Education at all levels is one of the great concerns of the Consumer Community as well as of the nation as a whole. Every August/September, thousands of parents frantically and even pathetically try to have their children placed in what are considered the better public schools. This is because of the well-founded presumption that not all schools are of the same standard. This situation contrasted with admissions to the University of Guyana (UG). For many years, despite the very low fees, there was no overt rush to seek admission to UG. Parents tried to have their children admitted to foreign universities, either by their trying for scholarships or asking the support of relatives in the Diaspora.
Within the last three years, however, since Professor Ivelaw Griffith assumed the post of Vice Chancellor, the image of the UG began to rapidly change. Parents and students alike began to feel that UG was growing into a university with high standards whose degrees would be accepted and recognised throughout the Caribbean and further afield. This remarkable transformation did not happen by chance.
When Professor Griffith took up the post of Vice Chancellor, he, as the modern idiom goes, hit the road running. He immediately set out to reorganise the University and to work on raising both academic and physical standards. The task facing Professor Griffith was indeed herculean and the labours facing him were no less daunting than those which faced Hercules. Others in the past, faced with the insurmountable mountain of problems, decided that the immediate challenge was to keep the University afloat, and could not even contemplate upon embarking on the revolutionary changes which UG required.
Professor Griffith’s presence electrified UG and the Guyanese public again became actively aware of their University. This immediate impact was not surprising: Professor Griffith was among the early graduates of UG; he emigrated to the United States to further his studies as so many others did; gained his Doctorate and became a full-time academic, achieving the highest levels in Academia. He did not spend his time in only teaching but went into university building and administration so that when he returned to Guyana he was well equipped to be Vice-Chancellor of UG.
Professor Griffith returned to Guyana because he felt the national call of his motherland and also because he felt the great need to give back to his Alma Mater but he did so at a great personal sacrifice, both financial and familial. For this, many Guyanese are grateful.
In the 36 months he has been leading the University, he conceived and began to effectuate “Project Renaissance”. Project Renaissance should not be mistaken for a 5-year or 10-year Development Plan; it is a Project of continuous creativity and pragmatic action and in the 36 months, the achievements have been numerous and revolutionary. In no other period of University’s history has so much been achieved in so short a time. In a society where every aspect of life seems to politicized, Guyanese have been yearning for a platform where they could all stand together in unity and this rebirth of the University has given them such a platform on which they all stand with pride.
It is impossible to detail the achievements of the last 36 months in a short article since each of them has reverberations and productive developments which go way into the future. We will therefore at random choose two or three, but before we do so, we would like to remind readers of a memorable statement he made when he assumed the Vice-Chancellorship. Professor Griffith said that he would expect no attempt would be made to inject political involvement in the University since that would not leave him space to do his job properly. In a politicized society, that was indeed a courageous and refreshing statement to make and he has succeeded in preserving the independence and professionalism of the University.
In the Distinguished Lecture series honouring Prof Clive Thomas, Prof Noel Menezes and Dr Ulric Trotz and the Turkeyen and Tain Talks, the University was brought to the people and the public was invited to participate and many students from the secondary schools and ordinary folk had their first exposure to the university. These lectures and discussions were available on the internet, television and radio. The University had moved away from the ivory tower to become a people’s university.
Research, for one reason or other, had been neglected at the University and very few of the academic staff and none of the students did any. Professor Griffith understands that Research is the life-blood of any university and he has begun to build this necessary culture not only among the academic staff but much more so among the undergraduates.
Stimulating and focusing on research among undergraduates is an important innovation. Student research conferences were held at Turkeyen and Tain, and Professor Griffith, using his contacts, was able to arrange the sponsoring of undergraduates to present their researches at universities in the USA (Georgia and Florida), Germany, Aruba and Jamaica. This programme of research is complemented by the establishment of a University of Guyana publishing press in cooperation with one of the international publishers. The UG publishing press would allow for research work to be published and would place Guyana into the international research arena.
The Renaissance Project has been engaging the very large Guyanese Diaspora and the second Guyanese Diaspora Conference will take place in July. Prominent Guyanese scholars settled abroad will be invited to make presentations. These engagements with the Diaspora has begun to be a source of funding for the University and opens the way for Diaspora support to other national efforts.
We will revisit the Renaissance Project giving more details of its achievements and some of the programs in the pipeline. Professor Ivelaw Griffith’s achievements in his first 36 months have been phenomenal and both the local and foreign academic community and the Guyanese public as a whole look forward to him continuing to build the University into the world-class international institution for which he has been so creatively laying the foundations.