From scholarship boy to Vice Chancellor
The Road To Peradeniya. An autobiography of Sir William Ivor Jennings. Edited and introduced by H.A.I. Goonetileke. Reviewed by Dr. Lorna Dewaraja.

Sir William Ivor Jennings, the founder Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon from 1942-55, who played a distinguished role in the educational, political and constitutional development of Sri Lanka, is now an almost forgotten figure. Only those of us who were in Peradeniya in the early 1950s will remember his tall and wiry figure, as he walked briskly along the then serpent infested, but lush, green paths of Hantana Hill, which he loved so much.

While he was in Sri Lanka, Sir Ivor, when he was only 47 years old, wrote the first version of his autobiography in 1950, and later between 1963-65 when he was Vice Chancellor of Cambridge, he began to write a second version, at the same time revising and adding copiously to the first. Both versions are included in this book, which is edited by the outstanding scholar librarian, H. A. I. Goonetileke (Ian) who is no more. In his introduction, Ian relates the circumstances which led to the publication of this book, while revealing many little-known facts about the personal life of this eminent man, who made an indelible impact on higher education in this country.

The learned editor laments the fact that apart from references and assessments in an assortment of books, periodicals and newspapers, no proper biography of so estimable a scholar and constitutional lawyer has yet been written. He hopes that this autobiography may provide the stimulus for such a work.

In 1940 he was appointed Principal of Ceylon University College, which was then an appendage of the London University. He presided over the vital conversion of the University College to a full fledged university in 1942, becoming its first Vice Chancellor.Thereafter he plunged into the very challenging task of converting it into a residential university in Peradeniya, which he envisaged would soon be transformed into an Oxford or Cambridge. If his vision has not been realized, it is not his fault. Nevertheless, the University of Peradeniya is undoubtedly Sir Ivor’s most enduring monument.

It is interesting to note that the manuscript of the Road to Peradeniya was lying virtually forgotten in the Jennings Papers Archives at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. Ian, having heard of its existence, entered into a correspondence with Mrs. Claire Dewing, Sir Ivor’s elder daughter, who was very willing to hand over the work of editing to him, for he had already edited Sir Ivor’s manuscript, The Kandy Road (1993) which was published to mark the Golden Jubilee Year of the University of Peradeniya, as a mark of respect to its first Vice Chancellor.

Early life and education
Sir Ivor was always thought of as a constitutional lawyer, political scientist and educationist, but reading his autobiography one realises what a noble human being he was as well. He writes in very simple language, is lucid and unambiguous, and is devoid of pomposity reflecting his personality. He candidly confesses that he began life in very modest circumstances. He had no aristocratic ancestors or any with academic distinctions.

His father began life as a carpenter, often unemployed, and his mother was the daughter of a night watchman in a spelter factory. Giving the details of how his parents gradually climbed the social scale by hard work and careful living, Sir Ivor reveals a great deal about British social life in the early 20th century, the education system and the schools. “By no means a clever boy,” Sir Ivor says that he won a scholarship by fluke to Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital School, which was meant for poor scholars like him to be fed, clothed, housed and taught. He excelled in Mathematics and won another scholarship to the Bristol Grammar School, where he was a day scholar.

His father died soon after and his mother had to support him on a widow’s pension. They lived in relative penury, which he says was good for him, walking six miles a day to save his tram fare, studying in the kitchen to save fuel and never taking the trouble to keep up with the Joneses. However, by disciplined living and hard work, he earned the Open Scholarship in Mathematics at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, where he obtained a First Class in Part I of the Mathematical Tripos, and both parts of the Law Tripos. In 1925 he was both Whewell Scholar and Holt Scholar of Grays Inn, and Barstow Scholar in 1926, being called to the Bar in 1928. He began his long and distinguished career as a lecturer in Law at Leeds University, and later in the London School of Economics. He was visiting Professor of Political Science at the University of British Colombia, when he was appointed to Ceylon as Principal of University College at the age of 37, and later became the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon.

His early years in Ceylon (which coincided with the war years) reveal the political, social and other pressures, which influenced higher education in colonial Ceylon, and the difficulties which the young Vice Chancellor had to face. But his resolution was, “I was in Ceylon to do a job and would do it; if I found that owing to ignorance or procrastination or ineptitude or corruption it could not be done, I would go home.” There was nothing like the University atmosphere he was used to at Cambridge. In the case of academic appointments (and there was a series of them), Sir Ivor had to get the permission not only of the College Council, but also of the Executive Committee for Education consisting of seven politicians.

He deplored justifiably the political control over the university which lowered its prestige. Sir Ivor was very critical of preparing students for London examinations, as the curriculum was based on the English environment, and no attempt was made to relate learning to local conditions. The University College was a tutory preparing students for London examinations. The answer scripts were sent by sea mail, facing the risk of enemy submarine blockades, which might easily deprive 100 undergraduates of their degrees. These difficulties could be overcome by the creation of the university; this was passed in April 1942 (in the midst of Japanese air raids) by amalgamating the University College and Medical College into the University of Ceylon.

War years and constitution making
It is remarkable that despite all these onerous duties, Sir Ivor served as Deputy Civil Defence Commissioner, producing literature overnight for the war effort; functioned as Chairman, Social Service Commission writing noteworthy recommendations; was Member of the Commission on the Ceylon Constitution; and was constantly sought after by the key persons who were involved in the demand for independence. In the chapter on Constitution making, Sir Ivor gives a summary of his contributions, which were dominant and decisive in the constitutional arrangements, which offered both Dominion Status and the independent constitution of 1948.

