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Sir Ivor Jennings:

The multifaceted educationist

The 42nd death anniversary of Sir Ivor Jennings, an author of Ceylon constitution and the first Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya University, falls today.


Sir Ivor Jennings

History presents Ceylon under the British yoke as a somewhat gloomy period. The same history, however, shows us the accounts of good-hearted Englishmen who had a great respect towards Ceylon's culture; the likes of John D'Oyly await an academic to go down into their souls.

I can be too young and naive to talk about Sir Ivor Jennings, whose golden period in Ceylon existed long before I was born. I am, however, sure that many generations to come in the future would find it essential to study this man. When I read what is written on him, I see a simple white man walking uphill in the vicinity of Kandy, one of Ceylon's older Kingdoms.

When Ivor Jennings was born in Bristol on May 16, 1903, William and Eleanor would not have pictured their son's glistening academic and administrative career in a far away land. Jennings set off his academic journey at the Leeds University in 1925.

The budding lecturer - yet to achieve the much covetous Knighthood and Doctorate - then joined the London School of Economics and Political Science as a lecturer in law.

A glistening career waited for him, when Jennings accepted his charge in Ceylon for the first time in 1940 as the Principal of Ceylon University College, which later on turned out to be Peradeniya University making its Principal the Vice Chancellor in 1942.

The Vice Chancellor combined the University College and the Medical College into one body, following the shifting of campus grounds into Peradeniya.

The middle period of the Vice Chancellor's tenure witnessed the glamour of the University with the Faculties of Arts, Oriental Studies, Agriculture and Veterinary Science, the Departments of Dental surgery, and the well-equipped Health Centre.

The Vice Chancellor was Knighted in 1948 and subsequently the Doctorate was conferred in recognition for his administrative service to the Peradeniya University. The Doctorate, very much unlike today, was meant for the really deserved.

Writing was something insatiable with Sir Ivor Jennings. Being a prolific writer, he is said to have written almost everything at a given time.

It is no surprise, then, to see the serious publications authored by him: The Constitution of Ceylon, The Economy of Ceylon, The Commonwealth in Asia, Some Characteristics of the Indian Constitution, Ceylon and its People, The Queen's Government and the Dominion of Ceylon.

Sir Ivor Jennings, nevertheless, was not privileged to exist without criticism. He was obviously scoffed at for his restricted vision of creating a single University confined to issuing internal degrees in English.

The national language medium was to be imposed on internal degrees following his resignation in 1955. Sir Jenning's contribution to Ceylon constitution is also an interesting study. By this time, Ceylon was in transition - it was to gain independence from Britain, but the ruling was yet to be shared between the colony and the empire - Dominion status.

In his Constitution of Ceylon, Jennings explains the inside story of how Ceylon became a Dominion status. "The process of development of the Ceylon Constitution of 1946 - 47 began on May 26, 1943, when, at the request of the Board of Ministers under the Donoughmore Constitution of 1931, the Government of the United Kingdom issued a Declaration of Policy on Constitutional Reform in Ceylon.

The same evening D S Senanayake [then Prime Minister], Sir Oliver Goonetillake [then High Commissioner for Ceylon] and I had a discussion on the steps necessary to secure Dominion status. At the end of it I found myself virtually enroled as honorary constitutional adviser, and, though many others were called in to assist, I continued to fill that role until Independence was obtained on February 4, 1948."

(The above quoted section was extracted from 'Revolt in the Temple') Ceylon was ruled under a British Head of State until it gave up its 'Ceylon' title and became Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972 under a new Constitution.

It is ironic to see him dishonoured at the very University he nurtured lovingly; this stems from the mounting criticism levelled against him especially for being a British.

Whatever things there can be, one thing is definite - the buildings of Sri Lanka's one of the oldest universities still carry the spirit of a man who shouldered one-time academic uplift in a country that was not his own.

 

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