UG must be rescued from political expediency

Dear Editor,

I welcome the resumption of classes at the University of Guyana (UG).  This is good for the student body, and by extension, it is also good for the Guyanese society. Whenever elephants fight, it’s the grass (students) that is trampled.   Most conflicts at UG have their origins in the persistent power struggle between the academics at the university, and its governing council and administration.

We have neglected to become a learning community and as a result we repeat past mistakes. Ever since 1965, UG has been subjected to the whims and caprices of successive governments: The PNC, 1965-1992 and the PPP,1992-the present.   As the Walter Rodney ‘affair’ was to the PNC, so the Freddie Kissoon ‘affair’ is to the PPP.

It would appear that we are not yet sufficiently steeped in the intellectual traditions that would enable us to accept the notion, that the expansion of knowledge is the raison d’être or mandate of every university, and as a result of this process a university  contributes to the full development of individuals.   The institution will inevitably become either directly or indirectly a critic of society, because new knowledge always involves questioning the status quo. The university can exercise no control over knowledge any more than it can control human nature.

When the PNC assumed power in 1964 and set about modifying existing arrangements to enable it to discharge its mandate, UG was one of the institutions to which it directed its attention.  A section of the UG Act was amended. Briefly, the effects of the amendment were: 1) to provide for the removal of members of the Council during their terms of appointment; 2) the appointment and removal of members of the Council is, now, simply at the pleasure of the minister responsible for UG; and 3) the minister now has the power to make many appointments which represent a variety of non-academic interests.

The present Council’s minimum membership is 30 (I am subject to correction), but at times it has had as many as 50 – only 6 of whom would be categorized as academicians in the accepted sense.  The majority of Council members either represent various government agencies and organizations, or are citizens at large. There are so many government appointees in relation to university people that the government is always assured of a majority. Therefore, when certain Council members spoke of a “consensus” in reference to Mr Kissoon’s dismissal, we could consider it either a disservice to the English language, or an attempt to mock the intelligence of the public.

Much of the conflict between the academic community of UG and the UG Council is political in nature. Some members of the UG community view the governing Council as representing the PPP. Some members of the government and the governing Council view members of the UG community as representing the opposition. Consequently, in addition to the inherent suspicion and mistrust, political expediency tends to prevail over academic concerns in policy decisions.

The UG Act describes the Council of the university as its governing body. Therefore, it is expected that the Council would concern itself mainly with matters of policy, such as to 1) endeavour to maintain the quality of programmes “required and expected of a university of the highest standard”; 2) ensure there are clear policies and guidelines for the institution’s development, management and administration; 3) provide an environment that is conducive to learning, holistic development, and the expression of creativity; 4) ensure that there are systematic reviews of the institution’s mission and effectiveness; and 5) assume responsibility for reorienting the institution to changing societal needs, help to sharpen its institutional roles, basing them upon the institution’s particular strengths.  These are the criteria by which the performance of the UG Council must be judged.

The judgement must be that in its present state, UG is incapable of meeting the needs of the Guyanese society and Guyana in terms of highly qualified manpower. It cannot carry out the needed research appropriate in terms of quality and quantity. It cannot provide the leadership and expertise necessary for national development.

Rational Guyanese would expect that after nearly 50 years of existence, and the investment of billions of dollars in an institution where the greater part of the nation’s intellectual resources are concentrated, that UG would have been able to a) define the various options available in development strategies, point out their probable consequences, and to make the Guyanese society more aware of the problems involved; b) re-develop staff members in the exercise of new professional and social responsibilities; c) be directly involved in development programmes or act as advisors to those who direct them.

To date, Guyanese are sceptical about how much of the above has been achieved.  Returns on investment have been minimal.  It is patently evident that the performance of the UG Council has not only been inadequate, but has also been a severe impediment to the progress and development of the university.

It would be interesting to peruse the terms of reference for the consultancy “to promote efficient administration analogous to contemporary universities.”  Based on its track record, one does not get the impression that the governing Council knows what is required to transform UG into an effective institution for social and national development. The minister responsible for the university should request the resignation of all the politically appointed members of the governing Council en masse, and appoint an Interim Management Committee (IMC) of eminently qualified academics that will have the power to co-opt other essential expertise when necessary, until such time as the required restructuring and reorganization of the university is completed.

The World Bank project document says: “Short of sending abroad all secondary school graduates who wish to continue science studies at the higher education level, and/or importing the requisite skills and expertise for the implementation of the LCDS at high cost, there is no alternative to investing in the University of Guyana…”

I appeal to all patriotic and rational Guyanese – at home and in the diaspora to pool our collective voices and wills to rescue UG, a paramount national asset. The rescue of UG from political expediency (and immaturity), must become a cause célèbre.

Yours faithfully,
Clarence O Perry

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