Letter: The national budget presentation on the University of Trinidad and Tobago

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Dear Sir:

There are only three sentences on the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) in the government’s 2018/2019 national budget. These three sentences constitute one paragraph in a budget statement that is 48 pages long.

The brevity of the budget statement on UTT is suspect. It is a whisper from the standard roar that UTT is the first and only national university, although its president, Sarim N. Al-Zubaidy, is from Iraq. After his retrenchment of lecturers on May 11, 2018, he spent a tremendous amount of money doing damage control through promotional advertising with the pathetic tagline: “UTT IS HERE TO STAY”.

In his public oral statements on UTT, the acting chairman of the board of governors, Clement Imbert, is also short on details. Imbert and his nephew, minister of finance Colm Imbert, feel safe in being short (no pun intended) on UTT. To say more would reveal the devil in the details, as is also the case in the current crisis in another state entity, Petrotrin.

Research and dissemination of knowledge

In one of his three sentences on UTT, the minister of finance gloated that the university “has been discharging its role as a catalyst for economic transformation through the advancement and application of research and dissemination of knowledge to produce work-ready graduates and critical thinkers for the country.”

This boast is a paradox and irony. I was one of 59 lecturers who were retrenched by UTT without due process on May 11 for being a “surplus” academic, as part of the university’s “restructuring exercise.”

As an assistant professor, I was discharging my role as “a catalyst for economic transformation through the advancement and application of research and dissemination of knowledge …” I have published scores of research-based articles in newspapers, magazines, journals and chapters in books. I also have 11 books to my name. I have also presented research papers at local, regional and international seminars, conventions and conferences.

The person who replaced me at UTT has not published and, therefore, was not advancing and applying research, and disseminating knowledge for the country. A search in the databases ResearchGate, Google Scholar, ProQuest, EBSCO and Academia.edu revealed that she has not published a single research paper, even in a newsletter. I have post-graduate degrees in two disciplines; my M.Phil degree is in the Humanities (Literatures in English) and my Ph.D. is in the Social Sciences (Anthropology). Yet I was selected for retrenchment.

In his budget presentation, Colm Imbert also gloated that UTT “has been discharging its role as a catalyst … to produce work-ready graduates and critical thinkers for the country.” As an assistant professor, I taught several courses during my ten continuous years of service to the university with an average of 30 students in each class. I taught courses in both the primary and secondary school specialisations.

Each semester (Terms 1 and 2), I taught an average of five or more classes. I was selected for retrenchment by administrator Dr Judy Rocke while teaching the course CIED 4001: Contemporary Issues in Education. She dismissed me as a “surplus” lecturer when most of my colleagues were on vacation.

UTT short on transparency and credibility

On Monday, Minister Colm Imbert began his budget presentation by saying that, when his party assumed power in September 2015, “we promised the citizens of T&T a transparent, honest and accountable government. This was necessary for establishing credibility and trust in the new government …”

After the wrongful dismissal of 59 lecturers on May 11, 2018, UTT under Clement Imbert fell flat on the measure of transparency, honesty, accountability, credibility and trust. Some of us are seeking justice in the High Court and the Equal Opportunity Commission and Tribunal. We are asking UTT to reveal what criteria were used to dismiss us, if any at all, and whether these criteria were fair, objective, equitable and transparent?

Some of us have been working at the university on a three-year contractual basis – some, like me, for ten continuous years – when we were summarily dismissed by our supervisor, Dr Rocke, in the presence of an HR official. UTT lost all transparency, honesty, accountability, credibility and trust when due process was not followed in retrenching us.

UTT failed to consult with the affected lecturers, failed to give prior notice of dismissal, failed to provide the restructuring plan of the university, failed to present evidence that each lecturer was “surplus” and/or “redundant”, failed to give an opportunity to the affected lecturer to respond, and failed to provide an opportunity for the lecturer to be represented by an attorney.

Minister Imbert should be ashamed to conclude his budget presentation by grinning and gloating, “We did it our way.”

Dr Kumar Mahabir,
Former Assistant Professor,
Centre for Education Programmes (CEP)
University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT)

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