Bogus VC’s Destructive Influence Perpetuates Havoc at South Eastern University of Sri Lanka

Allegations on Professorship Promotions in South Eastern University of Sri Lanka, 22 Academic Appointments Challenged at the Court of Appeal and the Next Term of Vice Chancellor Position Being Advertised

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Main entrance of the South Eastern University of Sri Lanka, one of the most beautiful universities which is now, unfortunately, suffering from the mismanagement and academic malpractices. [Photo credit: South Eastern University of Sri Lanka]

INSIDE STORY

by A Special Correspondent

Sri Lanka Guardian, through a number of articles since the last months of year 2022, revealed various academic malpractices committed by the current Vice Chancellor (Rameez Aboobacker) of South Eastern University of Sri Lanka (SEUSL) and these revelations had a significant impact among academics locally and internationally. Meanwhile, Rameez Aboobacker’s academic and administrative malpractices were questioned and discussed at various other platforms.  His malpractices were discussed at the Parliament of the country and at the Presidential Secretariat.

Following various developments regarding these malpractices at SEUSL, at a meeting presided by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, a decision was taken to be replace the Vice Chancellor Rameez Aboobacker of SEUSL with a Competent Authority in June 2023.  Consequently University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Education of Sri Lanka handled the process leading to the appointment of a Competent Authority and reportedly the Gazette Notification for the appointment was about to be published. Soon Rameez Aboobacker filed a petition at the Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka against the Minister of Education, State Minister of Higher Education, Secretary to the Ministry of Education, UGC and several other parties challenging the appointment of a Competent Authority and obtained an interim order against the appointment of a Competent Authority.

Rameez Aboobacker’s current tenure as Vice Chancellor of SEUSL comes to an end in August 2024 and fresh applications are invited by South Eastern University of Sri Lanka for the next term of the Vice Chancellor position. Applications have been called via an advertisement dated 08th February 2024. Meanwhile, the case filed against the appointment of a Competent Authority is still ongoing at the Court of Appeal, Sri Lanka.

With the foregoing brief update of events, we present some further the details regarding some serious academic and administrative affairs at South Eastern University of Sri Lanka. Current vice chancellor Rameez Aboobacker’s professorship had been challenged in media based on various allegations of plagiarism and research fraudulence. The evidences are irrefutable and concrete, some of which were presented in detail to the readers of Sri Lanka Guardian previously. Various complaints have been made to South Eastern University of Sri Lanka with copies to many authorities in this regard. The academic department of Sociology and the Dean, Faculty of Arts and Culture are well aware regarding these fraudulences through the complaints made to them.  But it is evident that SEUSL has taken no steps on this matter, despite their knowledge that these same complaints have also been brought to the knowledge of higher authorities! Sri Lanka Guardian, in the past, also mentioned of fraudulences in many other professorship applications within the same institute.

Academic fraudulence and substandard performance: where lies the problem?

We searched further, looking for the root causes that allowed academic fraudulence and systematic openings for spontaneous emergence of it at scale. Based on what we witness, it is conclusive that SEUSL has functioned as a ‘paper mill’ for substandard, fraudulent and bogus research during a period while Professor MMM Najim was serving as the Vice Chancellor of SEUSL. Professor MMM Najim is a Senior Professor from the University of Kelaniya and is currently a member of the Board of Management of Regain Peace Sri Lanka (RPSL) Consortium and prior to becoming the Vice Chancellor of SEUSL has officially represented the Social Service Department of the Sri Lanka Jama’ath e Islami movement. It is surprising to witness how these research fraud activities have been entertained by this academic administrator without any proper quality checking measures being put in place. We noticed that professorships without proper scrutiny had begun to be awarded at an unprecedented scale during this period, including that of Rameez Aboobacker. Several professorship promotions and so-called ‘Senate Awards’ and ‘Vice Chancellor Awards’ for research publications have been awarded during MMM Najim’s period as Vice Chancellor of SEUSL. Millions of Rupees in public fund have been wasted on such substandard South Eastern University Professors thus ‘created’ by this university. The foregoing claim can be substantiated with the following observations.

