I refer to two items of news – “UG convocation must go on – unions” (SN 07.11.03) and “Turkeyen lecturers withdraw from Tain campus over ‘abuse'” (SN 07.11.05) and offer the following comments.
You carried the first on the basis of a statement widely circulated by Mr Frederick Kissoon and purporting to be issued by the UGWU and the UGSS. The first observation is that the document is unsigned, although issued in the names of Kissoon UGWU and Jason Benjamin UGSS. Although your report stated that “the unions” issued a “joint statement”, members of the UGWU executive learnt of the document for the first time after it was circulated to Deans on campus. Neither they nor the union membership were consulted and there was no union meeting to discuss the issues raised. Although Benjamin’s name appears as an author it is not signed by him; moreover, he has not yet been installed as UGSS president; and the president currently in office knew nothing about the statement. No joint statement was issued by any unions.
The second observation has to do with the lack of accurate information about the issues affecting the University provided by your source. You quote his “belief” that “the committee of deans and a few academics with a narrow agenda are using the graduation to press the council for narrow gains that have nothing to do with the future of the university”. Your source stressed “that the illegal university council and the graduation of students are unrelated issues”.
However, these matters were discussed at a meeting of the Deans and at two other large meetings, none of which your source attended. Far from being the “deans and a few academics”, the first was a meeting in the George Walcott Lecture Theatre attended by over 100 lecturers from all Faculties. The second was a fully quorate and well attended meeting of the Academic Board at which the Berbice Campus was represented.
Their “narrow agenda” was the very great difficulty they had with decisions purported to have been taken by the University Council on October 17, which are far-reaching and will certainly affect “the future of the University”. Neither were they directed at the Convocation as your report appears to suggest. The focus was on the matters requiring urgent action before attention would be turned to Convocation. It would then not be possible to go ahead with the date originally fixed because of the thorough and meticulous preparatory exercises including Board of Examiners’ meetings that precede it. Your source is also less than fair in charging the Academic Board with “jeopardising the future of 1200 students”. A few short weeks ago the UGWU was chanting “no money, no graduation” during their “sit in” of more than two weeks when students could not complete their registration, work in offices ceased and the normal conduct of several classes was disrupted. Over 5,000 students could not use the library.
The issues are briefly summarized below.
The Council purported to appoint and promote an ineligible Temporary Lecturer at the Berbice Campus. It is not the function of the Council to appoint or promote academics, an activity delegated to the Appointments Committee. Such an act is therefore unconstitutional, procedurally improper, unreasonable and in bad faith.
The University community also had difficulties with some conditions relating to the Vice-Chancellor’s appointment, which impede his authority and effectiveness as head of the institution.
The most important of these was the removal of the Bursar from his jurisdiction and the amendment of the University Statutes to make the Bursar responsible directly to the Council. This is an untenable separation of authority from responsibility, which is also a procedural impropriety, unreasonable and in bad faith. It is bad and risky management made worse by a similar shift in the reporting relationship of the Internal Auditor.
Questions were raised about the reason for such extremely critical changes in the Statutes, and the non-involvement of the administration and the academic community in decisions of that magnitude. There was similar exclusion in the announced “search committee” and profound dissatisfaction with those chosen by the Council to represent the University community.
The community objected, as well, to the isolation of the personnel officer for unsubstantiated and unwarranted verbal attack by Council members. Similar attacks also came from the Director of the Berbice Campus aimed at the commuting lecturers from Turkeyen who run courses on that campus.
The Berbice Campus
This was the subject of your report on November 5. The commuting lecturers temporarily withdrew their services from Tain to protest the Director’s insulting abuse as well as the improper appointment and promotion. The offence was not commited by the “Berbice Campus council” (which does not exist) as you reported, but purportedly by the University Council.
Director Parsram Thakur was quoted as outlining corrective measures which included options “for the Berbice-based lecturers to double-up on their teaching assignments” or “hiring new lecturers to fill the vacancies opened by the withdrawal of the Turkeyen lecturers”.
However, the Director needs to be reminded he is managing a University campus, not a mini-bus. Lecturers cannot “double-up” to do courses outside of their field and twice times the recommended contact hours. Furthermore, he does not have the authority to “hire new lecturers”; and, in any case, the University has already combed the Berbice Region for persons qualified to be academics. If they were to be so easily picked up, and if lecturers could “double-up” in all the various areas, there would have been no need for Turkeyen staff to commute in the first place.
In addition to being surprisingly uninformed about his role and the operations of his own campus, the Director remains unrepentant and betrays insensitivity to the issues at hand. He calls the commuting lecturers mercenaries and seems unaware that a contract was drawn up in 2000 for their compensation which was never increased since then. He repeats his contempt for staff who have kept the Berbice Campus running since 2000 at great sacrifice.
Director Thakur seems unaware that long before he was recruited to join the staff, it was Dr James Rose who designed and built the Berbice Campus after the idea was launched by the government in 1999. Dr Rose, along with Dr Dev Rawana and Mr Tota Mangar made several trips to the site at Tain to see the buildings go up. It was only after the University staff he continues to insult had been making their vital contribution that he was appointed by the Vice-Chancellor. I can speak of the entire process since I was a member of the Academic Board that piloted the programmes of the new campus and a member of the panel that interviewed and selected Parsram Thakur.
He has shown no growth since then, but continues to thrash those who have been working with committed persons in Berbice for the campus to see the light of day.