Can the present UG administration deliver the institution from its political prison?
No astute witness to the cataclysmic decline of the University of Guyana over the years would seriously challenge the view that the prevailing conditions at the institution are, in large measure, a function of the debilitating diet of crass political intervention that it has had to endure and much of which has manifested itself in some of the most unenlightened and counterproductive feuding between the country’s two main political parties. UG, of course is not the only supposedly autonomous state institution that has, over the years, been blighted (and in some instances ruined) by the dead hand of political intervention. One of the distressing and debilitating tendencies of the Guyanese political culture is that possession of power is customarily attended by a proclivity for dominance of all that the state controls, even including those institutions that are governed by constitutional provisions that frown upon direct political intervention. It is that tendency by our politicians to refuse to recognize and respect the nexus between the independence of those institutions (like UG) and their effective functioning that has been, in large measure, responsible for the near ruinous state from which the University is now seeking to recover.
UG, as was mentioned earlier, is not the only presumably autonomous local institution to have suffered the ignominious fate of crude political intervention. Various state-run but autonomous institutions like the Guyana State Corporation (GUYSTAC), the Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) and the Guyana National Co-operative Bank (GNCB) come to mind. The interventions have come for various reasons one of which is as trivial as the desire by politicians so positioned to flex their muscles. Another, as was widely believed to be the case with the GNCB, was simply in order to grant political favours. In more recent times there have been revelations of alleged corruption-related political intervention in state-controlled bodies like the Central Housing and Planning Authority. (CHPA).
In the case of UG there is a long-standing case to be made for a nexus for the underperformance of the university in the execution of its primary function and the dead hand of politics as manifested chiefly in the ongoing inter-party political feuding.
Whether or not the present Vice Chancellor of UG, Professor Ivelaw Griffith will find himself batting on a better wicket than that of his predecessors as far as undue political interference at the university is concerned remains to be seen. One makes this point having regard not only to what has obtained over the years, but also having regard to the fact that we are in the midst of a political season in which just about every conceivable issue precipitates a faceoff.
Sad to say and setting aside the customary political rhetoric, there has been no really persuasive evidence over the years that our political leaders have been seized of the importance of the link between an accomplished higher institution of learning and the creation of the various skills necessary for a multi-faceted development agenda. Otherwise, surely, UG would not have been so starved of funds over the years so as to suffer the kind of devastating decline in both material and intellectual resources that it has. Indeed, the contemporary image of UG is, in large measure, a function of its overwhelming undernourishment and the fact that it had become a lightning rod for political feuding.
Political assaults on the sanctity of the university have had the effect of completely rendering its substantive managers virtually impotent so that when the sparks begin to fly those functionaries (notably the Vice Chancellor) have found themselves at odds with the political interlopers but powerless to engage them since state funding remains the life blood of the institution.
Professor Griffith, his more than three decades-stay outside of Guyana notwithstanding, would have been staying abreast of developments at home and specifically at UG and would doubtless be aware of the fact that the institution had become a political battleground over the years. Indeed, he made it clear in an interview with the Guyana Review two weeks ago that he had indeed been tracking developments at UG from abroad and that he was aware of the overwhelming failure of “different governments” to be mindful of what he says (and here he insists that he speaks from considerable experience of universities in North America and Europe, among other places) is “a cardinal rule that the intrusion of politics into the affairs of the University is not good for the University,” nor is it good for “society;” and the Vice Chancellor, surely, must have had UG particularly in mind when he added in a rejoinder that “the fact that you are a state university does not mean that the university should be dictated to politically.”
Up until now Professor Griffith does not appear to be unhappy (at least it does not seem so) with his relationship with the government. One anticipates, however, that there could be testing times ahead particularly when it comes to what he says is the necessity for a greater infusion of state funding from government (among other sources) into the rebuilding of UG. What, however, is significant about the Vice Chancellor’s position on the relationship between his administration and the political powers that be is that his own stated position is clear. This is what he had to say about his disposition to political pressure in the matter of the running of the university.
“… I have made it quite clear that I am not going to be a Vice Chancellor that facilitates that internal political dictation – who to hire, who to fire, what student to admit, what to publish. The University must be a place, a for neutral ground for all places, critical of government, critical of opposition and as a Vice Chancellor I have asked for the importance of civility.”
It has to be said that the perspective of the Vice Chancellor on the kind of leadership that he seeks to bring to the running of UG is, in some significant ways, not in keeping with the outlook demonstrated by the politicians over the years. There have been interventions, several of them, in some of the very areas which Vice Chancellor Griffith says he is determined to set his face against. The extent to which he gets his way in the period ahead could have a profound impact on our success or otherwise in pursuit of the re-tooling of UG to play what, in the period ahead, could be a critical role in intellectually equipping the nation to meet its critical developmental needs.
- The University of Guyana