The VC has embraced UG’s dictatorial, micro-managing culture

Dear Editor,

The unions fully support efforts to make the university more efficient. We are adamant however that the process and outcome of these efforts must be guided by transparency, accountability and must reflect best practices used at other tertiary institutions. The university has always suffered from a dictatorial, authoritarian structure that gives the ruling party excessive influence through the University Council. Unfortunately, to date the Vice-Chancellor has embraced this dictatorial, micro-managing culture with gusto.
UG statutes

The council, based on a submission from Prof Opadeyi took the decision to amend the statutes governing deanships. The original statute reads: “The Dean of each Faculty shall be appointed by the Principal and Vice-Chancellor on the nomination of the Board of that Faculty from among the members of the Faculty eligible to hold office.” The amendment reads: “The Dean of each Faculty shall be appointed by the Principal and Vice-Chancellor from among the eligible members of the Faculty, after he would have consulted with the Board of the specific faculty.”

The unions believe the amendment is unnecessary and potentially injurious to the university for several reasons:

1. This process of fundamentally changing the academic orientation of the university was done silently, one might be tempted to say clandestinely – no one knew that this amendment was on the table for consideration and the document was submitted to council members a mere two days prior to the meeting. There was therefore no time for university groups represented in council, including academic board and committee of deans, to discuss the proposed amendment. When additional time was requested to study the document by the Dean’s representative on council, that request was refused. Additionally, the VC had not solicited the views of academics across the campus. UG has accepted the Trevor Hamilton Report – while all its recommendations might not be acceptable, there has been no discussion on their proposed changes to UG Acts and Statutes. The VC has publicly indicated he is here for 3 years. It would be tragic for the UG to be in an even greater governance turmoil at the conclusion of his tenure.

2. Under the original statute, although the faculties nominated individuals to serve as deans, such individuals couldn’t be appointed unless the VC agreed – thus the VC had considerable power – though not sole power ‒ in the appointment process. With this amendment, the current and any subsequent VC will now be responsible for identifying and appointing the deputy vice-chancellor the deans and heads of department (HOD) ‒ a situation where all those who hold senior academic appointments will be beholden/accountable to one individual. Why does the VC wish sole power to make these appointments, particularly since in the two years 3 months left of his tenure, he might at best have the opportunity to appoint only two deans? With the council dominated by partisan political appointees, the long-term implications of this amendment are extremely disturbing and do not bode well for the autonomy and independence of the university.

3. UWI revised its statutes in 2008 in a similar way to the one proposed by the VC. However, there were several other revisions that complemented the amendment – including autonomy for faculties and the deans having control over faculties’ finances. These however have not been proposed by UG’s VC. On the contrary, he has used UG’s precarious finances to erode all powers of faculties and dean ‒ contrary to the statues. All financial matters ‒ no matter how small ‒ now have to pass through him and he decides whether or not to approve or it. This unaccountable system is a recipe for disaster and staff members already know that if you are ‘good’ with the VC, the chances of his approval increase greatly. Moreover, it is instructive to note that under the amendment, deans can also be recalled for non-performance. No process governing recall of deans was proposed so this will also presumably be at the will of one individual – the VC.

4. A nomination from the faculty allows the dean to enjoy the confidence of his/her colleagues and the individual will likely secure their support. The unions were dismayed at the process utilized by the VC to select HODs as it was not truly consultative and it lacked confidentiality (characterised by what Guyanese colloquially refer to as ‘talk name’), which then led to fracture and discord in several departments.

5. The unions have proposed that if the amendment stands, that the process employed to appoint deans be a truly consultative one, that faculties and deans be empowered to manage their own affairs with VC oversight and that this process be clearly outlined. After consulting the University of the West Indies, the unions were advised that the consultation process utilised by that university was highly confidential and entailed (a) the VC consulting either individually or jointly, the assistant deans, HODs, the outgoing dean (if not being reconsidered for the deanship) and senior faculty members and (b) other faculty offer their recommendations in writing (either individually or jointly). We therefore recommend that a similar structure be institutionalized and employed, if this amendment is retained.

Proposed increases to lecturers’ hours
It is important to note that the VC comes from a university environment (UWI) in which the maximum number of teach hours per week for academic staff is 10. The average number per week however is even less ‒ between 6 to 8. The UWI model is reflective of what obtains at universities worldwide. The VC is proposing however that UG academics ‒ who are paid 1/4 to 1/5 of that earned by UWI faculty and who already teach no less than 12 hours per week must increase their teaching hours to 18. Clearly the VC has no regard for the development of staff who can only be promoted if our research profile, not how much we teach, is robust. This attempt to transform UG academics into high school A level teachers will be resisted by the unions as it will only result in the highly qualified continuing their exit into tertiary environments that understand and respect their contributions. UG already has a mere 4% lecturers with PhDs. With any such change, that percentage will decrease further as those in the system will continue to leave and UG won’t be able to attract any PhDs with such a teaching schedule. What then happens to the issue of quality assurance? How will the university programmes gain accreditation if the overwhelming majority of the faculty remain unqualified? While the VC seeks to demonstrate to the government that he can save money, he is injuring the already questionable quality of the university programmes.

The VC also fully understands why there are some lecturers who are employed on a full-time basis who only teach one course. There are courses at the university which have between 800-1500 students. There is no building to cater to these large numbers nor is there any effectively functioning multimedia equipment to ensure these large numbers can be reached simultaneously. Thus what occurs is one lecturer teaches the same weekly content 3-4 times per week to different groups of students to ensure that all students are accommodated and taught effectively. The unions have long been arguing that this is a waste of resources and have pleaded for accommodation and equipment that can accommodate extremely large classes to no avail. Currently, with the cut back of staff, tutorials in large courses which should have a maximum of 30 students now have in excess of 100. In such circumstances, what happens to the quality of students the university is graduating?

UG needs an urgent injection of financial resources. The institution, in particular the staff, has been performing heroically with paltry funding. Are there inefficiencies? Absolutely, and they must be eliminated but they are not to the extent the VC is insinuating. As he addresses those inefficiencies, the VC will be well advised to simultaneously fulfil the agenda he set himself when he applied for the job (and upon which he was judged the preferred candidate), namely to attract resources to the institution. The entire campus is still eagerly awaiting a comprehensive financial plan from the VC.

Yours faithfully,
Mellissa Ifill
Vice-President, UGSSA

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