The Sunday Leader

The More Abominable: Fake Degrees Or Professorships?

S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Graduates at a convocation...

The UGC never ceases to amaze me by its ability to posture through high principles which it never practices. Indika Sri Aravinda reports (Leader, 3 June) that the UGC will henceforth fine illegal doctorates and that according to the UGC Chairman, issuing doctorates for a payment is illegal.
In Sri Lanka the Universities Act purports to regulate the issuance of degrees but it really cannot regulate foreign degrees. Besides, even legitimate universities, including UGC universities, always require some payment by way of fees for any doctorate.
Reputable magazines like The Economist advertise degrees for ‘life experience.’ The organization’s ‘Affordable Career Degrees,’ for a payment, will issue doctorates with ‘no classes, no studies and no exams’ based on your knowledge and experience. Ashwood University of Clinton, IA in the US offers a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree at $599 each, a Doctorate for $849, and all three together at the cut-rate price of $1,448! If I choose to get a degree from them, on what basis would the UGC fine me? Their degrees are legitimate by a legitimate institution and their fees too are legitimate for assessing an applicant as they claim to do.
What one can question, however, is their degrees’ academic merit. The UGC has powers to recognize degrees and that is how these degrees should be tackled to save unwitting employers from employing the holders of such degrees and unwitting parents from marrying off their daughters to them.
On the other hand, the far more serious problem is when people without the requisite credentials take over our national universities and run them with their fake professorships. They rapidly infect the system and everything falls apart as has happened.
Consider the appointment of the present UGC Chairman in 2006 for services to the President in his 2005 election campaign and in drafting his manifesto. To be UGC Chairman, the only process is lobbying without any formal announcement, application, nomination or even a CV. Now put politicians who need not have ever been to a university making that appointment – and we have the broad decay of universities we see today and appointments of unqualified stooges and ‘tail-holders,’ embezzlers, and party men from ministry lists without open advertisements, etc.. Our politicians’ only consideration is promoting the party, not the university system. Good academics whom we badly need, flee in horror.
The Chairman was a mere Associate Professor then without any academic lustre. At the UGC his reputation is that letters that he needs to write take a long time coming because he cannot write, but the Secretary’s (a career appointment) come out quickly. In 2006 March the Chairman had already been appointed as VC Rajarata despite being only an Associate Professor and then was appointed to oversee the university system as UGC Chairman, making the rules for promotions, nominating persons to professorial selection committees, etc. It was a wrong appointment when there were many more accomplished persons at the rank of professor and especially when he himself would have a conflict of interest in going through a promotion he would have a say on. No one dared to protest because we in the system rely on political favours or at least the favours of the politically favoured like our VCs. We got what we deserve.
The UGC website presently lists him as a Senior Professor at Peradeniya. In between he was listed as Professor, Rajarata. That is, if the claims are true, he has gone through a double promotion from Associate Professor in 2006 when he became Chairman to Professor and Senior Professor, and two changes of employer too (rather than a release from Peradeniya to be VC at Rajarata).
Circular 838 of 26 Jan. 2004 specifies for Senior Professor only two routes: A Professor who has completed a total of eight years of service as Professor (counting also the steps given at the time of appointment as service) or someone with a higher doctorate. A mysterious amendment through Circular 897 dated 8 July 2008 under this Chairman also allows steps at promotion to Professor to be counted. The public has a right to know from where he got the 8 years as professor. Did he as UGC Chairman persuade some university to promote him to Professor with steps? If so would those on the selection committee including the VC of the relevant university have dared to say no to the UGC Chairman who determined grants to that university? Did he nominate the UGC nominees to his own selection committees for his two promotions and two appointments as Professor at Rajarata and then back to Peradeniya? Indeed, was Circular 897 written by the UGC specifically for the Chairman’s promotion? Any explanation, whatever it may be, would have ugly connotations.
The UGC website also lists its Chairman’s degrees as “BA (Hons.), MA, Ph.D. (St. Andrews)”. The convention is that when multiple degrees are listed with only the name of one university at the end, then all the degrees listed are from the one named university. When then did he earn his BA and MA from St. Andrews? I say he has no BA (Hons) from St. Andrews as claimed and I believe no MA either.
The UGC website also lists Commission Member Subramaniam Mohandas [sic., really Mohanadas] as “Professor in Chemistry, University of Jaffna.” His also was a classic political appointment as VC Jaffna in 2003 at the behest of Minister Douglas Devananda while an Associate Professor of Agricultural Chemistry there. Even that promotion to Associate Professor was dubious because, from my recollection of his CV which I read as a member of the UGC at one time, he hardly has any journal publications. Unlike the Chairman, he as VC did not put himself through a promotion with conflicts of interest. When he retired from University of Jaffna, he lost all rights to his title of Associate Professor because the Emeritus Professorship is given, if at all it is, only to those retiring at the full rank of Professor. How then did he acquire the rank of Professor, let alone of Professor of Chemistry, after he retired? Was he rehired by the University of Jaffna to the Department of Chemistry for him to be listed as he is? Under the Act, the UGC has no powers to confer degrees or professorships. ‘Dr.’ Mohanadas is good and beautiful. ‘Professor’ is a university title and is not necessarily higher than ‘Dr.’ when outside a university. But in our vanity we seem to want to strut around with every title we can add, legitimate or not.
If just two of the UGC listings I am personally familiar with are either fake or manipulated, how about the rest?
This is what happens when high appointments are made to reward political cronies and hangers on rather than on merit. A couple of people buying doctorates to strut around in society for a little status, might cheat a few. But when former Vice Chancellors and UGC Members and the Chairman misuse the system to claim high titles for themselves, they destroy the very academic fabric of the nation, just as appointing the unqualified as VC and UGC Chairman for the sake of the ruling party began that process of decay – for such unqualified persons need to cook up fake qualifications to show themselves to be qualified to justify their undeserved high offices. The President must take note. Under threat of trumped up criminal charges for an article he wrote in The Sunday Leader on election malpractices by Minister Douglas Devananda, the author fled Sri Lanka where he and his wife had been terminated from their permanent academic positions and refused appointments even as Senior Lecturer. Both were quickly absorbed at full-professor’s rank at Michigan State University, a top-50 national research university in the US.

