I write in tribute to Lawrence D. Carrington, the Outgoing Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana, someone I came to know in my sabbatical year (2009-2010) and my eight-month visit in 2011.
Last Friday, Professor Carrington said farewell to UG the way he came and the way he worked. He was calm, courteous, deliberate, and erudite amidst the swirling acrimony, which seemed to plague every departing VC over the past twenty years. He took the opportunity to thank those “who worked selflessly”, give a state of the institution report, provide some lessons learned, and urge the staff to not lose focus on some of the major initiatives “in train”.
In reporting on infrastructural, organizational (governance, personnel, financial, and planning) and collaborative efforts he was equally frank about what was done as well as what could have and can still be accomplished. He spent little time belabouring the challenges of working with very limited financial support, antagonistic Ministers of Education and Finance, a politically impelled Council, and a highly demoralised workforce. Instead, he focused on the successes and the potential of this august institution, and these are aplenty.
I was not there, but no doubt his manner and diction were reminiscent of President Obama’s in his State of the Nation address a few days earlier. Throughout his presentation he commended, as he was wont to do, the efforts of many deserving people, from the most exalted to the humblest. He sought to show there was common ground and shared purpose in this period of political polarization. He displayed the wisdom that only age, training, and experience can bestow on those who were capable and enabled. A rare thing among Guyanese leaders today.
Guyana has lost the opportunity to interact with one of the most affable and congenial of academics. As a linguist, he had a fine ear for dialect. Nothing seemed to give him greater pleasure that to delve into the epistemic roots of Guyanese colloquialisms. In many ways, his love of expression reminded me of Martin Carter, who, no matter his state of inebriation, would imperiously halt a heated discussion (or argument) so he could understand and savour a word or turn of phrase, which he ferreted away for future use. Alas, what a loss.
For those of us who knew the UG as the after school program at Queen’s College and whose high school teachers were the pioneers of this institution, Professor Carrington is one of the greats. Like his class mate Lloyd Kunar, he is one of few of their generation of UWI graduates who came back to teach and stay involved with tertiary education over 50 years. He has seen the rise and fall of educational standards in Guyana and across the region. Yet, he soldiered on (when many of us left for freer pastures) and understands the pressing need for changes in our archaic systems and institutions.
I am consistently reminded of his ability to synthesize information from disparate fields into something cogent and coherent. Those who have tried to decipher the Low Carbon Development Strategy and address the human capacity needs in support of that initiative may well appreciate the intellectual agility required to develop UG’s response. His structured conversations with stakeholders of the International Biodiversity Centre and his engagement of disparate partners in those dialogues are testimonies of his acumen.
Professor Carrington’s enduring legacy in the UG is the Caribbean Development Bank’s grant for a consultancy to review the regulatory framework of the institution. From the day he stepped on campus, he recognized UG’s obsolete laws, rules and regulations are at the root of many of the governance, financial, and personnel issues plaguing the University.
With diligence, he corrected one of the major problems, the lack of a bona fide Chancellor i.e. an eminent and suitably qualified individual who did not rely on political patronage for their standing nor were a drain on the university’s limited physical and financial resources. During his tenure, he tried to reduce ad hoc and often capricious decisions with open and transparent processes.
He tried valiantly to (re)establish a written institutional memory. He also had need to frequently seek legal counsel. However, he freely admits to his inability to establish the bounds between individual rights to privacy and the need for disclosures befitting an institution that is publicly funded. In effect, his greatest concern was his undoing.
At the end, the veiled threats, the innuendos, the “closed door” discussions provided a cloak for actions which are the antitheses of the requisite “freedom” of an academic institution.
I know he must leave Guyana with a sense of a job half done since there is no ordered transition to the next VC. But, his was a Herculean task, made no easier by the little poodles nibbling at his heels. I congratulate him on a job well done, thank him for forbearance of our uncouthness, and assure him that many of us who took the time to know him appreciate the hard work, deep thought, and sincerity with which he undertook this daunting task.
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