One South Eastern University teacher from the Department of Management and Information Technology of the Faculty of Management and Commerce of SEUSL was promoted to the position of ‘Professor’ from his then-position of Grade II Senior Lecturer mainly based on what he claimed to be his research publications, as he did not, and still does not, hold a doctoral degree for an academic qualification. This individual reportedly has claimed to have more than 15 research articles published by him and indexed in reputed (or UGC-accepted) research indexes, all within just a one year duration, interestingly in just a few ‘research journals’ – this is more than one paper every month added to Scopus for a whole year with all of them submitted for review in an evaluation for professorship in a part of Sri Lanka: perhaps a record in Sri Lanka only to be broken by another South Eastern University professorship applicant to be described below, something for the surprise of even the elite Sri Lankan researchers enjoying some international research-celebrity status based on regular publication activities in Elsevier and elsewhere!

It is interesting to notice that some of these journals sound like they are specialized for such serious abstract engineering sciences as ‘dynamical systems and control’ and/ or such computer hardware/ network implementation specific topics as ‘distributed and grid computing’ based on their titles while all the publications in them authored by this particular South Eastern University researcher are merely statistical correlation-finding exercises which aggregate questionnaires to basically summarize ‘the intention of a group of individuals’ in ‘performing some activity or in utilizing some piece of information technology’ or to make some statement on ‘the impact of some new piece of information technology’ on ‘the state of affairs in some industrial or academic setting’.

One of this author’s favorite journal has the title ‘journal of psychological rehabilitation’ and carries an article written by this author with the title ‘Blockchain Technology Adoption by Chain Professionals’ – making us wonder who these breed of people now being identified by the phrase ‘chain professionals’ are and in what way Blockchain technology is now being associated with psychological rehabilitation of any sorts, be it for the so-called chain-professionals or any kind of humans in general. There are several publications of the same nature from this individual who made his application to become a professor in year 2020 during the reign of MMM. Najim at SEUSL.

Reportedly, this now-South Eastern University Professor then claimed as many as 20 articles from years 2019 and 2020 to have been indexed in Scopus, the research article indexing service run by the publisher Elsevier, so that he could claim scores for his much desired professorship, which would nearly double his salary drawn at SEUSL from public funds. On the other hand, when we investigated with the Scopus indexing service, we found that there are only 9 indexed journal articles from year 2020 and 2 from year 2019 to have been indexed to the credit of this South Eastern University author! Besides this, to the interest of the many observers, it was noticeable that many of the journals that carried his articles got discounted from indexing by Scopus immediately following the year they were carrying his articles, i.e. since 2019 or 2020. The journal ‘Test Engineering and Management’ has been discontinued of coverage in Scopus in 2019, following it having suddenly increased its total article count in year 2019 by more than twice the total from the preceding ten years put together – this is typically the sign of a dying journal having been taken over by elements of international academic underworld entities – a common form of journal hijacking.

The pattern is observable with many such journals that are discontinued of coverage in Scopus. These academic underworld entities keep scanning for such dying journals and they are taken over for the purpose of exploiting and cashing-in on the remaining coverage period from indexing services by mass-selling publication opportunity to desperate authors in need of indexed publications for promotions; once this activity is detected, indexing services would discontinue coverage and the predator continues its scan for the next genuine journal in the process of natural death. It is surprising to see the strong association, intensive article contributions and other forms collaborations from certain SEUSL individuals to such suspicious journals in their last issues with any coverage of indexing services such as Scopus. Journal of Critical Reviews, another favorite journal of this South Eastern University author, published 132 articles in 2019 and inflated itself to publish 1784 articles in 2020 and eventually had its Scopus coverage discontinued. Another predatory journal with the fancy title ‘Journal of Advanced Research in Dynamical and Control Systems’ got discontinued from Scopus coverage in year 2020. Another predatory journal by the fancy title ‘International Journal of Advanced Science and Technology’ got discontinued in year 2020 after it more than doubled its annual total article count within a year.

