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Stick to your word to fix UG; send home Vice Chancellor– unions tell Education Minister

 

The unions representing University of Guyana (UG) workers are calling on Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine to match his previous desires with actions now that he is ultimately responsible for that tertiary institution.

In a joint statement, the  Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and Workers Union (UGWU) also does not want Vice Chancellor Professor Jacob Opadeyi’s contract renewed when it comes to an end on February 20, 2016 because of what they say is his poor management style.

In addition to the massive infusion of funds to improve the quality of teaching-learning at UG, the unions also want the removal of political appointees and party hacks from the university’s Council and their replacement with professional persons.

“In addition to the funding crisis, the Unions urge the Minister to simultaneously address an equally critical problem, namely the governance crisis at the University. Grave deficiencies currently exist at two levels: at the level of the University Council and at the Administrative/Management level,” state the unions in a statement.

Following a five-week long strike by UG workers earlier this year that disrupted classes, the unions and management eventually agreed to resume negotiations after the Labour Ministry intervened. However, there has been a hiatus in those negotiations due to recently held general elections.

With the current Council’s life expected to come to an end at the end of June, 2015, it is now the Minister of Education’s responsibility to appoint a new decision-making body.

Following is the full-text of the statement issued by the UGSSA and UGWU

The University of Guyana Senior Staff Association and the University of Guyana Workers’ Union welcome the unreserved commitment to the University of Guyana by the new Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnarine.  As Dr. Roopnarine accurately surmises, the University has been starved of finance critically needed to maintain its physical plant and ensure the availability of needed material supplies for effective instruction. We therefore expect that the verbal commitment enunciated by Dr. Roopnarine will be matched by an adequate financial one. Faculty, staff and students look forward to the day when classes will be held in well-equipped lecture rooms rather than the ‘stables’, when snakes, horses, cows, stray dogs and other animals are not regular visitors to our walkways and environs and, when visits to faculty and university offices to get basic tasks completed are not met with apologetic shrugs because ‘there is no ink, paper, white board markers, ’ or ‘the printer, photocopier isn’t working’.

In addition to the funding crisis, the Unions urge the Minister to simultaneously address an equally critical problem, namely the governance crisis at the University. Grave deficiencies currently exist at two levels: at the level of the University Council and at the Administrative/Management level.

Governance at Council Level

The University has always suffered from a dictatorial, authoritarian structure that gives the ruling party excessive influence through the University Council. In April 2012 the two staff Unions along with the students’ Union, the UGSS, petitioned Parliament requesting a review and urgent change in the UG Acts and Statutes to ensure the depoliticisation of the Council. The UG Acts and Statutes give sole discretion to the sitting Minister of Education to determine eight members of the Council – this constitutes a quorum. With (a) the absence of four nominees from overseas University Associations, who are never appointed due to either insufficient funds to pay for their attendance at meetings or to the fact the organisations no longer exist; and (b) a mere four academic members of the 26 member Council, the academic purposes of the University aren’t being realised. Instead, the Council is dominated by partisan political appointees who act in the best interest of their political parties. This has been the status quo for 50 years and must change!

It is instructive to note that both President David Granger and the Minister of Education Dr. Roopnarine supported the Unions’ bid to change the statutes while in opposition. In fact, Dr. Roopnarine introduced the petition on our behalf in Parliament and he chaired the parliamentary select committee that was established to examine the UG Acts and Statutes. The Unions, through Dr. Roopnarine petitioned for Council members to be appointed with significant experience in academia and who are chosen via an open, inclusive and participatory process involving the Minister of Education, the UG Academic Board and the National Assembly.

The UG Unions expect Dr. Roopnraine to speedily ensure that the UG’s Acts and Statutes are changed to ensure that those appointed to serve on the Council have the adequate qualifications/experience to contribute in a meaningful manner in light of the following:

1.        The Select Committee conducted hearings and received both oral and written submissions and much of the work on the revision has already been completed by the parliamentary select committee during the 10th Parliament;

2.      Dr. Roopnarine, who submitted the petition and chaired the parliamentary select committee, is now the Minister of Education under whose purview the University rests.

Even as the process to change the statutes is in train, the Unions further urge Dr. Roopnarine to quickly withdraw those distinctly politically partisan appointees on the Council and, following consultation with the varying interest groups they ought to have represented, replace them with individuals whose sole agenda is the development of UG.  

Governance at Administrative/Management Level

The University Unions have no confidence in the current Vice-Chancellor Professor Jacob Opadeyi. According to the UG Acts and Statutes, the Vice Chancellor is the ‘executive head’ of UG and is ‘responsible for the general administration’ of UG. The VC is also tasked with ‘maintaining and promoting good order’ at UG.  As such, the Vice Chancellor is the key university officer with much authority and responsibility for good governance, financial management and control.  The Unions are of the considered view that Prof. Opadyei, has failed to deliver in these areas of his authority and responsibility. We further believe there can be no transformation of the University under his leadership. The Unions believe his contract must not be renewed because of the following: 

1.                His misconception of the role of UG in national development and consequently failure to fulfil the mandate of the University.

2.               His failure to prioritise the teaching and learning environment, and consequently there has been virtually no improvement in that environment despite increases in student fees, and student action to demand such improvement.

3.               His dictatorial, vindictive micro-management style that has led to him presiding over demoralised and demotivated staff.

4.              His untrustworthiness, as exemplified by his countless broken promises and the currently stalled negotiations process.

5.               His unwillingness to genuinely consult with the established decision-making bodies of the university.

6.              His alienation of staff at all levels as he seeks to arbitrarily close departments, including the most productive research department at UG, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and bully staff on the Workload policy.

7.               His circumvention and breach of university financial systems, practices and procedures including: (a) Failure to convene and chair the Academic Board’s Estimate Committee which has a statutory mandate to “prepare estimates of expenditure required to carry out the work of the University and to submit them to the Council for approval.” Instead the VC has usurped this function and assumed virtually total control over the Bursary; (b)His continued perpetration of the illegal act of failing to remit our GRA and NIS contributions to the relevant bodies in a timely manner – an act that he used to secure the termination of the services of the former bursar and chief accountant.

8.              His ill-advised cost-cutting measures which take no account of the university’s commitment to the delivery of quality education.

9.              His divided loyalty due to his continued employment at UWI and his private consultancy activities.

In other words, the VC has failed to maintain and promote ‘good order’ at UG by dominating or disregarding all the university structures and committees. This generalised ‘system over-ride’, ensures that only his priorities, plans and whims are accommodated. The UGSSA & UGWU therefore reiterate our lack of confidence in Professor Opadeyi as he does not possess the required skill set and therefore cannot be trusted with the task of positively transforming the University.  

In light of the preceding, the Unions therefore call upon Dr. Roopnarine to review the uncritical support of the VC he displayed as a member of the University’s Council. We pledge to work with the Minister and MoE staff to ensure that the University becomes transformed into the tertiary institution our students and nation deserve – one that produces innovative, nationally relevant and ground breaking research and offers the highest quality education to our students.