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Take a bow – academic staff of Colombo University, Law Faculty

This is not a mere paper article. To be honest, one can say, this is a letter of gratitude. As we all know, currently, a non-academic strike is underway in all the universities in our country. According to Sri Lanka's Inter University Trade Unions Federation, this strike has been called islandwide to force government to rectify the salary anomalies that have been there for a long now. And, they have vowed not to suspend the strike until their demands are granted.

Though the right to strike is not in black and white in our law books, it is impliedly accepted in our jurisdiction from the respective statutes (constitution, Industrial Dispute Act etc.) and from the line of cases heard in the superior courts. Therefore, the trade union action has a good legal pedigree, at a glance, as long as they do not come under essential services. Albeit, one question always hangs over their heads like the sword of Damocles, from a moral point of view. The writer himself was inspired by the above point of view to pen down this article, as a result of an incident which has struck his mind in the light of this on-going work stoppage.

We are having our final exams of Laws at this moment of writing. Students attend to their exams as usual as previous occasions.

Non-academic staff

The exam hall is well-prepared for this. We are given question papers in the same way as previous years. Apparently, exam runs smoothly as normal as before. But, one thing is missing. That is the non-academic staff who were in full attendance on other occasions. In this absence, I suspect, would anyone accept as true that Faculty of Law is conducting her final year exams notwithstanding any elbow grease by the non-academic staff. This is the reason that motivated me to praise our academic staff from the bottom of my heart.

Would you ever believe that a Dean of a faculty is present himself early in the morning to do the job of opening the doors of the exam hall, which under normal circumstances is a duty exclusively set aside to non-academic staff in a university.

However, I have heard that Professor Timothy Endicott, Professor of Legal Philosophy and Dean at the University of Oxford used to be present himself in the university as earliest in the day and he himself opened up some halls as no one was around to do the job at that time. Nevertheless, in Sri Lanka, it is rare to see that university lecturers prepare desks and chairs and work hard to make exam hall fit for the examination needs, as we got the luxury of non-academic staff to do such work.

We never expect from university teachers, including learned Doctors and professors, to conduct students’ exams from the work of unlocking the exam hall to holding and bringing the exam materials to the exam hall.

As I know, university teachers have not endorsed the seal on empty papers and do some manual jobs at any cost. But all these happen in Sri Lanka; not in England - at the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo. This is the fact that must be admired!

There is a Russian proverb which says, “in doing what we ought, we deserve no praise”. Here, the endeavour that has been made by these lecturers ought not be done by them. Therefore, you deserve the praise, honoured teachers. It is not a surprise to claim seventh place in the Asian region by this Faculty passing all other universities in the country at this commitment. Moreover, the most praiseworthy factor is, these same university teachers are doing honorary work that should have been done by the non-academic staff.

They had ample chances to shrug their shoulders and turn back to this kind of non-academic duties as their counterparts in other universities do. But, they did not hold that stance.

This exemplary gesture by the academic staff of the Colombo Law Faculty is a good example to all others to follow in the future, whether academic or not.

Armchair academics

Even in this moment, the main library is closed in the Colombo University inflicting immense hardships on students. All other sister faculties are not functioning on account of non-academics’ demands. Moreover, all most all the universities in the country are at a standstill and students are at home due to the strike.

The only institution going against the tide is the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo. This is one of the virtues that students expect from their mentors - teachers. In this context, it is noteworthy to say one occurrence that happened in Harvard Law School long-ago.

There was a rare academic-staff strike had been called and which was led by renowned Professor at Harvard, Derrick Bell. Fighting against race discrimination in the appointments of the Law School brought about this strike and which was totally a humanitarian issue. This sort of instances shows us how the scholars in the universities can contribute something more in their fields just like Colombo Law Faculty does at present, rather than being labeled as armchair academics.

There is a Latin phrase, “ars longa, vita brevis”. The English meaning of it is, “art is long, life is short”. If I simplify it more, it means, more you advance knowledge, that knowledge will never leave you though life perishes.

As academics who achieved eminence due to free education in this country, I believe they all have a solemn duty to bequeath knowledge to future generations.

This solemn duty has been gracefully practised by lecturers of the Faculty of Law in spite of all odds. Thus, I would like to say to you, all dear lecturers of the Faculty of Law, on behalf of all undergraduates of the country, Bravo…!

The writer is a Final Year Student of the Faculty of Law, Colombo University

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