Friday, May 6, 2011

It's Time - FINAL EPISODE - Some horrible crimes


Continued from PART IV: Life after E-fac

FINAL EPISODE - Some horrible crimes

Nearly two decades or two generations after my self-proclaimed defeat, the situation is likely to have vastly improved and some of you young guns reading this account might find it bizarre and beyond belief.

Bizarre and beyond belief – was exactly my first impression as well just last week, when I heard a first-hand account from a batch-mate that her failure in subjects in the first and second years were due to mysterious disappearances of her duly submitted course work in Electronics, Surveying, Materials, Fluids and Drawing labs and the expunge of attendance records in some instances. There has been at least one more such known case and perhaps many unknown cases.

While, a junior staff member with a personal vendetta may have been responsible for these hideous crimes, what horrified me the most was to learn that neither corrective action on behalf of the victims nor disciplinary action against the culprit were taken by the heads of departments despite complains made and clear evidence available. That was exactly the same no-action, no-trouble attitude taken by the faculty, even under A Thureirajah, when final examination papers were leaked in 1984 resulting in a repeat exam for two of the third year papers. Investigations may have been conducted, but we know nothing about convictions recorded or any disciplinary action taken!

The saddest fact that emerges out of all this is how terrified these victims have been even to make a complaint against a mere junior academic staff member! This gap between the current and former students of the faculty is obviously the root cause of many of the problems we faced at the faculty.

I am thankful to my batchmate, who remains nameless, for revealing these incidents after all these years. While her tale left me dumbfounded for a few days, it eventually gave me the energy to write this account.

THE END

p/s:

See you at the 70th anniversary of the faculty of Engineering in 2020.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

It's Time - PART IV: Life after E-fac


Continuing from
PART III - CLV Jayatilake's Threat

PART IV - Life after E-fac

It took the faculty staff more than eight full months to release our final examination results. The wait was horrible. By that time, fellow students from Moratuwa University who had their examinations one month later than us, had had even their graduation ceremony as well – and had secured all the plum jobs in the industry.

Armed with my new gained confidence of good results, I approached the faculty for temporary employment, but that request was flatly rejected by Galapathy who was the acting head of department while Sanath Ranatunga was on his sabbatical overseas. No need of temporary staff was the answer.

About 160 out of 250 E Eighty One’rs, ie, about two third, graduated with the BScEng degree in their first attempt. That included only less than one quarter of the nine students in the production engineering discipline. These two graduated, had secured a first class and a second class upper division passes and it seemed that they are perfectly poised to fill the existing vacancies in the department cadre. In late 1985, the production engineering department was being run with just one lecturer and two assistant lecturers. The head of department was an appointee from Civil engineering with obviously no teaching load.

It was not to be! The guy with the first class left the faculty for a private sector appointment that paid nearly twice the university wages. My formal application, lodged in response to the newspaper advertisement, was not endorsed by the head of department – apparently due to my bad records. So was the fate of my batch mate Lohitha Devasurendra who had a first class honours in mechanical engineering. In his case, he was at least given an interview.

However that was not the end of my quest to initiate some action addressing the high failure rate among Peradeniya engineering students. In 1991, the faculty, with MP Ranaweera as the Dean, initiated the alumni association, PEFAA. I enrolled as a founding member and at the first general meeting I was elected as a member of the inaugural committee of the PEFAA.

It had been six years since we graduated, but I knew that some of the problems students were facing were still there. There was a backlog of students being processed by the faculty mill in batches and double batches. I spoke briefly to this point at the general meeting and took it up again at the first ever PEFAA committee meeting. I was planning to get it listed an agenda item and then hoping that some action, at least a detailed study on the situation, will result.

Alas! I was silenced by the president of PEFAA (whose name I have now forgotten). He said in no uncertain terms that PEFAA will never talk about academic matters of the faculty. From the deafening silence it was clear that no other committee member had any interest on the matter at all.

