton Piyarathne
President/ Open University
Teacher’s Association –OUTA

S. Premarathne
President/ Non-Academic
Trade Union Federation-OUSL

S.A.Harsha Madushanka
President/ Open University
Students’Union-OUSL