By PAT DIAL
On Friday, June 7, last, the University of Guyana Council was meeting to decide on a new Contract for Vice Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith. The overwhelming majority of educationists, the alumni and the vast majority of students and their parents waited with bated breath, looking forward to the renewal of Vice Chancellor’s governance of UG for the next three years.
It therefore came as a sad shock and disappointment when the news came out that Professor Griffith had withdrawn his request for the renewal of his Contract. At the moment he is abroad but has promised to share the details of his decision at a later date.
Professor Griffith’s three-year governance was a unique period in the History of UG. At no time in the University history was so much achieved in so short a time. In the first place and for the first time he presented the University with a philosophy and a continuous programme of action which he dubbed “The UG Renaissance” reminiscent of the European Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries which of course was not limited to a three- or five-year development plan but a continuous stream of creative action.
Professor Griffith, in true Renaissance style approached his governance of UG in a holistic way. He addressed the External by beginning the serious engagement of alumni, both at home and abroad, networking with academic colleagues and contacts abroad and developing relations with the vast Guyanese Diaspora.
The positive and fruitful results of such external contact for the University, and indeed for the nation as a whole, are limitless.
Simultaneously, he addressed the renewal and uplifting of the University’s infrastructure, its academic and teaching aspects and its administration with positive results. Lastly, he brought the University to an increasingly appreciative public and created programmes and departments aimed at strengthening and enhancing the social and economic life of the nation.
His holistic approach manifested itself in a large number of actions and activities, all of which it would be impossible to recount in a short article. We shall mention some of them to indicate the depth and quality of his achievements: There is the Sobhraj Centre for Behavioural Sciences and Research which cost several billion dollars and which was funded by a well-known philanthropist from the Diaspora; the School of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation was launched in 2017 and was designed to meet a great social and economic need present since the ending of Slavery in the 19th century; Degree programmes were launched in Petroleum Engineering; Food Science; Youth Work; and Clinical Psychology at the Turkeyen Campus and Nursing and Civil Engineering at the Berbice Tain Campus. In partnership with the Geology and Mines Commission, a $2 billion geotechnical laboratory for students studying petroleum and mining engineering was launched.
For several years now, the School of Medicine had lost its accreditation. This was restored in 2017. UG’s medical graduates could once again be registered abroad and improve their qualifications.
If one visits the Turkeyen Campus, it would be a pleasant surprise to see all the buildings painted and spruced up and a number of new buildings. The George Walcott lecture theatre, the University’s largest lecture theatre, has been completely modernized. And there are substantial plans afoot for a more extensive and modern library.
Since Research is the life-blood of any University, he has tried to stimulate Research among the academic staff and among the undergraduates.
Organized Undergraduate Research is a welcome innovation and Professor Griffith, with his network of contact has been able to have seven undergraduates, a few weeks ago, present their researches in the USA and Germany.
He has plans of raising the levels of the qualifications of the academic staff by securing doctoral programmes for them at various foreign universities. There is no need to mention his further achievements and innovations but only to remind readers that all this and more was done in 36 months.
The question is put as to why should any voice be raised against anyone who was performing with such unique excellence. The answer lies in the recesses of the human psyche where, if at any time, anyone is bringing about human progress and development at a rapid rate, he or she would always be met with conservative resistance.
Professor Griffith was a victim of this syndrome. This happened during the European Renaissance where conservative elements were able to silence many brilliant innovators and intellectuals, some of whom were burnt at the stake.
The opposition to Professor Griffith was encapsulated in the two University trade unions. Their causus belli was that Professor Griffith was too lavish and inappropriate in his financial expenditures. The other segments of the University community–the overwhelming majority of the students and their parents, and the Private Sector, the Parliamentary political parties, the majority of the University Council and the public as a whole, while being aware of the unions’ financial accusations, were also aware that several things for which Professor Griffith was blamed were inherited and in any case, world class standards required higher expenditure than second and third rate institutions were accustomed to.
For example, the Turkeyen and Tain Lecture series and discussions were criticized as being outrageously expensive because they were held at first class hotels with attractively printed programmes, light refreshments, organized ushering etc.
These lectures attracted a wide cross-section and even members of the Diplomatic Corps and brought a welcome outreach to the public and earned much prestige. To hold such lecture series in school rooms would have been much cheaper but would not have attracted the same quality of presenters and audience.
The unions were able to use the media to regularly present their accusations of Professor Griffith’s alleged lavish spending but those who felt or knew otherwise refrained from engaging these accusations since they felt it was incorrect and even indecent to be bruting the University’s internal processes publicly.
They were confident that truth will prevail. They envisioned that Professor Griffith would continue to serve, that the financial accusations used as a causus belli would be rectified in a short time and Professor Griffith would continue his programme of renewal and raising standards of the University.
It therefore came as a shock when Professor Griffith decided not to request the renewal of his Contract.
Though we still continue to hope Professor Griffith would continue to be associated with the University in some form or other, we would like to mention two of the important things he has bequeathed to UG: First, he has given us a template of what is expected of a succeeding Vice Chancellor of UG and as such provided a guide to search teams and interviewers.
And secondly, there are a number of valuable and creative programmes which he had planned or innovated and which should be effectuated or strengthened.
Accordingly, there should be no pause in the renewal and raising of standards by any succeeding administration.
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