That was it! Nearly eight years after my solemn resolution to take action about what I perceived as a grave situation that prevailed in the faculty, I accepted defeat and accepted it gracefully. At least I have had a go, I thought.

Next read the FINAL EPISODE (PART V) Some horrible crimes

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's Time - PART III: CLV Jayatilake's Threat



Continuing from
Part II: HHJ Keerthisena compares Peradeniya with Moratuwa


PART III: CLV Jayatilake's Threat

I realised that I am helpless is correcting the status quo. However, there was still a slight chance of making the future less bleak. That obviously meant that I should become a part of the academia!

I still remember very vividly standing in the Senate grounds and watching a tense situation unfolding in front of my eyes. On that fateful day, 15 July 1983 to be precise, I decided firmly that I should become a member of the faculty academic staff. And in doing so, I set a career path for myself that would last for more than two decades.

To make it sure you can join the academic staff, you need good academic credentials and less competition in your field of specialisation. That required me to choose the field of specialisation wisely. Since I had already given up any hopes of selecting electronics due to JA Gunawardena’s ridiculous teaching methods (see my article written in year 2000 mentioned above) and had developed a dislike for civil engineering (that would mean a high competition in any case), my choice of production engineering was a clear cut case. It was an excellent choice as well, because, with so much study areas overlapping in two and a half out of six final year subjects, just 36 days of studying was sufficient for you to achieve your target.

However the ultimate goal was still a long distance away!

Somewhere in late 1985, a security guard of the University attempted to detain a political activist of the Revolutionary Communist League (now known as the Socialist Equity Party) who was selling their party newspapers in campus, on the grounds that he had a Tamil paper (Tholilar Pathei) with him. I saw that some of my fellow students were arguing with the security guard. As the President of the ESU, I intervened to get the political activist released and later lodged a complaint at the faculty security post. CLV Jayathilake, who was the Dean of the faculty at the time, summoned me to his office and threatened me that such unruly behaviour deserves punishment and if he wants to, he can ruin my career completely.

Having realised that my chances of making into the permanent faculty staff are now miniscule, I decided to look for employment outside the university rather than staying back as a temporary instructor as the tradition demands. I started working full time as a management trainee within two weeks of the conclusion of our final examination. Sanath Ranatunga was very supportive of this idea. “Get as much experience as you can, in the field, Putha!”, he simply said.

It took the faculty staff more than eight full months to release our final examination results. The wait was horrible. By that time, fellow students from Moratuwa University who had their examinations one month later than us, had had even their graduation ceremony as well – and had secured all the plum jobs in the industry.

CONTINUED with PART IV: Life after eFac

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It’s Time! - PART II: HHJ Keerthisena compares Peradeniya with Moratuwa


By Rasika Suriyaarachchi [E/81/214]

Continuing from PART I - The beginning

PART II - HHJ Keerthisena compares Peradeniya with Moratuwa

Out of 250 students in our E/81 batch, only 90 got through all eight subjects at the first attempt. That was a miserable situation, to say the least. I am sure the majority of those remaining 160 students experienced failure for the first time in their lives. After all, this is a group that had excelled their studies just less than two years ago.

Soon, there was a repeat examination for the first year students and even after that second attempt, about 30 students failed to get through the minimum requirement of five subjects. Yet, there were no visible signs of any panic or attempts to address this grave situation at all in the faculty. If there were any plans being drawn up by the faculty members, we never saw the implementation of those during our four year stay.

In our second year of studies, though over 30 fellow students who started with us were not there attending the same lectures anymore; the gap was more than compensated by a similar number of fellows from our senior batch now continuing with us.

Within my own limits, I tried to understand what was so wrong with the situation where once excellent students are continuing to end up being utter failures. Was it the false secure feeling you get when you get selected to study engineering that you are invincible that contributes to your eventual downfall? Was it the change in the medium of instruction from Sinhala/Tamil to English that makes the difference? Or was it something in the climatic conditions of the hill country? Obviously, the fellow students at the Moratuwa University did not have this problem to this extent!