International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation had its subject areas listed as ‘Psychology: Clinical Psychology; Medicine: Psychiatry and Mental Health; Nursing: Psychiatric Mental Health’ when they introduced themselves to Scopus and got discontinued from coverage by Scopus in year 2020; this is the journal that carried the above mentioned article of this author related to the so-called ‘chain professionals’ and Blockchain technology. How is it that these are the journals that these authors are most-associated with? What is the Black Market supply chain here like? How are these foreign journals paid for by these authors? Are there dealers and brokers and middle-men? We are now with the necessity to be down to this unholy level of scrutiny on university academic affairs to admit these to be thought-provoking questions. In the ORCID profile of this particular author, we find that he claims to have authored an article by the title “Supply chain professionals’ intention to use cloud supply chain” to have been published in a 2020 issue of the journal “Test Engineering and Management”. We find in Scopus website that Scopus had discontinued coverage of the journal in year 2019! Moreover, this journal is a well-known case of ‘hijacked journals’.

The journal which was previously known to have been a genuine ‘trade journal’ has been hijacked by some entities maintaining an illegitimate website with the URL ‘http://www.testmagzine.biz’ (notice the missing ‘a’ between letters g and z) – the original discontinued journal had a website with the now-non-functioning URL ‘http://www.testmagazine.biz/’; this information is available from Beall’s list hosted at ‘https://beallslist.net/hijacked-journals/’. A 2016 snapshot of the original journal website is available at https://web.archive.org/web/20180912234142/http://www.testmagazine.biz/ – the magazine also includes its email address testmag@testmagazine.biz with its genuine domain name in its landing page. Another article of this author with the title ‘Impact of consumer attitudes on online advertising: hotel industry in Sri Lanka’ to have been published in the journal ‘Journal of Critical Reviews’ can be found in his ResearchGate profile, another social-media-equivalent for academic and industrial research.

We find that this author has been a contributor to this article along with some others; his claim for the share of contribution by him would certainly have been known to the evaluators of his research publication if he had sought score for this article in his application for professorship. At the time of publication of this article, Scopus already had dropped coverage of this corrupt substandard journal – we do not see this article having been indexed by Scopus while some other articles of the same author from the same year in some other issues of the same journal are found to have been indexed in Scopus. Even the editorial board on the website of this ‘predatory journal’ named ‘Journal of Critical Reviews’ looks funny (see https://web.archive.org/web/20240224205302/https://www.jcreview.com/editorial.php)! The foregoing argument is solely based on metadata related to the publications by this author – an analysis of plagiarism and an account of scrutiny on the essence of the content and its validity as ‘contribution to the body of knowledge of the field of study in which professorship is sought’ will require more space; in fact it is also the job of professorship-application-evaluators who are rightfully appointed for this very job and are financially compensated from state funds for doing so for the benefit of the nation – be it recognizing and promoting talents to nurture the young minds of this nation or to prevent the disqualified and academically corrupt from spoiling their ‘learning experience’ as students. Very interestingly, this particular academic is a member of Council, SEUSL representing the Senate of South Eastern University of Sri Lanka.

Another South Eastern University teacher from the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) department of the Faculty of Technology of SEUSL has applied for professorship in year 2020, during the reign of MMM Najim, again without a doctoral degree and therefore his application had to, and still has to, be sufficiently supported by his research publications. A complaint submitted to the office of Hon. President claims that this individual has reported in his professorship application to have published more than 25 articles as journal publications to have been indexed in Scopus within the same calendar year 2020. This ‘one paper every other week’ report breaks the record set by the previously described South Eastern University researcher. Quite interestingly though, this South Eastern University researcher’s publication claims share some commonalities with those of the previously discussed South Eastern University researcher: they both have some common predatory journals which they seem to have contributed to or collaborated with. It is surprising to see that a similar pattern of publication process has been operating within this university system and a specific set of predatory journals have given platform for these academics to publish within a very short period of time and to claim indexing metrics. But most of these journals are highlighted as hijacked journals or predatory journals of other sorts by ‘lists’ such as the Beall’s list and also they are usually seen to have been removed from coverage of indexing sources such as Scopus. Several research fraudulences including predatory publication, duplicate publication and false claims to index metrics are highlighted in the detailed complaint which has been sent to the Chairman of UGC and to Hon. President’s office and copied to many others. While the author, according to the detailed complaint, has claimed all of his publications to have been indexed in Scopus, the Scopus profile of this author shows that only one journal article has been indexed to this date – even that one being published in 2022, two years after the professorship application has been submitted! It is to be believed that investigations by higher authorities outside of SEUSL are still underway on the matter of this professorship application with fraudulent documentation, fraudulent claims and research fraudulence. On the SEUSL end, however, repeated attempts are reportedly being made to find evaluators for this professorship application locally and internationally (from places like Deemed to be university in India) as the university has not been successful in retaining many of the external evaluators appointed to evaluate this application to professorship in some area of study related to Information and Communication Technology. This particular professorship application being passed around as if it is in a musical chair.

