A group of 24 academics from six state universities have condemned the University Grants Commission (UGC) decision to bar Jaffna University Law Department Head Dr. Kumaravadivel Guruparan from legal practice, and have demanded the decision be revoked. In a statement, the academics charged the UGC had violated the University Establishment Code and was acting on the instigation of the military. It noted that for university and UGC autonomy to be preserved, the military should have no role in the decision-making of these institutions. The statement also questioned the UGC’s subsequent decision to ban all university academics from practising law when medical, engineering and architecture academics could work outside their universities and engage in consultancy work for the state, social organizations and professional bodies.
The full statement is as follows:
“We, the undersigned academics attached to various public universities in Sri Lanka, protest at the decision made by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to bar Dr. Kumaravadivel Guruparan, Senior Lecturer in Law and Head of the Department of Law, University of Jaffna, from legal practice. We point out that this decision violates the University Establishment Code which permits academics to engage in legal practice provided their engagement in legal practice does not affect their academic and other responsibilities at the university. We underline that Dr. Guruparan had permission from the University of Jaffna to practise law.
“On the 21st of August 2019, the military wrote to the UGC questioning the basis on which Dr. Guruparan was permitted to practise law in court. It is evident from this communication that the UGC’s decision to disallow Dr. Guruparan from practising law was instigated by the military. The interference of the military in the affairs of the University of Jaffna has been repeatedly brought to public attention by its students, the academics who teach there, and activist groups based in the North. If the autonomy of the universities and the University Grants Commission are to be preserved, the military should have no role in the decisions made by these institutions.
“We are deeply concerned about the undue importance given by the University Grants Commission to reports from the military and the compliant manner in which the UGC uses those reports as bases for decisions that jeopardize the well-being of higher educational institutions and the academics who serve in them. If this trend continues, the educational activities of the University of Jaffna and other universities will face a serious crisis, and academics will be discouraged from interacting with the community and making critical interventions in situations that involve violence and exploitation.
“In addition to teaching and conducting research, university academics are expected to contribute to the welfare of the community. Dr. Guruparan’s social work includes representing victims in court cases where the Sri Lankan military is accused of being the perpetrators. Living and working in one of the most highly militarized areas in the country, Dr. Guruparan has already faced threats and intimidation from the Sri Lankan military. We believe the recent threats Dr. Guruparan was subjected to and the UGC decision to bar him from legal practice are linked to his representation of victims in the Navatkuli Habeas Corpus case, which is related to the enforced disappearance of 24 boys from military custody in 1996. Instead of taking measures to ensure that Dr. Guruparan’s social contribution as a legal academic is not sabotaged by the military or other authoritarian forces, the UGC has unnecessarily yielded to the military’s pressure and made a decision that effectively de-links the academic from the larger society that he has served with sincere dedication.
“We as academics believe our teaching and research should be meaningful to not just our students and peers but also society at large, especially those who occupy its margins and peripheries. An education that is disconnected from and uninformed by the stark social realities amidst which we live has no social value. In order to make what we teach dynamic and substantive, we should constantly subject to academic scrutiny how what we teach, discuss, and examine in the classroom plays out and is experienced in the real world. We are of the view that the work Dr. Guruparan does as a practitioner of law, especially his appearance on behalf of victims in cases involving discrimination, abuse, and violence by powerful actors like the Sri Lankan military, will enrich the work he does as a legal scholar, benefit his students, and strengthen the intellectual and social credentials of his institution. The University Grants Commission appears to have completely ignored this important aspect of intellectual praxis in making the decision to bar Dr. Guruparan from practising law.
“Subsequent to the decision to bar Dr. Guruparan from practising law, the UGC recently banned university academics from practising as Attorney-at-Law. This decision, communicated via the Establishment Circular Letter No. 10/2019, was taken without any wider consultation with the academic community in the country. We question why legal academics are unreasonably barred from practising law whereas academics who teach subjects like Medicine, Engineering and Architecture in our university system are given permission to engage in tasks related to their disciplines and fields outside their institutions and do consultancy work for the state, social organizations and professional bodies. While there should be mechanisms and regulations to ensure academics who engage in social work, legal practice, and consultancy work fulfill their responsibilities to the institutions where they teach and the work they do outside the university system is relevant and important to society at large, blanket bans, like the one issued via the Establishment Circular Letter No. 10/2019, are unwarranted. The problematic decisions made by the UGC call for wider discussions on the social role of academics and the relationship of public universities to larger society.
“While condemning the military’s attempts to threaten and intimidate Dr. Guruparan and demanding that all state authorities ensure his safety, we call upon the University Grants Commission to revoke its decisions to bar Dr. Guruparan and university academics from practising law. We make these demands in the name of academic freedom and in defence of our social role as teachers and researchers.”
1. Rev. Fr. M. V. E. Ravichandran - University of Jaffna
2. Rev. Dr. J. C. Paul Rohan - University of Jaffna
3. Dr. Harini Amarasuriya - Open University
4. Prof. Prabhath Jayasinghe - University of Colombo
5. Dr. Sivagnanam Jeyasankar - Eastern University
6. Ahilan Kadirgamar -University of Jaffna
7. Pavithra Kailasapathy - University of Colombo
8. Dr. Maduranga Kalugampitiya - University of Peradeniya
9. Vidarshana Kannangara - University of Kelaniya
10. Ramya Kumar - University of Jaffna
11. Mrs. Purathani Mathanarajan - University of Jaffna
12. Dr. Kaushalya Perera - University of Colombo
13.Nicola Perera - University of Colombo
14. Harshana Rambukwella - Open University
15. Dr. T. Sananthanan - University of Jaffna
16. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan - University of Jaffna
17. Andi Schubert - Open University
18. Prof. Sumathy Sivamohan - University of Peradeniya
19. Nirogini Thambaiya - University of Jaffna
20. Mr. S. Thiruchchenthuran - University of Jaffna
21. Mahendran Thiruvarangan - University of Jaffna
22. Mr. T. Vigneswaran, Senior Lecturer - University of Jaffna
23. Thiyagaraja Waradas - University of Colombo
24. Carmen Wickramagamage - University of Peradeniya