UG staffers wary of VC’s wider powers under amended statutes

-Opadeyi says changes to ensure accountability

Several of the statutes governing the University of Guyana (UG) have been stealthily amended to give Vice Chancellor (VC) greater power, the University of Guyana Senior Staff Associa-tion (UGSSA) and the Uni-versity of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) both say.

But Professor Jacob Opadeyi, the current VC, argues that the amendments are only

Professor Jacob Opadeyi
Professor Jacob Opadeyi

aimed at better reflecting the existing practices at the university.

In a communiqué sent to staff members last week, the unions revealed that the amendments were made by the UG Council based on submissions offered by Opadeyi, who, they claim, is seeking to acquire even more power and authority than he currently holds.

The amendments, which the unions describe as “unnecessary and potentially injurious,” give much more power to the VC than he has ever held, according to UGSSA President Patsy Francis.

What is even more troubling, she said, is the fact that these changes are being made “silently.”

“No one knew that this amendment was on the table for consideration,” she said, referring to an amendment that provides for the dean of each faculty to be appointed by the Principal and VC from among the eligible members of the faculty, after he would have consulted with the Board of the Faculty. Previously, the statute provided gave the Principal and the VC the authority to appoint a dean based on nominations made by a faculty’s board.

Francis said that the relevant documentation for the amendment was submitted to the Council a mere two days prior to the meeting during which the decision to change it was taken. This move, the unions are claiming, left little time for university groups represented on the Council, including Academic Board and the Committee of Deans, to discuss the proposed amendment.

In addition, under the amended statutes, the VCs will now be responsible for identifying and appointing several other officers, including the Deputy VC and the Heads of Departments (HODs).

These changes, the unions fear, create an unsavory situation where these senior academic staff will be accountable to one individual. One particularly troubling feature of the amendments, the unions say, is that fact that deans can now be recalled for non-performance. Furthermore, the absence of an accompanying process to govern the recall of deans has led the unions to suspect that any and all such action can and will occur at the behest of one individual–the VC.

These developments have led the unions to believe that Opadeyi has adopted the tendency to “go it alone”—a trait they describe as worrying. They claim to have reached out to Opadeyi, urging that he seek “buy-ins” for the changes he seems to believe are necessary, and to have encouraged him to reconsider his proposals for change in the absence of such support.

Accountable

But during a press conference on Monday, Opadeyi told reporters that it was necessary to do away with the election process in the appointment of the various deans. Elections, he said, produce a situation where the dean may feel obligated to govern in the best interest of those who would have supported him or her, at the expense of those who did not.

By eliminating the process, Opadeyi said, the deans will only be accountable to the VC as opposed to feeling accountable or even obligated his or her supporters. He insisted, however, that this selection process is not new, since at the end of the day the dean is ultimately appointed by the VC.

Opadeyi also stood by the decision as it relates to the recalling of deans. “The recall is something that is topical today. When a dean is not performing you cannot allow the person to just continue. And you have cases like that at this university, not in the case of a dean [but] where a lecturer was managing a programme [but] was not performing and there was nobody who could touch the person until the term finished,” he explained.

Such practices, he added, caused the university to lose one of its Master’s Programmes.

The unions are also saying that the old system of having deans nominated from among their faculty colleagues would have produced a candidate who carries the confidence and support of other faculty members. Additionally, they are “dismayed at the process utilised by the VC to select HODs as it was not truly consultative and it lacked confidentiality.”

This has the potential, they argue, to create fractures and discord within the departments.

“If the VC is desirous of employing the amended process of appointing deans, he must first clearly outline the process as well as convince the unions that the process will be truly consultative,” the unions say.

The unions, in their communiqué, noted that after consulting with the University of the West Indies, they were advised that the consultation process utilised by that university was highly confidential and entailed the VC consulting the either individually or jointly, the Assistant Deans, HODs, the outgoing Dean (if not being reconsidered for the deanship) and senior faculty members; and other faculties offering their recommendations in writing (either individually or jointly).

The unions also noted an instance where a lecturer within the Faculty of Natural Sciences was being pressured by the VC into taking up the headship of that department, despite her continued refusals.

Concerned that this might happen to someone else, the unions are advising its members to fulfill their contractual obligations fully, while resisting any attempts made on them to take up headships and deanships if they have no desire of doing so.

“We urge all staff now and in the future to please scrutinise your contracts prior to signing them to ensure that such provisions are not slipped in. If any such provision is inserted, please bring this to the attention of the unions,” the communique reads.

Working hours

Changes outside those made to statutes might see UG lecturers pulling additional working hours and teaching additional courses. “It’s a suggestion, it is not yet a policy but it has to come,” Opadeyi said as he spoke out against the practice of having full-time lecturer receiving 12 months’ salary to teach just one course per semester. “It doesn’t look good,” he said, while adding that the issue needs to be addressed appropriately so as to ensure that the university and its students get “value for money.”

While the average employed person works 40 hours per week, there is no prescribed amount of hours required of a UG lecturer. As such, he is proposing that lecturers work 18 hours per week. “Is that too much?” he asked.

Opadeyi also disclosed that lecturers at the university are opting to work the minimum amount of hours as is required of them in their contract. “Our contracts says you will teach at least 360 hours a year (but) we interpret that as at most. So the practice is once I meet that 360 hours, I’m not doing anything else,” he noted, while adding that he is not happy with this situation, especially since some faculties are applying for 22 lecturers, coupled with the fact that $120 million is paid in salaries every month. And this amount, he said, is always increasing.

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