THERE was a recent Letter to the editor with the odious title, “Should the UG Vice-Chancellor’s appointment be revoked?” published in the Guyana Times (September 2, 2020). In that letter, the writer called for the revocation of Professor Paloma Mohamed-Martin’s appointment as the vice- chancellor of UG on the grounds that her late husband Professor Tony Martin was Afrocentric and by extension, was aligned with the PNC. A few things are wrong here: Prof Tony Martin was not Guyanese, never lived in Guyana and was never politically associated with any party in Guyana.
Professor Paloma Mohamed-Martin stands on her own as an outstanding and productive scholar. She has earned her degrees—undergraduate, MA, and Ph. D from established and highly reputable institutions. She has no need to stand in her late ex-husband’s shadow. Secondly, the letter revealed its odious and divisive ambition by equating Afrocentricity with racism. The Afrocentric turn has been the most emancipating development in the Euro-American academy since World War II. It is clearly recognised that the demand for an inclusionary curriculum was a refreshing contribution to the human intellectual project. Until the emergence of the African-American Studies initiative in the late 1970s, the Euro-American academy proffered a Eurocentric approach to knowledge. The African experience was absent. It was not considered relevant. There was ignorance of this essential aspect of humanity.
The objectives of the fledgling academic field were spelt out in Maulana Karenga’s seminal publication, Introduction to African American Studies. Among them were to create and more inclusive academy, “to assemble and create a body of knowledge which would contribute to intellectual and political emancipation,” “to develop mutually beneficial relationships between the campus and the community,” and to establish a legitimate, respected and permanent discipline. Clearly, this represented a strategy for filling a deficiency in the Euro-American academy. One outcome of this critique of the Euro-American academy has been the growth of inclusion. Today it is not strange to find Latin American, Asian, Women and Gender Studies programmes in the American Academy. These achievements stand on the shoulders of those pioneering scholars such as Blassingame, Dubois, Woodson, Hare, and Martin.
It must be appreciated that the penner of the letter to the Guyana Times was exercising her freedom of speech, a right that is enshrined in Guyana’s constitution. Going with this right and other rights is the expectation of responsibility. The caution to do due diligence (conduct research) before we say or write stuff that can injure the reputations of individuals and institutions is appropriate here.
Such is the case with this embryonic and seemingly partisan motivated campaign against the current Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana.
The University of Guyana needs space to breathe and grow. For more than 50 years the institution has been an unfortunate site in Guyana’s political machinations. Despite these dramas, one must be proud of its alumni who have demonstrated innovation and achievement around the world. There are a few who have returned to Turkeyen and silently led, clearly not for material rewards, but because of service to the nation. Paloma Mohamed is among that number.
I write this because I have been closely associated with the University of Guyana for more than 20 years and am aware of the calibre of person that Professor Paloma Mohamed is. I have been aware of her capability since she was an intern at the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation at the High Street location during the early years of the 1980s.
The University of Guyana that I have interacted with has always been in a crisis mode. It was in that state in 2000 when Dr. James Rose was the vice-chancellor. It was in that condition when Professor Carrington was the vice-chancellor. It continued to be in that condition under Professor Ivelaw Griffith.
My engagement with UG has not been superficial. For 20 years it has engaged all levels of the institution, the leadership, the faculty, and students.
In the early years of the 21st century, circa 2006, I conducted on behalf of UNESCO an assessment of the once pioneering Centre for Communication Studies (CCS). That assessment was part of UNESCO’s evaluation of the state of communication education and training programmes in the Caribbean that had received UNESCO investments. I had previously conducted similar assessments in Jamaica, St. Lucia, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. My findings on Guyana were devastating. The Centre for Communication Studies was under-resourced, the curriculum in need of review, and the physical facilities derelict. In simple terms, the unit was not fit for purpose and not capable of leading Guyana’s engagement with the emerging interconnected global communication environment. The report identified opportunities for quickly alleviating the condition.
About two years later, I received a call from the then Dean of the Social Sciences faculty, Dr. Michael Scott, indicating that the CCS was about to collapse and the university needed urgent help to ensure that the students currently in the programme could complete the courses they needed for graduation with the undergraduate certificates, diplomas, and degrees offered. It was in that crisis, that I reconnected with Professor Mohamed. She had returned to Guyana, recently completing a Ph.D. at the University of the West Indies (St. Augustine) and was delivering on a commitment to return to UG after graduate studies. She had made the commitment to Dr. Scott after completing her undergraduate degree.
She, along with a small team of fellow CCS alumni, launched Project Phoenix, the strategy for the rehabilitation and growth of the Centre for Communication Studies. This was done spectacularly. In a few short years, she garnered international funding and mobilised domestic resources to upgrade the curriculum, initiate research, and launch a transforming programme of faculty development. By 2012, she and her team had put CCS on an upward trajectory and in the process won respect for UG in major regional and international academic circles. It was therefore not surprising that in time this talent as a team player and an innovative leader would be deployed as Dean of Social Sciences and recently as the deputy-vice chancellor (Philanthropy, Alumni, and Community Engagement). As the DVC in the Griffith administration, her performance and productivity revealed a solid scorecard, especially the metrics of resources mobilised for UG.
The year-long process that led to her appointment as the 11th Vice-chancellor of the University of Guyana was a public one. I even posted the Call for Applications on my Facebook page. Then the public presentations by the shortlisted applicants were public on the Zoom platform. Clearly, her qualifications, experience, and her demonstrated tradition of services to the nation contributed to the appointment. This interpretation is in harmony with recent declarations by the Council of the University of Guyana, the university’s highest governing authority.
The Council of the University of Guyana has also addressed the other insinuation, that decisions made during the nation’s recent political crisis are illegal. Addressing that issue directly, the council stated:
Since it is the Council which appoints, the Acts and Statutes do not provide for the vice- chancellor or any staff of the university to be political appointees. Therefore, the period in which a vice-chancellor is appointed is not germane to any political process. The nation expects the university to perform its duties regardless of changes in government.
Professor Mohamed-Martin has held this appointment for less than six months. No other vice- chancellor has had to administer the institution during a global pandemic. She has hit the ground running and with the authority of the Council of the University of Guyana has continued to assemble a team of qualified and tested faculty members to lead the university into the future. She heads what is probably the most crucial institution at probably the most critical moment in Guyana’s history.
We need stability at UG, not the perpetuation of the crises that characterised the past 20 years.
I think the UG vice chancellor’s appointment should be reaffirmed!
Vibert C Cambridge, Ph.D., A.A.