Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Growing up in the Lower Ranks - Professor Mahalingam’s memories of Faculty of Engineering
Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam
Part I - The New Faculty
The event was not given any publicity in the press as the university authorities did not consider it an occasion for drum-beating. It was regarded as just another step in the advancement of higher education.
The Faculty of Engineering was born on 1 July 1950 after a period of gestation of only four months, during which a team of 12 academic staff and a batch of 25 freshmen were assembled. The Faculty was also required to take charge of three batches of students - 189 in all - from the defunct Ceylon Technical College (CTC, “Tech”), and enable them to complete their courses of study.
These extraordinary developments were brought about by the sudden collapse of the courses at the CTC, where students had been prepared for the external degree of the University of London for eight years (1942-50) under a "provisional recognition".
The facilities made available to the new Faculty were the classrooms and laboratories of the CTC and three of its staff rooms. One of these rooms became the Dean's Office, and he shared it with a clerk, a telephone, a typewriter and a filing cabinet. The other rooms had desks, each being shared by two senior staff.
The junior staff were an un-anchored floating population who drifted around the laboratories and the senior common room. Due to the shortness of notice some of the staff, seven were not able to report for duty on the first day, and I was one of those present.
I have vivid memories of that dull July morning with overcast skies, waiting for the Dean to arrive. There was to be no opening ceremony; no lighting of the traditional oil lamp and no making of speeches that are so commonplace these days.
Prof. E.O.E. Pereira arrived, lit his pipe, took a couple of contented puffs, and informed us that the new Faculty was in business, and that work could commence according to the time-tables already issued.
About a week later I saw the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the University of Ceylon, Sir Ivor Jennings, inspecting the place in the company of Prof. Pereira. Having seen the closely constructed main buildings and the cluster of small, gloomy, ill-ventilated laboratories, he declared dejectedly that there was not enough room to swing a cat in. This was the unappealing and cramped environment that the staff of the new Faculty had to work in, and it made us eagerly look forward to the day when we would have a permanent home of our own with more civilised facilities.
As a low-ranking member of the staff - the "academic proletariat" - my working conditions were, by present-day standards, difficult and demanding. Yet I still have nostalgic memories of those heady days where one had the exhilarating feeling of participating in a pioneering venture which had a clear sense of purpose, direction and goals.
Read Part II:
Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam – Part II - Our first home
(This article was first published in “Memories of an Engineering Faculty: 1950-2000 Golden Jubilee Souvenir”, Jayasekara, W.P., Mahalingam, S., Ranaweera, M.P., Siyambalapitiya, S.B., Ratnaweera, V. [Editors], Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, July 2000)