Educational reforms 1943-44
Sir Ivor was also a dissenting member of the Special Committee on Education appointed by the State Council in 1943, which recommended Free Education from kindergarten to university. He says that he was the only member of the Committee who had benefited from free education, for he had never ever paid school fees. So he wanted to implement a scheme that would work, with an eye to the costs involved, whereas the others had not thought of the problem of costs, but only of votes.

Besides, he did not see why wealthy parents should be relieved of school fees. Sir Ivor’s worst fears have been realised. Free education is today a farce. The wealthiest attend international schools, which charge exorbitant fees. The not-so-wealthy attend private schools, admission to which may cost lakhs of rupees, while the rank and file who go to the free state schools are forced to attend mushroom tutories, paying excessively to gain the knowledge they do not receive in school.

Sir Ivor was not a sympathiser of the nationalist fervour that was gathering force at the time, and its religious and cultural thrusts. Hence he was branded an imperialist. He spoke against the introduction of the mother tongue, as the medium of instruction on the basis of race. Ironically, soon after he left, it was introduced to the university, but today half a century later, English has been reintroduced with renewed vigour right across the educational spectrum. Besides, English-speaking enclaves have sprung up teaching in English only, preparing young elites for English examinations. Further, English tutories have emerged in the villages, teaching broken English to rural youth, who are conditioned to believe that English is the panacea for all their ills. What would Sir Ivor have to say?

The road to Peradeniya
Sir Ivor profoundly believed in the importance of environmental factors in emotional and intellectual development, and fully upheld what D. R. Wijewardene said about the magnificence of the Peradeniya scheme. However, the enthralling physical beauty of Peradeniya and the excellence of the architecture did not cloud his vision of what the future of the university should be, “…it is also a problem of developing a tradition in the university itself, so as to make it a fraternity of ‘master and scholars’ engaged in the advancement and dissemination of knowledge, and the production of young men and women with personality and judgment.” Looking into every detail with meticulous care and fighting bureaucratic lethargy, he spared no pains to achieve this end. He says that for him it was not a “nine to four” job. “Quite often it has not been nine to four p.m., but was four to nine p.m. and even four to nine a.m.”

The site had been selected and the outline of the plan laid out before he came, but Sir Ivor breathed life into Peradeniya. Whether it was Arts, Science, Medicine, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Veterinary Science, Oriental Studies, Buddhism, Engineering, Sociology, Anthropology, Education, the Sinhala Encyclopedia, the University Museum, the Library, the Halls of Residence, religious shrines for all faiths, Health and Sports facilities right down to the bushes and hedges – nothing escaped his grand vision of Peradeniya. It is clear that although he became the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge, Peradeniya was his crowning glory. The very fact that he chose the title ‘The Road to Peradeniya’ for his autobiography (although he spent only 13 years of his life in Ceylon) proves the point. “The building of a university is the most valuable job that anybody could be asked to do.”

Sir Ivor was obsessed by the fact that he was a “scholarship boy,” who pursued his education with the help of “pious benefactors.” Over and over again he emphasises the need for the creation of a Peradeniya Fund, for which purpose he wrote his autobiography and also a Scholarship Endowment Fund. The university needs pictures, sculptures and works of art to enrich its buildings; manuscripts and rare books for the museum and library; and trophies for competition. The rich could endow chairs and lectureships, and the not so rich could contribute small sums of money to be invested in a Scholarship Endowment Fund to help needy students. Sir Ivor expected such donations to flow in like the Mahaweli!

Everybody connected with this book from manuscript to print should be congratulated for placing before the reader this posthumous autobiography of a great man, whose love of learning, scholarly humility and aesthetic sensitivity is apparent in every page. The enormity of the task undertaken by the indefatigable editor during his last days can be realized, when one sees Sir Ivor’s illegible scrawl that is shown in the illustration given in the book. The bibliography which Ian has included in the work shows what a prolific writer Sir Ivor had been, despite all his other duties.

The Jennings family, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, Lake House Investments Limited, Colombo and the US - Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission, Colombo should be happy that the book is well finished. The printing, binding, paper and illustrations are all of high quality. The cover with the picture of the author is aesthetically pleasing and dignified. This book should be seen in every library in Sri Lanka and the UK. It is a very appropriate gift for Sri Lankan academics living abroad, especially to those of the Jennings era.

A journey through journalism
“The Real Scribes,” the latest informative addition to the creations of Merril Perera, a prominent figure in the field of journalism, promises to be a good read. The book is to be launched on Tuesday, March 28 at 3.30 p.m., at the book exhibition centre of Dayawansa Jayakody and Company, in Maradana.
Having progressed from the post of provincial reporter to his present position of editor of the Divaina, Upali Newspapers Ltd, the writer explores the various diverse responsibilities that are an inherent part of this profession. Especially beneficial for young, aspiring journalists, “The Real Scribes” consists of numerous articles ranging from provincial newspaper reporting, to the art of writing editorials, courts and parliament reporting, human interest reporting and sports reporting. The book also includes articles from a few guest writers as well.

Covering a huge number of aspects in the field of journalism, some of the articles in “The Real Scribes” are titled Birth of Newspapers, Sub-Editing, Political cartoons, Foreign news and Mr. D.R. Wijewardene (a profile). Having had experience in the field of journalism over many years, the veteran journalist’s other published work was based on personal experiences, and was an instant hit with his readers.

An old boy of Sri Sumangala College, Panadura, Merril joined Lake House as Panadura correspondent while studying for his A/Ls. Working as a staff reporter, this gifted professional joined the Upali Newspapers (Divaina) in 1981, as chief sub editor. He was appointed chief editor of Divaina, in 2003.

A lover of films and art, Merril is planning an art exhibition sometime this year as well. An autographed copy of “The Real Scribes” can be purchased at a special price on the day of the launch. All are welcome for the launch.

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