A South Eastern University Professor in Political Science from the Faculty of Arts and Culture has been observed to have navigated his way in a similar manner. This South Eastern University teacher without a doctoral degree has become as a professor in political science, reportedly claiming more publications in one year duration.  He has published more than 25 research articles within one year period. There has been queries about the evaluators appointed for another SEUSL professor in political science. Qualifications of professorship-application evaluators who are not professors themselves are also being questioned in some other professorships. There are several professors and pending professorship applications mainly relying on publications within this university having not undergone what would amount to proper scrutiny in other state universities of Sri Lanka – how come otherwise one dares to propose free healthcare to Sri Lanka in year 2015 and then attaches the same proposal to his professorship application reportedly removing names of his co-authors who he currently blames the plagiarism in it on? These members of South Eastern University have only tried to exploit the higher education system of this nation by dwelling unnoticed in some geographically far-away small-time university, also seemingly detached from highly-regarded traditions of academic rigor hailed of this nation! 

Another South Eastern University professor from the Department of Management of the Faculty of Management and Commerce of SEUSL is known to have published a research article titled ‘Two Sides of the Same Coin: Harmful or Helpful? A Critical Review of the Consequences of Organizational Citizenship Behavior’ in year 2016 plagiarizing the intellectual effort put by one Dwayne Devonish of West Indies origin in composing his PhD thesis titled “A Longitudinal Examination of the Consequences of OCBs for Individuals in Organisations: the Moderating Roles of Perceived Organisational Support and Control”, submitted to the University of Nottingham, UK, in year 2014; currently Dr. Dwayne Devonish is a Professor at the University of the West Indies. This is the state of affairs with regard to some of the senior-most academic employees of SEUSL. If senior-most employees like chair professors are plagiarists then it is only reasonable to expect ‘louder voices’ and ‘standing orations’ calling for collective resolutions ‘for plagiarism’ than ‘against plagiarism’. This situation demonstrates that this institution of higher education needs a proper babysitting by higher authorities and a complete re-training with regard to academic rigor, discipline, professional ethics and even basic morality in general.

And then there is the infamous professorship application of Rameez Aboobacker entertained in 2019 during MMM Najim’s time at SEUSL. To put it briefly for the newcomers of our readership, several of Rameez Aboobacker’s research articles have been proved to contain plagiarism, research fraud effort and substandard content and presentation; details can be found in previous articles on Rameez Aboobacker. In the interview with a Daily Mirror journalist, Rameez Aboobacker claimed that the proposal for free medicine in Sri Lanka in year 2015 was actually the work of his junior accomplices and that he had no part in composing those sentences; however, the Daily Mirror also reported that in his professorship application he has only included his name as a sole-author for this work, aiming at stealing credit away from his accomplices! There is plagiarism, research fraudulence and false documentation – all in one single claim for publication score!

How many SEUSL employees were promoted to professorships during the time of MMM Najim and Rameez Aboobacker? How difficult was it to spot oddities in these applications and the ways in which evaluations must have been going on? Did all reviewers of each of these professorships approve granting promotions without reservation? Did these Vice Chancellors, face no resistance to this unprecedented sudden generation of a herd of professors, even about young ones without doctoral degrees with more than 20 publications within the 12 months preceding the application and much less than that in all the previous years put together? Were there complaints regarding plagiarism in professorship applications? Was the November 4, 2022 article of Sri Lanka Guardian the very first place where MMM Najim and other administrators within SEUSL learned about the fact that Rameez Aboobacker was a plagiarist and that he was publishing with predatory publishers?

