Jan 08, 2021 Letters
I am disappointed to learn that recently appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor (VC), Dr. Emanuel Cummings, and other lecturers have not been promoted. I am not familiar with Deputy VC, Dr. Mellissa Ifill’s academic record and as such can’t comment on whether she is deserving of promotion. But I am familiar with some of Dr. Cummings achievements; he is deserving of elevation to Professor. A name comes up repeatedly of the person withholding promotion and in hiring practices. He should be sent on leave pending an investigation of complaints.
There are many complaints about hiring and promotion practice at UG. Lecturers and some applicants for teaching complain that hiring and promotion is based on political affiliation and ethnicity. Several lecturers complained that although they had applied for promotion, some repeatedly, they have not been promoted even though they have earned it based on academic achievements such as research and publication, experience and enhancing the image of UG nationally and internationally. Qualified applicants, including PhDs, inform me they applied at UG but did not get an acknowledgement. The question is WHY? It is possible that the process of promotion is very slow taking several years or there are elements at UG who are willfully selective in hiring or promotion.
UG needs to have a transparent process of hiring and sort out its criteria for staff promotion in a fair, deserving, honest, and open manner. This is an urgent matter for the VC, Paloma Mohamed Martin, who should be empowered to bring about profound change at the university.
I never met or conversed with Cummings or Ifill or Paloma. If they have met the criteria upon objective evaluation, they should be promoted. All UG staff members should be treated equally and fairly irrespective of ethnicity or political affiliation. If a lecturer has fulfilled the criteria for promotion to a certain level then he or she should be so promoted.
In academia, a lecturer is promoted on account of research publications, receipt of grants, respect among colleagues/peers, management of peer-reviewed journals, ratings among students, performance and service in university community, national and international standing, supervising research students, course development, role in academic committees including accreditation, and among other criteria. Dr Cummings has excelled in all measurements. Moreover, he is well qualified (DVetM; MSc (UClan) and PhD (UClan) and held senior positions at UG, including Reader in Biochemistry and Dean of the College of Health Sciences and even acting as Vice Chancellor before Ivelaw Griffith became VC. He worked with the late Dr. Max Hanoman in securing the accreditation for the MBBS course at UG. When he was on sabbatical, the University failed to obtain a renewal of the accreditation. Only when he returned, he and his colleagues were able to acquire MBBS accreditation for another five years. With my undergraduate degree in Bio-Chemistry and having done post graduate research on non-communicable diseases, I could relate to some of Cummings’s research published in refereed journals. His research is rare among local based Guyanese on the epidemiology of chronic non-communicable diseases including on prevention and treatment of obesity, diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular and others highlighting the health and social care problems of Guyanese. He has published some dozens of papers. He and Prof. Jaipaul Singh (PhD, DSc) from the United Kingdom (UK) co-authored several of these papers. I found out that they received a grant from the British Council and the World Bank for research, training, and exchange of staff, students, and UG trained doctors between Guyana and the UK.
Dr. Cummings is internationally known and recognized, and moreover, he has earned respectability among peers nationally and internationally. UG’s course offerings state that Dr. Cummings taught clinical biochemistry for the MBBS (medicine) and BDS (dentistry). He has extensive teaching and research experience exceeding 25 years. He has supervised a number of students for the research projects leading to the award of the MSc degree. Students highly rate his lectures and management. He is a co-editor for research journals and reviewed research papers and grants.
Dr. Cummings studied in Cuba for his Vet medical degree and speaks Spanish fluently. Most importantly, Dr. Cummings is a long-serving member of the accreditation board for MBBS and BDS in the Caribbean. He is highly qualified in undergraduate and postgraduate course development in many areas of medicine and surgery. He was able to set up a number of new undergraduate and postgraduate courses and programmes at UG including Pharmacy, Optometry, Public Health, higher postgraduate Diplomas in medicine and surgery, and other fields. Dr. Cummings is an important asset and advisor to have in any university globally. In my opinion, all of the above mentioned criteria more than qualify him for a promotion to full professorship for life and not a temporary title.
Editor, lecturers at UG are fearful of victimization in lodging complaints about discrimination in promotion. And some potential lecturers, with PhD, don’t want to file complaints of discrimination fearing it would jeopardize hiring. Some cry on my shoulders in visits to UG and in interactions on the phone, appealing to me to expose what is happening at the university with the hope of redress by the board and the VC.
If either the Academic Board/Council Members or the VC can carry out a private confidential survey among staff, then they would be surprised of the extent of dissatisfaction among the teaching and non-teaching staff. Racial and political discrimination in promotion is the number one complaint and it is rampant in my findings in conversations with some of them. Importantly as well, everyone complained about low, unattractive salary. This was the reason for some staff working in other places to make ends meet, thus neglecting time for staff-student discussion to solve teaching or counselling issues and problems. Students also complained that some of the staff members are not up to standard in their field and the teaching notes do not seem to be innovative and modern to the 21st Century. Students are short changed. UG needs to attract quality staff to boost its reputation. Several PhD applicants are not hired; in fact, some told me that their CV has not even been acknowledged by the registrar, VC, Dean, or head of department for months if not years. This is unacceptable! In a White university that I attended in New York, heads would have rolled. (When I was a student leader, I organized protests and petitions during late 1970s and early 1980s at City University to bring about change; students and faculty may wish to do same at UG). Another major issue raised by students is quality assurance of the different courses in the different faculties and lack of student support. Some courses have never been reviewed for years and this could be part of the next academic plan for another 5-10 years.
The UG Academic Board/Council or the VC or government should empanel a committee to discuss issues relating to ‘private’ complaints by staff, applicants, and students and make recommendations on improving academic conditions, hiring practices, and promotions. That committee should also provide feedback on a way forward for UG.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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