Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Part V: Revenge (by Sisira Adikari)
Parts I & II - Paving the Way to Clear Applied Electricity Backlog
Part III - Aftermath of the boycott
Part IV - Student clash on the final day
Part V: Revenge
Throughout my time from first year to the departure from the faculty (approximately after 8 months from the final examination), I academically supported fellow students. I taught almost all subjects that I have learned, via small group classes and also in bit mass scale. Often for more demanding subjects we had to use lecture rooms on weekends to conduct these classes commonly named as “kuppis”. I believe our lecturers were not okay with at least for conducting “lectures” at the faculty lecture rooms which is not unreasonable.
My classes were not solely targeted for passing examinations. I attempted to deliver fundamental theories in an appealing manner. I conducted these classes because I enjoyed teaching as a hobby and provided self satisfaction to me. I had a good demand from “tourists” especially for second year Applied Electricity. I am no way claiming that on any subject I had knowledge over that of a lecturer. However, I knew what I was teaching.
We had extraordinary smart, talented and enthusiastic teachers: Profs. Ranaweera, Mahalingam, Samuel and Dr. Keerthisena to name a few. They all have had a unique teaching style and they taught their subjects extremely well. At least for subjects taught by these teachers it was not teachers’ fault that student were not being able to grasp the subject. Among other reasons the content and complexity permitted a student either to listen in order to grasp the lecture or just took notes and study later. Most students picked the latter and unfortunately the “study later” part never came thorough.
As a side note, in my career I had an opportunity to teach for Engineering Council examinations, at the Katunayake Technical Training Institute and at the Open University.
Subsequently from the Final Part III examination, I obtained a Second Class (upper division) pass with Prof. R. H. Paul prize for the best academic performances in Electrical Power and Machines.
After the final examination usually interviews for departmental positions are conducted. I applied for both the department of Electrical and Electronics (EE) and for the department of Mathematics.
I was not even called for an interview for a position with the EE department. Irrespective of academic performances, all my fellow EE batch mates those who had applied for a position were recruited to the EE department. I was not offered even an instructor position in the department. I was told that, in the first meeting for newly appointed EE department staff members (my batchmates), the head of the department Prof. Jayasekara announced that even though scored well some students (i.e. me) were not offered a position. Though obvious this announcement depict that the decision was a calculated one. This is the reward given for one who obtained the R.H. Paul Prize for Electrical Power and Machines with a Second Upper. Discrimination had not come to an end along with this unprecedented (may be not that unprecedented in Peradeniya) action.
As mentioned I applied for a position in the mathematics department. The head of the department, Prof T.D.M. Samuel, who personally knew me and my academic achievements, interviewed me for a position in his department. He verbally agreed to offer me one of the assistant lecturer positions at the department.
But one day before any formal appointment letter was being delivered I have noticed Prof Samuel coming out from the EE laboratory. The time was around 6.30 PM. No brainer I realised that it was after a meeting with Prof. Jayasekara. The time that the meeting concluded suggested that it has been a long perhaps intensive meeting. I smelled something fishy.
I met Prof. Samuel at the corridor right after the jet engine and he asked me to follow him to the department. At the department I was told that Prof Jayasekara strongly opposed me being appointed as an assistant lecturer or even as an instructor in the mathematics department. Prof. Samuel further explained that he wants to have cordial relationship with other departments and therefore he is not in a position to offer me the assistant lecturer position as agreed. But he said he do not want to totally disappoint me and also do not want to see me ruin my career. He suggested as a compromise to take the Research Assistant (RA) position under him. RA position enjoyed the same salary as an assistant lecturer but it has been a non academic position. What it meant is I was not allowed to conduct lectures which I eagerly anticipated for doing and most of my batchmates believed that I am very good at. I had no option rather to take up the offered RA position. The guy with very good academic performances who delivered informal lectures for wide range of students and subjects had sidelined due to an arrogant act of one teacher who wanted to keep his superiority unchallenged. I have heard several similar incidents in Sri Lankan universities but all of them about denying a position in ones own department. But my case had gone beyond that by making sure not to be given a position in other departments as well. In my mind, though hard, I would be able to justify refusing me a position in Prof. Jayasekara’s own department but I have hard time to justify using his powers to deny me a position in the mathematics department. I must have had annoyed the scared cow and this was the deserved punishment.
After few weeks I met Prof. Jayasekara one-on-one at his office room and asked why he did what he did. His simple answer was “you are not suitable for an academic position”. Answering my question, reasoning provided to me was you closely associated ordinary radical students and you gave priority for these students over smooth functioning of the department. He further mentioned that he would fully support for me to go to industry without being engaged in academic field. The message literally was don’t waste your time here go and get a job in industry. Ironically about 8 months later when I was being scrutinized by the Ceylon Electricity Board interview panel Prof. Jayasekara tried to support me in my view knowing that his action would help to fulfil his wishes.
Obviously it was impossible for me to get a recommendation for higher studies from the EE department. About eight months of service as RA I gave up my hopes for higher studies and joined the Ceylon Electricity Board. In 1993 one of my colleagues introduced me (with my situation) to Moratuwa academic and prominent engineer Dr. Tilak Siyabalapitiya who later provided a recommendation for me to enter the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) to pursue my Masters in Industrial Engineering.
After my Masters degree I again approached Peradeniya Department of Mathematics to secure a temporary senior lecturer position. By that time Prof. Samuel was not in the faculty and Dr. Sarath Siyabalapitiya was serving as the Head of the Department. I was told that AIT Masters degree has not been recognized for a senior lecturer position which is far from the truth. I gave concrete examples to negate his claim but Dr. Sarath Siyabalapitiya was adamant. It is hard to believe he was unaware of the fact that by that time AIT Masters Degree has been accepted by the University Grant Commission for senior lecturer positions. I think, having past memories, he simply didn’t want to have a figure like me in his department. It would have been nice if Dr. Siyabalapitiya directly and openly conveyed the real reason to me. A statement such as my skill set didn’t match with the department needs would have been a fair one.
In Canada, where I live now with full of freedoms, fairness and moreover respect to human values, during social gatherings Sri Lankan descent folks complain and talk about discrimination. My answer to them has been even being a majority I had been terribly discriminated before I left Sri Lanka for good.
Here is one such story not the first and would not be the last. Yours to decide!
Later in my career I attempted to secure a permanent academic poison in the Open University hoping that would pay way to higher studies but that also did not materialize (there is another story behind this) but not relevant here.
Open for comments, criticism, clarifications. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sisira Adikari
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