Clarifying the proposed evaluation of Vice-Chancellor Griffith’s tenure

Dear Editor,

I am grateful for the opportunity provided by the letter written by Vice-Chancellor Professor Ivelaw Griffith, and published in the Stabroek News of Thursday 30th May 2019, to clarify a number of matters that are of great interest to members of the University of Guyana community and the wider public.

The Vice-Chancellor’s public communication revealed information previously not known to either the University community or the Council. The Pro-Chancellor Major-General (ret’d) Joseph Singh, according to the letter, appears to have discussed and agreed to an entire evaluation process with the subject of the evaluation before bringing it to the body that was supposed to be considering the matter. The timeline given in the Vice-Chancellor’s letter reveals that the entire process, including the potential panel, was discussed and agreed with him (a draft evaluation instrument was apparently prepared!) before the Pro-Chancellor first raised the matter at the Council meeting of 7th March 2019.

The Vice-Chancellor also appears to be in possession of documents that he should not have access to, since they are confidential Committee documents concerning his evaluation. Both matters raise interesting ethical and governance issues.

I note too, that the Council was only made aware that the Vice-Chancellor had concerns about the Performance Evaluation Committee (PEC) when the Vice-Chancellor sent his letter asking for payment in lieu of leave on 2nd May 2019. He alluded in that letter to another letter of 18th March 2019 sent to the Pro-Chancellor. Members of Council asked to see that letter, and the Pro-Chancellor refused to provide it, citing confidentiality. This is, in fact, stated in the first point of the PEC’s report to Council (dated 15th May 2019) – that the Vice-Chancellor had referred to possible bias, and the PEC was therefore concerned about the potential for litigation by the Vice-Chancellor. The PEC also noted that it had not been given the letter.

Since the Vice-Chancellor has chosen to discuss publicly the Council’s proposed evaluation process, I am now able to share some additional details, from my vantage point as a member of Council and a member of two sub-committees that were part of the attempted evaluation process. These details will help to contexualise and clarify some of the information given by Professor Griffith.

The need for an evaluation of the Vice-Chancellor’s tenure was recognised at the point of hire. The then Chancellor and Council, however, failed to make the provisions for this, and at the Council’s Annual Business Meeting held on 8th November 2018, a firm decision was taken to ensure it was done before the end of his contract.

Notwithstanding that determination, and despite two further reminders from the University Unions in November 2018 and in January 2019, the Pro-Chancellor did not bring the matter to Council until 7th March 2019. It was at this meeting that the issue of the evaluation process was first discussed in detail. However, Council, ignorant at the time of the content of the Vice-Chancellor’s contract, had concerns about how evaluations and other related things were articulated in it. It is perhaps important to note that there had been requests for the contract to be shared when Council sat to discuss merit bonuses for the Vice-Chancellor – but these requests had been ignored.

Council on 7th March 2019 decided to create an Ad-Hoc Committee with similar membership to the Interview Committee for Vice-Chancellor (used in the 2016 search process). The nominees and representative of various groups on Council were largely the same and the Committee eventually comprised of nine persons. A major departure from the Committee of 2016 was that the Pro-Chancellor recused himself citing perceived conflict of interest and appointed an external nominee as Chair. This was done initially without discussion with or the consent of the Council and had to be later ratified by the Council.

 During its deliberations, the Committee highlighted a number of things, including the fact that the Vice-Chancellor’s contract mentioned an annex that should have been completed and attached three months after the commencement of the contract. That annex would have contained conditions on which the merit bonus could be awarded. However, it would appear that the annex was never completed. Additionally, there was no reference to an end of contract evaluation or renewal of the contract. The Committee was therefore left to determine a way forward. In doing so with serious time constraints, the Committee referred to the University’s Act and Statutes; documentation from the search and interview process in 2015-16; the commitments made by Professor Griffith during and after that process; and the evaluation processes for similar appointments at institutions such as the University of the West Indies. In the end, the criteria were primarily based on what the Vice-Chancellor himself had outlined in a speech entitled ‘Values and Vision to Dream and Do: Opportunity and Innovation to Aid Guyana’s Development’ made in 2016, very soon after he assumed office.

At the next meeting of Council on 15th April 2019, the Committee presented its report, which proposed criteria on which the Vice-Chancellor could be evaluated. It recommended that given the limitations faced, including the availability of financial resources and time, Council should utilise a Committee structured almost precisely as that used to develop the criteria and process and refer to it as the Performance Evaluation Committee. Note that a similar committee would have recommended Professor Griffith for hire. The Council decided on a nine-member Committee made up entirely of Council Members.

This Committee first met on Friday 26th April 2019. Aware that it had to complete its work by the hard deadline of 23rd May 2019, we agreed to a timeline including having a draft instrument by Monday 29th April 2019, circulating it for final comments by Tuesday 30th April 2019, recirculating a corrected draft for approval of the Committee by Thursday 2nd May 2019, and sending out the approved instrument to evaluating persons/groups by Friday 3rd May 2019. The intention was to have a draft evaluation report ready by the week beginning Monday 20th May 2019 so that the Vice-Chancellor would have the opportunity to respond to it before the final document was sent to full Council. However, this plan broke down when two things occurred: Committee Members not involved directly in the drafting of the instrument failed to react to the draft within the agreed timeline; and, the internal arrangements for identifying representatives of certain groups of staff were not made. Consequently, after some agitation from one Committee member, the Committee met on Thursday 9th May 2019 and conceded that it could not complete the process as envisaged for multiple reasons including the two above.

The desirable goal of an evaluation, from my perspective, is an objective assessment of the Vice-Chancellor’s tenure that provides evidence-based conclusions about his performance. Such an assessment should provide for all relevant stakeholders in the University community to share their views. The process outlined above, though far from ideal, was an attempt to secure such input. My standpoint is, of course, informed by the Unions’ perspective, since I am their nominee on Council.

In conclusion, I call on the Pro-Chancellor to comment in public about the Vice-Chancellor’s letter. I feel strongly that it falls to him, as the leader of Council, to defend the body against the Vice-Chancellor’s accusations of bias and also to defend the decisions taken by Council. He is well aware of all the concerns that were expressed during the process, and he, of course, can verify the accuracy of what is contained in the Vice-Chancellor’s letter, and can state if he disagrees with what I have outlined here.

Yours faithfully,

Jewel Thomas (Dr)

Council Member

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