Saturday, November 7, 2015

Working in the Faculty (Professor Mahalingam's memories - Part IV)

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam

Part I - The New Faculty
Part II - Our First Home
Part III - Early years of the University of Ceylon

Part IV - Working in the Faculty

At the time I joined the staff the Faculties of Medicine and engineering were considered professional faculties and the academic staff were paid higher salaries than those paid to staff in the other faculties; the professors in the Faculty of Engineering, for instance, were paid a special allowance of 25 per cent of basic salary for loss of private practice. Of course the academics were expected to be professionals with charters from one of the three major professional institutions in London. This required a graduate to go through a training programme of 2-3 years in field/industry, sometimes referred to as "Graduate Apprenticeship", and in due course all of us had obtained this qualification. I got my training in two engineering firms in England and I consider it an enriching experience and a valuable part of my training for teaching and research. It also rewarded me with the MIMechE.

The university was a hierarchical organisation at that time and the Professor was also the administrative Head of his department; the question of giving up the headship could not arise. Internal problems were sorted out in informal departmental discussions, and the Dean held occasional staff meetings of which no minutes were kept. The Faculty Board met once in about three months and the agenda was strictly confined to matters that came within the purview of the Board. The VC was always present at these meetings which seldom took more than 15 minutes.
The Faculty office had only one clerk, while the clerical work in the departments was done by a laboratory assistant.

There were three departments: Civil, Electrical and Mechanical. An Assistant Lecturer in Engineering Mathematics did all the lecturing in the subject, and he was attached to the Department of Civil Engineering. Owing to the pressure on space at the CTC, the First Year students were sent to the Faculty of Science where they followed the conventional Physical
Sciences course together with two engineering subjects – Engineering Drawing and Workshop Practice - for which they had classes at the CTC. However, it was not all smooth sailing in the early days at the CTC.

Although there had been an understanding with the CTC authorities that their laboratory staff would continue to do the work they had been doing for the London External Degree classes, their cooperation was not readily forthcoming. The technical staff appeared to be sullen, lackadaisical and prone to absenteeism. The cause of this "ergophobia" or allergy to work was quickly diagnosed, and the VC offered special allowances for Tech teachers and technical staff involved in the university classes. This solved the problem and restored harmony and goodwill at the CTC.

We worked five and half days a week and my time table gave me six hours of class room work (Lectures/Tutorials) and 15 hours laboratory work for a week. This was the norm at that time.
The Mechanical Engineering Department had only two staff members and we managed to keep the courses going without crying for help. The classes were usually small and all members of the academic staff participated in laboratory work. Most of the marking of coursework was done in the laboratory itself. The number of instructors in each department was about five and they were required to assist in the demonstration of laboratory work, but not in marking coursework.

Since our annual intake was only 25 in the first few years the quality of the students was high. They had gained admission entirely on merit via written papers, practicals and an interview; they had not been corrupted by the pernicious “tutory” system. Almost all of them were from the large urban schools they all spoke fluent English and made full use of the limited library facilities we had. Classes were very lively and students did not hesitate to provoke discussion of obscure points in the lectures. Their methods of study and preparation for examinations were conventional, and "kuppi classes" were unheard of.

We had two sets of examinations to contend with. There were three batches of students who had been taken over from the CTC. They had to be prepared for the University of London examinations which would be held in 1951 and 1952. The arrangement would be completed with a special Part I1 examination in 1953. In all, 92 students graduated in these three years and then sadly the curtain came down on the London External Degree in Ceylon, which had been a boon to many of us.

In the matter of setting our own examination papers the Faculty staff were lacking in experience and expertise. Fortunately we were able to obtain assistance from the University of London which recommended some of their experienced teachers as External Examiners, and I found their guidance very valuable. They always sent us detailed comments on the draft question papers and suggestions for improving them. 1 leant a great deal from them.

For a small faculty we had a disproportionately large number of good sportsmen. I recall that in 1956 a Mechanical Engineering student captained the All-Ceylon Football team. Although Sir Ivor Jennings was apologetic about the limited sports facilities provided to students in these years, when "all the sports activities except swimming took place on a pocket handkerchief at Thurstan Road which was totally inadequate for a University College of 500 students", commendable standards were displayed in sports.

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam – Part V - A change of department

(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)

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