The above detailed account on the origin of academic corruption at SEUSL also gives a better context to the ongoing issues and the pathetic state of academic affairs at SEUSL. A total of more than 21 professorship promotions have been granted at SEUSL in the last 03-04 years. Among these 21 promotions, as we described in the above sections there are number of people with various types of academic fraudulences. These 21 number also include people with proper qualifications and proper academic record and we do not generalize our allegations against all the professors from this institution.  It is very specific against certain academic mafias. Millions of Rupees of public funds are being mishandled due to these professorships with poor quality and poor integrity as salaries alone. This trend surged during the time MMM Najim was the Vice Chancellor of SEUSL and continues to remain the same during the time of his successor Rameez Aboobacker. Meanwhile one cannot refute the fact that there are professors and other academics with high level of academic integrity within SEUSL and they are certainly seen to be worried about the current situation of the institution – something evident from the trade union actions from the past demanding Rameez Aboobacker explanations on his academic wrongdoings and their firm stand along with FUTA in channeling their voice to be heard by the authorities, appreciably with zero adverse effect on the execution of the academic calendars of the undergraduate programs at the institution. However it is only justifiable to conclude that a thorough re-examination and enquiry process is strictly required at this institution. But this cannot be done internally and SEUSL has only repeatedly demonstrated that it is incapable of correcting itself in the matters of academic corruption. No actions have been taken by Rameez Aboobacker or the rest of SEUSL administration in this regard so far, even in the case of daylight exposure of Rameez Aboobacker.

Administrative malpractices have been in an alarming rise since Rameez Aboobacker started functioning as the Vice Chancellor. 22 academic appointments made during Rameez Aboobacker’s time as Vice Chancellor are currently being challenged at the Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka. In 2021 November, Rameez Aboobacker chaired an interview to recruit Lecturer (Probationary) in Information and Communication Technology to the Department of Information and Communication Technology of the Faculty of Technology. It has been brought to the notice of higher authorities that during the assessment of candidates, ‘marks for research publications’ have been offered for ‘non-existent’ publications of some candidates who have been favored and eventually recruited, making other competing candidates fails by a difference less than the additional marks wrongfully offered to favored candidates. Persistent fight against Rameez Aboobacker’s administration via the provisions in the Right-to-Information act has brought these facts to light. It has also been observed that some candidates, who have eventually been recruited by the Rameez Aboobacker administration, had also produced false indexing claims as it was the case with two of the professorship applicants discussed above. This partly resonates with the carefree nature of how research outputs and indexing claims are usually handled at SEUSL, even in professorship applications. This wrongdoing in awarding marks for an objective and quantifiable criterion in a recruitment interview is currently being challenged at the Courts by an affected candidate.

18 other appointments claimed to have been made by the Rameez Aboobacker administration violating the Budget circular No. 03/2022 dated 26th April 2022 are being questioned at the Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka as part of a public litigation. In addition to the violation of the budget, it is also brought to the attention of the Court that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has previously established that there had been a human rights violation and injustice committed against one of the candidates who was not recruited to the post of Senior Lecturer in Economics and Statistics due to the fact that a candidate with a ‘first degree in agriculture without a first-class honors’ falling within a category officially meant to be deprioritized has been wrongfully favored and prioritized, systematically making the affected candidate with ‘relevant degree with first-class honors’, who was to be rightfully prioritized, fail to secure a place. The Human Rights Commission found the relevant appointment of the ‘third category’ candidate wrongful and recommended the appointment of the ‘first category’ candidate.

In summary, nothing has been rectified at South Eastern University of Sri Lanka as regards academic malpractices it was observed to be plagued with. Highly questionable poor level of academic integrity is observed on the part of its number of academics from newly recruited lecturers to chair professors and other categories of staff. This indicates that the university is essentially functioning like any other factory or a service station with the payroll, procurement and operational HR activities going on as usual except that its core value chain, which is the education process, is in a serious state of malfunction.

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

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