UG Vice-Chancellor - Letter to the editor
For some time now I have been silent as misinformation, outright fabrications, and innuendo have been published as journalism products and facilitated as letters to the editor. These have been designed to malign and hurt the image of the University and me, and to impede the progress we are making by doing tangible things to improve the service to students and staff.
Allow me to revisit some of the recent improvements. Readers may recall the newly commissioned US$665,000 Jay and Sylvia Sobhraj Center for Behavioral Sciences and Research; the launch of the School of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation (SEBI) in 2017 and the launch this year of new degrees programs in Petroleum Engineering, Food Science, Youth Work, Clinical Psychology, and in Nursing and Civil Engineering in Berbice. Thanks, too, to the support from the Ministry of Natural Resources, GGMC, and Schlumberger, we now have a G$2 billion geotechnical lab for students studying petroleum and mining engineering. We also regained the accreditation of our School of Medicine in 2017. That is a special point of pride.
We also made significant improvements in the library at Turkeyen and in Berbice, built a brandnew building for Facilities Maintenance, and will see the completion of the new Math and Science Classroom building soon. We also constructed a Student Social Complex costing over G$56 million. Work also will begin later this year on a new building to house the Personnel Department and the Bursary. As well, the George Walcott Lecture Theatre (GWLT) and the Small Lecture Theatre are now fully airconditioned and there are new bathrooms in GWLT. The Faculties of Agriculture and Forestry and Health Sciences and the Biodiversity Centre are among places with upgrades, and a new generator costing almost $22 million was purchased.
A new parking lot was created, the Cheddie Jagan Lecture Hall has been refurbished at the cost of G$16 million, and the UG road has been resurfaced. During just this academic year over 400 students participated in undergraduate research conferences at UG and in Georgia, Florida, and Aruba, and 7 will be going to Germany shortly. Moreover, in 2017 staff received salary increases of 6 and 8 percent, and in 2018 the increases were 3 and 4 percent—tax free. Also noteworthy is that every time the base salary increases, the sum of the housing allowance, which is 20 percent of the base salary, also increases by the percentage of the base salary increase.
Despite the abbreviated list of improvements above, my silence in the face of pernicious attacks has run the risk that readers who are not privy to all the facts would believe what they read, with the result that my reputation and that of the university would, indeed, be damaged. My silence was and is guided by my desire to avoid an information tit-for-tat and to foster an environment of positive dialogue. However, some recent egregious misinformation suggests the need to end the silence about things published and the journalism used.
Take the Kaieteur News story entitled ‘No toilet paper and soap for staff but UG spent over $400,000 to cater dinner for eight published on April 22, 2019. Not only is it patently inaccurate to assert that there is no toilet paper and soap at UG, but the claim that $400,000 was spent on a dinner for eight individuals is patently false! I say this without fear of contradiction.
I fully appreciate that there are editorial limitations in relation to letters to the editors. But the public and your profession are ill-served by some of what we have been witnessing, and not just the factual inexactitudes. Also, very troubling is the practice of regurgitating verbatim assertions from individuals and the unions without a modicum of verification. As a former journalist myself, I know this is an indictment of journalistic professionalism. At the very least the writers of the stories should have checked with someone at the university for a comment or seek evidence of the assertion about the dinner.
The same concerns relate to another recent story ‘UG executives tripled their salaries in five years.’ The public and the profession of journalism would have been better served had someone verified the accuracy of the assertion by checking with the Personnel Officer or the Bursar for a comment and secure the appropriate information and explanations. This reprehensible lapse in journalistic standards is corrosive and a threat to the very free and fair society that we all desire.
It is well known that the union leaders behind these stories have their agendas against the Administration and me in particular, and with my current contract ending soon they have stepped up their campaign to force me out. Please know that I have expressed interest in renewing my contract to continue the work of rebuilding and rebranding our University. Part of the effort now is to sour the public space and stoke discontent in advance of the Council meeting and the audit that the Administration told the unions and the university community beginning in January of this year that we would gladly accommodate.
Why not await the results of the audit? Incidentally, the unions were told the reasons why a forensic audit being demanded was not possible; there is no evidence of fraud. Why not wait for the results of the audit? What credible institutional or public value is to be achieved by this maligning? Is this the sort of leadership that will catapult the university and Guyana into a better place? Is this the best we can do? This Administration and I are committed to improving standards and addressing all relevant issues at UG. We cannot do it alone, though. We need the cooperation and good faith actions of all shareholders, including the unions and the free press.
Interestingly, these are the very union leaders that have ignored our request for information that would facilitate transparency and accountability of the organizations they lead. We asked them for items every credible union should have: their Articles of Association, Certificates of Recognition from the Trades Union Recognition and Certification Board, and recent Statements
of Income and Expenditure. We also asked when last they had elections, who are their official leaders and for their recent audited statements. One wonders what is there to hide.
In sum, this missive is a plea for rationality and for you and colleagues to elevate the practices of journalism in Guyana. As a nation, we are at a critical moment in our national development, and partisan and personal agendas aside, Guyana and the Guyanese people have nothing to gain when important journalistic institutions such as yours facilitate the unquestioned dissemination of the kind of misinformation we have witnessed.
Please know that I as well as other university officials would be happy to offer interviews to provide the appropriate contextual and factual information that can be used in your reporting on the matters that are of critical importance to our national university and our nation.
Professor Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith, PhD, C.C.H. Principal and Vice-Chancellor
- The University of Guyana