August 7, 1999
Last week Minister of Education Dale Bisnauth confirmed that Vice Chancellor Harold Lutchman's contract at the University of Guyana would not be renewed after next year. The reason for this decision, according to the Minister, is to allow the University Council to implement the recommendations outlined in the 1996 Presidential Commission Report on UG. He did not outline which particular proposals in that report the Council had it in mind to institute, but one must infer that it is most likely those dealing with the creation of posts for what will be effectively two Vice Chancellors, and the reorganization of the faculties.
The report had recommended that owing to the fact that the Vice Chancellor may in due course find a great deal of his time and energy taken up with fundraising and 'honorific' activities, the Council should create a Pro-Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs who would chair the Academic Board, the Appointments Committee and the Committee of Deans/Directors. He or she, it went on to say, "would guide changes in academic policy and practice and would report to Council. The Personnel Officer would report to him. He could also serve as dean of the Arts & Science Faculty."
The recommendations with regard to the vice chancellorship are connected to those suggesting simplification of the current faculty structure. The proposal is to combine the current Faculties of Arts, Science and Social Sciences (shorn of its Management Department), into a single core faculty. In addition, there would be separate Professional Schools in the fields of Agriculture, Education, Technology, Health Science and Management, which would be administered by directors who, together with the Dean of UG's sole remaining faculty, would report to the Vice Chancellor and the Academic Board.
These proposed changes are extremely far-reaching, but almost certainly do not represent improvements on existing arrangements. Leaving aside all the other criticisms which can be made about them, the first thing that should be said is that in terms of fairness they represent a retrograde step. The five new schools each with their single department will be very small operations in comparison with the lone enlarged faculty, with its eleven departments. Using the 1995/96 figures which the compilers of the report employed, the Agriculture School with its 116 students will have its own director, while 1,636 students in the new core faculty will also be administered by a single head - in this case a dean. In other words, nearly half the students at UG will be downgraded in terms of the administrative attention they receive simply because they are reading for the traditional subjects.
Furthermore, as things currently stand, the three deans at the head of the Faculties of Arts, Science and Social Sciences are elected. Under the new dispensation the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs will function as Dean of the core faculty. Surely we should not be moving towards less democracy at UG, in addition to which there cannot be a situation where someone is placed in the absurd situation of filling a lower and a higher post at the same time. The Commissioners had some other contradictory recommendations too. While suggesting on the one hand that the Pro-Vice Chancellor should chair the Academic Board, they propose at another point that directors and the dean should only sit on the Academic Board if they are elected by their schools and faculty to do so.
If they follow the latter course it would mean that those who are responsible for dealing with academic matters within their schools and faculty, would not necessarily be represented on the highest decision-making body where academic affairs are concerned - an obvious anomaly. If they decide that the Pro-Vice Chancellor/Dean should after all chair the Academic Board, that could produce a conflict which hardly needs to be spelt out.
As the report stands it is not clear what precise executive powers the new Pro-Vice Chancellor would have, other than those which attach to the deanship. Although he is to report to the Council, as Dean of the new core Faculty he will have to report to the Vice Chancellor who is the administrative head of the University, as well as the Academic Board which he may have to chair. What a wonderful formula for struggle, confusion and gridlock.
Prima facie it seems as if academic considerations have been subsumed under administrative ones, since presumably the Vice Chancellor will retain his executive powers, while his academic counterpart will make decisions within the context of the Academic Board. That too is a retrograde step, since it is an academic vision which should always inform a university, not an administrative one.
While there is no doubt that UG needs streamlining, the report's proposals hardly represent progress.
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