I write to express my support for Vice Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith and the renewal of his contract at the University of Guyana. I hope to use this brief letter to sound my reasons for supporting his continuing in the post and that these may be weighed in the balance amidst those calling for him to be replaced.
I met the Vice Chancellor the very year he was appointed. He is the first Vice Chancellor of the University I had met. He had come to London and gave an inspiring presentation at the High Commission, which had at its core a call to everyone gathered to become ambassadors of and for the University. He extolled his vision to bring it up to a standard with which we could all be proud. That vision was necessary because we were all well aware and ashamed of the abysmal conditions the University had been in for decades. Some of those gathered were keen to support financially, more wanted to use their skills and other resources to assist the Vice Chancellor and his staff in what he regarded as a “renaissance.” I thought this “renaissance” plan lofty but I too piped up and pledged to be a de facto “alumni” – I had not previously studied there but am one of the many academics in the Diaspora who had long expressed our willingness to return and work at the university. In some cases we were prepared to volunteer but those aspirations fell on deaf ears. Business professionals were also at the meeting who noted the same clanging deafness and shoddiness when they attempted to return home to create opportunities (whether these were for profit or not). We had come to distrust the intricate processes involved in making anything happened with efficiency, integrity, professionalism and to a quality of standard we had become used to living outside.
As he appeared amenable to change I decided to put it to the test. I had recently published three books and thought the University would be a good place to launch them. I asked him if he would consider it. He said yes and so it was – he had kept his word. Months later, the launch of three books, that had Guyana at their centre were launched in collaboration with the University. However, because of the shabby conditions of some of the spaces and works that had begun, it was suggested we hold the launch at Moray House. The administrative process was put in motion and this took place successfully at Moray House. Professor Griffith had expressed that he wished for more writers and academics to have their book launches at the University, so I am not illustrating this as a personal note of gratification. I do it to show that the Vice Chancellor is a man of his word and is consistent, dependable and an impressive leader.
Additionally, it was during this time I started to receive regular Newsletter updates about what was happening at the University and especially the Turkeyen & Tain Talks. This was a refreshing approach and signalled the seriousness of the Vice Chancellor to elevate the University. The Talks themes were always topical (for example one on Oil and Gas) and engaged academics and industry in highlighting research and development strategies that would benefit the University as well as Guyana as a whole. Guyanese – at home and abroad – would have a forum to become involved in the discussion. The inclusiveness of the Tain campus also brought to our awareness that UG indeed had another campus. This is a small example of many others about which you are aware that attest to the Vice Chancellor’s far reaching vision for developing the University.
I attended the first Diaspora Engagement Conference in 2017 – which was in fact the first conference I ever had the opportunity to attend in Guyana. I understood the Vice Chancellor’s strategy of including the Diaspora in the rebranding and renaissance of the University. As it was highlighted at the conference, the Diaspora should form an invaluable part of any development plans for Guyana, let alone the University – for we have a wealth of resources that could and should be put to good use in that effort. It would be devastating to hinder the good work of engaging the Diaspora, calling on many of us with requisite experiences and skills in almost every conceivable academic discipline and with business expertise to return and assist him in the arduous task of rebuilding the University. I was disheartened that we from the Diaspora were being disparaged and called insidious names like ‘comebackees,’ and the like with the indignant tint that we were seeking to take away jobs from our brothers and sisters at home.
I observed the Vice Chancellor at the conference and found him admirably hands on. My previous experience of senior academics, let alone the Vice Chancellor of a University is that they delegate with such efficiency they are never accessible. This Vice Chancellor, I considered different. By the time of the Conference, there had already been a new Business Unit developed and the prospect of more work done to promote the Arts (of interest to me as my area is in Humanities). All things considered, and given that the Vice Chancellor was already under fire from dissenters, the Diaspora Engagement Conference was a huge success.
I have avoided listing at length the number of improvements the Vice Chancellor has made since his appointment because I am embarrassed by recent events that bear the stench of foul play and maliciousness when the evidence so blatantly speaks for itself. However, one of those achievements is the University Press – which the Vice Chancellor should be proud about along with the reaccreditation of the School of Medicine. I hope that its publications will reflect the principles of sound research in all disciplines whether these are from local Guyanese or those in the Diaspora and in doing so demonstrate the quality assurance in reporting and producing information that is lacking in some of the Guyanese media outlets at present.
In 2018, the Vice Chancellor rose to another occasion and agreed that the University would launch a book we had published, Red Hibiscus, written by one of its recent alumni, Scott Ting-A-Kee. It was a double launch, along with a book edited by Dr Juanita Westmaas, Creole Chips and Other Writings of Edgar Mittelholzer. Here again I saw first-hand the Vice Chancellor’s integrity and willingness to be responsive and accommodating to the needs of Guyanese at home and abroad, showing that we can work together to shape the University as the highest institution of the country’s learning.
As someone who has worked in the quality department of a university in the UK, I know that it cannot be easy trying to raise the University’s standards and acquire the necessary accreditations to make it globally competitive. But the Vice Chancellor has impressively risen to this challenge. It was clear that to proceed with his renaissance plans small steps had to be taken, but some of what the Vice Chancellor has so far achieved have in fact been giant leaps. It would be a world class disgrace to halt this progress for the sake of tempering the foul cries of those who from the outset have begrudged his appointment without any credible cause.
Dr Michelle Yaa Asantewa