Any comparison with Moratuwa drew strange responses from the staff. HHJ Keerthisena clearly said in a private conversation that Peradeniya engineering faculty retained those who secured first classes and second uppers as members of the academic staff, but Moratuwa University could manage to recruit those Peradeniya graduates with only second lower passes. In a different context Sanath Ranatunga told me that Moratuwa academic Patuwathuwithana failed examinations several times while studying at Peradeniya!

In short, except for the rounds of discussions S. Sivasegaram had with some of us over tea and Marie biscuits in our first year, there were no visible attempts from the staff that they were interested in understanding why students fail at the exams and fail en-masse.

After a while, I came to the only logical conclusion that was available. That is, those who are in the academic staff in general have no idea of and no interest of the plight of an average student at all. This is obviously because; they themselves have not been average students during their undergraduate days!

A few incidents cemented this view.

In our third year, as a part of Engineering Mathematics, we were being taught some computing related topics. Within twenty minutes into the first lecture delivered by TMD Samuel, some students sitting in front rows started asking questions. As we all know, even to ask a question, we need to have a clear idea about what is going on. I am sure that the vast majority who attended this lecture did not understand it much at all. As it later transpired, these front row students who asked extremely intelligent questions one after the other had previously studied those concepts outside the university. Samuel was so thrilled and commented a few times that we are a wonderful lot! I guess he left the lecture theatre very satisfied. When even a kind hearted, student-friendly lecturer like Samuel is easily misguided like this, what can you thing about the others?

Then there were other non-academic incidents as well, also providing ample evidence. In our first year, five students from other faculties were suspended just because they allegedly hooted at the convoy carrying R Premadasa. The whole university lost two days’ worth of academic activities. In our second year when many students, this time including a few Engineering students as well, were suspended the situation became very ugly. It was very clear from these incidents that most of the academics and especially those who were in power did not have any sympathy towards students at all.

To add insult to injury, there were hardly any signs that the situation will get any better in the near future, when it is our turn to graduate and join the faculty as academics! All the evidence in front of my eyes was to the contrary.

I realised that I am helpless is correcting the status quo. However, there was still a slight chance of making the future less bleak. That obviously meant that I should become a part of the academia!

CONTINUED with PART III - CLV Jayatilake's Threat

Monday, May 2, 2011

It's time - PART I: The beginning


By Rasika Suriyaarachchi [E/81/214]

PART I: The beginning

It has been a whopping twenty five years since we, the E Eighty One’rs, bid farewell to the picturesque surroundings of the mighty Hanthana valley, the vast array of buildings with fine architectural features, lush green parks where majestic trees covered with flowering vines stood firm, foot paths running underneath thick tree canopies and the all the fun that came as a packaged deal named “the University Life”. Other than for a few of us who make their living by still being a part of the same old merry-go-around, for the vast majority of us, our days at Peradeniya, the University Life, is just a fading memory.

Twenty five years is a long time. Long enough to find a job, get few promotions and earn enough dough to build a place to live. Long enough to get married, raise a family together and even send your kids off to university. Long enough to realise the errors of judgement you made, memorise the lessons learnt and seek retribution for injustice.

It is time to reflect; time to reminisce; and time to reveal it all.

On the 50th anniversary of the faculty of engineering in year 2000, a publication titled “Memories of an Engineering Faculty” was produced. The article I contributed to this volume, on invitation, consisted of many personal experiences written elevated to a level fit for general consumption. What I am doing tonight is not an attempt to tell the same story in a different perspective at all, but this is rather a humble endeavour to document a different set of events altogether. In any case, I will make it sure that the article I authored ten years ago is well circulated electronically by the time this current essay is published for wider readership.

