The first casualty of the enmity of the Head of the Languages Department was our English programme. The papers I had prepared about introducing a Special Degree in English and setting up a separate Department failed to go through the Senate and thus never reached the UGC. I found the new UGC too less than sympathetic about all this, whereas Prof Aluwihare had been keen that I join USJP and take on the AUCs precisely because he had hoped for a revolution in the teaching of English at tertiary level in the country as a whole.
I heard him once describe USJP as the flagship of the university system to a visiting World Bank delegation and, though I was surprised at the time, I could see how under Prof Hettiarachchi as Vice-Chancellor it had been a truly dynamic place. Certainly the innovations then taking place in its Management Faculty, with a superb professionally oriented course in Accountancy having been started under another visionary, Mr Wickremaratne, justified the description in an area which was just making the breakthrough to employment oriented education.
Prof Wilson as Dean was also keen to move forward. I was a bit surprised when he appointed to the committee to put forward proposals for English another Economics Professor, an older man called Sirisena Thilakaratna. But I found him immensely helpful, able to understand and build on the concepts I had worked on. When I thanked Wilson for his choice, he explained that Thilakaratna was his old guru. Later he became Chairman of the UGC, with Dorakumbura I gathered having been the other name suggested.
That would have been a disaster, for Dorakumbura proved deeply conservative. Under him and the regime he had set in place, USJP ceased to move forward. I had some sympathy for Dorakumbura because I believe the challenge to him being appointed Vice-Chancellor, based on prejudice against him being a Librarian and not an Academic, had soured him as far as many of his academic colleagues were concerned. He had therefore fallen back on the support of the less able amongst them. The result however was that many of the innovations I would have liked to push had to be abandoned.
Part of the problem lay in the fact that, in my letter of application, I had asked for a contract position rather than to be appointed to the staff. In the interview it had been explained by Hettiarachchi that there was no difference in terms of the freedoms I would enjoy, so I had agreed to be appointed to the permanent staff. But the letter when it came specified that I was being put on contract as requested. I did not challenge this and, though Dorakumbura initially suggested that this be changed, he seemed in time to lose interest in retaining me. As a result I was not really seen as part of the Faculty, and could not press for reforms as an insider.
More seriously, the practice in the Universities was that those on contract had to ask to have their contracts renewed. I refused to do this, on the grounds that the onus should lie on the university to renew a contract or not. At the end of my first year, the university did write renewing my contract, but a year later the situation had changed. My students attempted to convince the authorities to write to me, but they refused, and told them that I should apply. I did not want to seek renewal, since I felt that my usefulness was diminishing. Though I would have accepted the offer of an extension, I thought that my requesting it would put me in an impossible position if conditions were made thereafter about what outside work I could do. And so, towards the end of 1994, my employment at USJP came to an end. Continue reading