Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reading Comprehension-A/L

Read the following passage and answer the questions given below.

A few years before he died, Sir John Kotelawela, a former prime minister of this country, was entertaining some friends to breakfast at his Kandawela home. The conversation turned to what he would do with the property which he had once said he would like to see converted into a children’s home modeled on the famous Dr. Barnardo’s homes. That thought, apparently, had been abandoned in his twilight years and he told his guests that the only institutions he could trust to look after his much-loved home was the army or the Catholic Church. In the event, the former military officer left the valuable property, now the General Sir John Kotelawela Defence Academy, to the military.

Sir, John having long served as a volunteer soldier, attaining the rank of colonel in service, but later promoted general at the end of his life, obviously valued the discipline imparted by the military, something that the government wants to ingrain in new entrants to the universities by the leadership training course that has already begun while a legal challenge to the measure is before the courts. We run an article today written by a retired military officer setting out the flavour of what the freshers will be exposed to; something those of our readers who have been to the annual cadet camps at Diyatalawa would relate to with nostalgia. We do not wish to identify with either those who support or oppose these measures beyond saying that if the notorious ragging that has often assumed caddish and unacceptable proportions in our universities can be brought to a halt by a training scheme such as that which is now underway, a useful purpose would surely have been served.

There is no escaping the fact that the universities have proved totally inept at stopping ragging for decades. Academics who are now agitating for substantial pay increases as well as succeeding university administrations must undoubtedly take a large share of the blame for that. Political forces, principally the JVP, which has long used the universities as a fertile recruiting ground for its cadres, have been accused – credibly we might add – of fomenting trouble on the campuses for its own purposes. However that be, Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake is on record saying that he will stop the ragging. The leadership training now being imparted may well help the freshers themselves to stand up to the raggers and resist ragging and it is to be hoped that the academic community would throw its weight with greater determination than before to help end what had become a totally unacceptable ``tradition’’ on the campuses - driving terror into the hearts of new students and their parents.

We were happy to last week run an outspoken and thought provoking article by Professor Savitri Gunasekera, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo, where she was Professor of Law, about the creeping erosion of university autonomy over a long period, the blatant sycophancy of many academics and the willingness of the university administration and the University Grants Commission (UGC) to close their eyes to the violation of the University Act at the behest of the political establishment. The writer, who had herself served on the UGC, cited several examples including one particularly instance where a professor who had retired at age 65 and been reappointed (as may be lawfully done, though not as a permanent employee) had by cabinet decision communicated by the UGC to the University Council been permitted to continue as the Dean of a Faculty despite this being illegal. She has rightly refrained from naming the beneficiary because it is not the person but the principle that matters. The academic community is fully aware of the shameful way in which this whole business was conducted, a sad commentary on how many academics are willing to prostrate themselves before political authorities to earn their patronage. As she has succinctly put it, ``following orders seems to have replaced the concept of academic voice and participation in decision making on matters concerning the universities.’’

On the face of it, the demand for an unconscionable increase in emoluments by the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) would appear unreasonable to most people. It is not only university dons who are underpaid in this country. There is so much that an economy like ours can afford to pay although the propensity of politicians to look after themselves breeds resentment across the board about others who are poorly served. It is also pertinent to say that if there has been no delivery on promises previously made, as has been alleged, the necessary corrective action must be taken. As in many other professions, academics do have privileges including sabbaticals, consultancies and other means of supplementing admittedly poor emoluments. We are aware of a few academics running lucrative `A’ level tuition classes attended by students seeking university entrance. But this does not justify paying them poorly. It must be admitted that those who take university teaching jobs are almost always the cream of their batches with postgraduate qualifications. It is not fair to say that lectures take up only a couple of hours a week and the rest of the time belong to the university teachers to do as they wish. Many teachers spend long hours preparing for their lectures though others do little more than repeat the previous year’s lecture notes.

It is unfortunate that the confrontation, which may have been defused at least somewhat with the president seeing FUTA, last week, has assumed present proportions. The same pressures that are now being applied, like resignation from `voluntary’ positions such as heads of department, have been used before as bargaining levers in salary negotiations. Some of these positions carry small allowances and as pointed out in the debate on this matter where it has been pointed out that doing these jobs enhances prospects of promotions up the academic ladder. Ideally, if the best people rather than `yes’ men and women are appointed as Vice Chancellors or members of the UGC, and such appointments are depoliticized, the academic community would be strengthened with good leadership. The universities and the UGC must be headed by those who command respect for their academic attainment and integrity. Those who endorse candidates at elections are not universally perceived as the best people for these jobs.

1.What does the writer try to tell the readers about Sir John Kotelawela?
2.How do you observe his character?
3.What does the writer tell about ragging in universities?
4.What does Professor Savitri Gunasekera reveal through her article to the newspaper?
5.What is her attitude towards the academics of the universities?

Sources: Sunday Island –Editorial-29.05.2011

D.N. Aloysius

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