7 Comments for “The More Abominable: Fake Degrees Or Professorships?”

  1. Mervyn Keppitipola

    Unfortunately, the real reason good academics flee the country, while those put forward by Prof Hoole do have merit, are that established professors, who have come through the system, control a political empire of their own promoting their own agendas and with a magnitude of resistance to change so high that it has to be experienced to be believed.

  2. vintage voter


  3. Hadeniya

    This very eloquent piece amply demonstrates why university administration and the products of the universities, are so pathetic. Despite all the hype in the press on how education is going to be improved, nothing of any significance is going to happen until this sort of thing is stopped. But that is not going to happen any time soon. In the meantime another generation of young men and women will be wasted.

  4. Lankaputhra Ranasinghe

    As an undergraduate at University of Peradeniya during early 1970s, I still remember how antisocial the present UGC chairman was, and how he crashed the 1974 Hilda Obesekera Hall Social. As undergraduates, we tried our level best to conduct this social event as an innocent remedy to turn aside hardworking students who were constantly going through hectic periods of time with studies, but he brutally led this inconsiderate act by intimidating students using all means of thuggery. We have not seen even the slightest effect of 1971 rehabilitation from him, but only psychotic behavior. I still remember during the rag-season, how he boasted the incoming university freshers claiming that he was the one who stopped the Hilda social.

  5. Newton

    Writer seems to portray an image of a “catholic holier than pope”. Academic PHD’s are by any means NOT superior to those qualifications earned by Professionals based on their valuable practical experiences. Who is he to criticize on-line degrees? This is the digital age not “Pen and Note book age” that belongs to the 19th century teaching style. Guys like him makes our children languish at home due to faculty-centric education which he champions unfortunately. Because there does not exist capacity either physical or intellectual (except many Drunk PHD holders) in the present University Education System in Sri Lanka.

  6. Dr. Rumi Greenwich

    This is very true, there are many universities in the west selling doctorates.While everybody agrees that this is a digital age, the degree itself should not be digital.

  7. Rubert Vanderkoon

    FUTA amazes me mroe than anything else, hence anything against the academic lot, I’ll believe. The nepotism and hypocrisy is rampant among rural educated FUTA big shot and his clan. The poor politicians who made an attempt to create a class-les society by introducing Free Education in 1930s must be turning in their graves at today’s FUTA lot’s actions. Asking for priviledged status, especially, demanding preferential status for their children over others in school admission itself makes the common man cringeworthy.

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