For an 18 year old from a Colombo suburb, making the decision to opt for Peradeniya Engineering Faculty over the obvious choice of Moratuwa was like deciding to swim upstream, literary. The peer pressure with thirty odd fellow students from your school making the alternate choice, the inconvenience of long travel in the weekends, the extra financial burden etc., did not help at all. But for me, the most courageous thing to do was to brush away the suggestions from the sceptics that the academic staff at the Peradeniya Engineering faculty were not humane at all and are deliberately failing the students in their hundreds year after year at final examinations. However, my strong desire to spend four years of my early adulthood in the legendary foothills of Hanthana helped me to take a firm decision against the trend.

Unlike in Australia where Engineering studies at tertiary level is in the bottom of the scale when it comes to the demand form potential students, it is the top-most, the creamiest, layer of the A/L mathematics stream that flows into the Engineering faculties in Sri Lanka. We had the all island best and a few district bests among the 250 of us at Peradeniya. Even though there was a dispersion range of 200 marks among us, as far as the A/L results are concerned, there was no doubt that each and every one us had excellent mathematical skills. Yet, most of the students were faring very badly in mathematics and all subjects where mathematical analysis was a part.

Over 600 students sitting the end of year examinations for some subjects in first and second years should tell a tale in any language – given that the annual intake was just 250.

However, it seemed that those who were in-charge did not understand the gravity of this situation at all. It has only been a few years since the faculty had been seemingly forced by the government to accommodate an intake of 250 students up from a previous 150 or so. There was this sickening joke among the students about one of the professors who has reportedly said that whatever the size of the intake, he and his colleagues will make sure that the output remains at the same level. As many as 60 students, a figure close to 25% of the intake, were failing to scrape through the first year and ending up spending five years to complete this otherwise four year degree.

Out of 250 students in our E/81 batch, only 90 got through all eight subjects at the first attempt. That was a miserable situation, to say the least. I am sure the majority of those remaining 160 students experienced failure for the first time in their lives. After all, this is a group that had excelled their studies just less than two years ago.

Soon, there was a repeat examination for the first year students and even after that second attempt, about 30 students failed to get through the minimum requirement of five subjects. Yet, there were no visible signs of any panic or attempts to address this grave situation at all in the faculty. If there were any plans being drawn up by the faculty members, we never saw the implementation of those during our four year stay.

READ Part II: HHJ Keerthisena compares Peradeniya with Moratuwa

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It’s Time! - REFLECTIONS AFTER 25 YEARS


Message from the Editor - E-Fac Memories Blog

People! We have good news!

In response to our call for E-Fac Memories published in this blog in January 2011, Rasika Suriyaarachchi [E/81/214] has finally given his kind consent to publish an article he has authored.

This will be serialised from 2 May 2011.

Rasika Suriyaarachchi has served as the President ESU (1984/85), Editor ESU (1983/84), Secretary Arts Circle (1982/83), Secretary Social Science Society (1982/83), Editor Arts Circle (1982/93), Editor Social Science Society (1982/93) and Committee Member Arts Circle (1981/82).

He has also served as a member of the University Students Action Committee from July 1984 to December 1985.

Rasika specialised in production Engineering and graduated with Upper Second Honours in December 1985.

Rasika was a senior lecturer in Industrial Management at the University of Kelaniya from 1991 to 1999. He now lives in Australia and is employed as Manager Business Systems in Infrastructure Asset Management at the Roads and Traffic Authority in Sydney, New South Wales.

He is the creator of http://kathandara.blogspot.com and http://pemgee.blogspot.com.

The first episode of Rasika's article titled "It's Time" will appear in this blog at 5:00 pm on 2 May 2011.

It's time - PART I: The beginning

In the meantime - please read the following articles previously published.

1. Engineering and Politics by Vickramabahu Karunaratne

2. Oviravu (One night) by S. Sivasegaram

3. Just before the stroam by E/81/214

Cheers,

EDITOR
E'Fac Memories