The Ontario Chapter of the UG Graduates Guild has attempted to provide assistance to the university

Dear Editor,

I congratulate Professor Ivelaw Griffith on his appointment as Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana (UG) and I commend him for the initiatives he has undertaken to bring about improvements at this national institution and wish to highlight the achievements and disappointments/frustrations of the University of Guyana Guild of Graduates, Ontario (UGGGO), the Ontario Chapter of the UG Guild of Graduates, in its attempt to provide assistance to our alma mater. Hopefully, the information provided herein will alert Dr Griffith and his team to some of the potential pitfalls that may impede their work.

As far as I am aware, the UGGGO is the only chapter of the UG Guild that has had a longevity of 21 consecutive years and which has invested over Cdn$14,000 in trust accounts in Guyana, the interest of which is used annually to make financial awards to 9 outstanding students at the UG, irrespective of race, religion, sex, creed or political affiliation.

The UGGGO was formed in 1993 but became dormant in 2014. I have had the privilege of being the President of this organization since 1994 and I worked with a small, dedicated group of UG alumni from the 1960s and early 1970s to make our contribution. We are now looking to close the books on this organization due to the ageing of our executives, lack of interest by younger UG alumni in Ontario, and lack of support from UG officials.

Among the key achievements of the UGGGO are:

  1. a) contribution of over $20,000 (Can) to various initiatives at the UG, including the above mentioned awards, repairs from flooding, landscaping work, and contribution to the fund for the building of the Cheddi Jagan Lecture Hall;
  2. b) publication of a book on Drayton, the Deputy Vice Chancellor who set up the UG in 1963;

Professor Alan Earp, the Vice Chancellor who saw the construction of the Turkeyen campus; and Professor Dennis Irvine, the Vice Chancellor who moved into the Turkeyen campus and led the university to international repute ‒ at a recommended price of Cdn$10 per copy and funds donated to the 50th Anniversary Fund.

  1. c) obtaining and shipping to UG library around 40 cartons of books, the entire collection of the late Dr Rudy Grant, a Guyanese-born former history professor of York University in Toronto;
  2. d) meeting in Toronto with former President of Guyana, Dr Cheddi Jagan, and also former President and later Leader of the Opposition, Mr Desmond Hoyte to lobby for improvements at the UG, including a non-politically partisan Board of Governors;
  3. e) donation to the 50th Anniversary Fund.

Among the disappointments/frustrations are:

  1. a) In the 1990s, as a result of UGGGO’s initiative, York University in Toronto was willing to help UG seek funding from Canadian sources and to train UG lecturers (at no cost to UG) in several fields to the PhD level. In a meeting with myself and then Pro Chancellor, Dr Joshua Ramsammy, York’s officials communicated this offer. Dr Ramsammy, after returning to Guyana, submitted a written report to then Vice Chancellor and the UG Board. His report was based on my notes of the meeting and he sent me a copy of the report which, more than a decade later, I shared with Dr Marlene Cox when she acted as Vice Chancellor. By then, the President of York (UG’s equivalent of the Vice Chancellor) and other senior staff, including Guyanese-born Professors Frank Birbalsingh, Rudy Grant and Percy Anderson, were no longer at York. Thus, a great opportunity was lost.
  2. b) During the period when Dr Marlene Cox was Director of Alumni Affairs (ie, more than a decade ago) a Guyanese-born, prominent lawyer in Toronto whose relatives are well known lawyers in Guyana, agreed to fund an award of Cdn$500 annually for a period of 10 years to an outstanding law student.

Twice I sent agreements to the UG to formalize the arrangement. In following up each time, I was informed that the draft was being held up in the law faculty. Now,  the UGGGO has been holding just over $4,000 (Can) which it wishes to use to top-up each of the 9 trust accounts in Guyana. However, the process communicated to us by the financial institution to transfer the funds to Guyana and distribute to each account is cumbersome and seems more relevant to an individual’s personal account. UG senior administrators who were contacted for assistance several months ago, have been unresponsive so far.

  1. c) On March 25, 2016, (1) a list of the names of the 9 awardees for 2014 and 2015 (something UG agreed to do annually as per signed agreements) and (2) a report on the funds raised by the 50th Anniversary Committee from the sale of the 75 books donated by the UGGGO (a condition upon which the books were donated so we could maintain transparency and accountability with our supporters in Ontario). On May 10, 2016, I followed up with a reminder. To date no response has been received.

Before concluding, I would like to state that over the years I found a few senior officials at the UG to be very dedicated and exceedingly helpful. They are/were the late Mel Sankies, who in his capacity as Vice Chancellor (acting) around 1994, worked with the UGGGO to establish the first three trust accounts for the awards mentioned above; Professor Harold Lutchman during his years as Vice Chancellor and Dr Marlene Cox during her years as Director of Alumni Affairs and later as Vice Chancellor (acting) who valued the contributions of the UGGGO and gave us great support; and Ms Yvonne Stephenson, former Head Librarian and her successor Ms Gwyneth George who never failed to acknowledge, and doing so promptly, any contribution we made to the library.

At this time, I wish Professor Griffith and the Education Resource Ambassadors every success in their efforts to improve UG.

Yours faithfully,

Harry Hergash   

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