• 13 Apr, 2024

Terminated UTT lecturers and staff should also be compensated

Terminated UTT lecturers and staff should also be compensated

Terminated UTT lecturers and staff should also be compensated

The nation is examining and evaluating with keen interest the ruling of Justice Frank Seepersad in the “wrongful dismissal” of the former provost of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), Dr. Fazal Ali. The ruling has implication for other workers, lecturers and staff who were abruptly terminated in 2018 and 2019 from their duties. They are now seeking legal advice on they can get justice, if deserving, for their dismissal, although their case and that of Dr Ali    may be different.

 

I have been in communication with a number of former UTT academic staff who received abrupt and rather vague letters of termination of employment from the very same UTT board the learned judge ruled against. They are of the view that they also deserve some monetary compensation when they lost their job and income, particularly their monthly income until their contracts would have naturally ended. I also spoke with several individuals in the public. They are of the view, drawing from the Judge Seepersad’s ruling, that the fired staff should also be compensated. You cannot, in a democracy, under the principle of fairness, suddenly terminate people, particularly lecturers teaching in the middle of the semester. How are/were they supposed to maintain their families, and the delivery of their courses. Adequate notice until the end of the semester or academic year would have been the fair before termination.

 

As excerpted below, the ruling of Justice Frank Seepersad stated: “The process which was engaged was devoid of merit and has no place in a plural, civilized society which adheres to the tenets of democracy, fairness and equality. … This court will not sanction the conduct which was engaged … The board operated in a manner which was shameful, offensive, deliberate, discriminatory, high-handed and reprehensible ..... this case will not be tolerated or condoned by the court.”

 

It is time for our society to take a critical look at the role of governance in a national university. In the 19th and 20th centuries, universities became seedbeds and sanctuaries of nation building in former colonies. The ideas and profound intellectual thinking that emerged out of universities immensely contributed to the making of modern nations were, in part, developed by responsible boards of governance that adhered to principles of democracy, transparency, accountability and fairness. 

 

It is unacceptable if the conduct of a Board of Governors in the affairs of employees creates distrust and unhealthy dynamics which infiltrates a national network of campuses meant to constitute a national university. If this happens, it sends a clear signal that a board’s decisions and actions are questionable. If questions are left unanswered, the result can only be “shame” with a track record of cases in the High Court which cannot be tolerated or condoned. 

 

It is often emphasized that education must inculcate within individuals those personal dispositions of honesty, integrity, fairness, equity, and morality. The mandate is no different for higher education or lower level school. In fact, universities in the developing world like T&T have a critical obligation to all sectors, from both social and legal vantage points. This can only mean that good governance in higher education cannot be alienated from practical acquisition of personal values (as noted above) deemed to be imperative for social development of a plural and civilized society. On that note, it was wrong to suddenly or abruptly terminate staff who had a legitimate expectation of continuous employment and income and who should have been given ample notice as well as reason for termination of employment.

 

Dr Ali had a contract for a specified period. It is understood that the teaching staff would be retained till the end of the semester. They should not have been removed while teaching classes in the middle of an academic year.    The staff, like Dr Ali, is also deserving fair compensation.

 

 

Dr Vishnu Bisram

Dr Vishnu Bisram is Guyanese born who received his primary and secondary education in Guyana and tertiary education in the US and India. He is a fourth generation Indian. His great grandparents from both his mother and father’s sides were born in India -- Gurbatore from Ghaizpur, Amru from Azamgarh, Sau from Chapra, Mangri from Mau, Bhuri and Bhura Singh from Bharatpur, among others. They all came at different times to then British Guiana (1880s and 1890s) to work on sugar plantations as indentured laborers. After serving ten years, they were freed laborers. They remained on the colony rather than returned to India, married and had children. They used the savings from indentureship to purchase landholdings to cement their ties to their adopted land. They were not given free land. Vishnu Bisram is ninth of twelve children of Gladys and Baldat, rural farmers, she also was a seamstress and he a taylor and they attended to a kitchen garden as well. Vishnu attended the St Joseph Anglican (called English) primary school from 1966 to 1972. In 1972, he passed the annual nationwide Common Entrance exam winning a scholarship place to attend the government Berbice High School in New Amsterdam, some 17 miles from his home village of Ankerville, Port Mourant. He declined the placement scholarship and opted instead for the private Chandisingh High School to which his family pad to pay a tuition. He entered for eight subjects at the Cambridge University Exam in 1977. Vishnu migrated to the USA in 1977 to further his studies. He enrolled at the City College of City University of New York September that year at age 17, studying Bio-Chemistry and also completing a major in Political Science. After his BSc in Bio-Chem, he pursued graduate studies in International Relations earning a MA. He went on to complete multiple post graduate degrees including doctorates in Economics, Sociology, History, Political Science and Educational Administration. Dr Bisram taught for over forty years in various subjects in the US. He also served as a newspaper reporter and columnist for over four decades and is a well-known pollster in the Caribbean region. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling extensively around the globe to research and write about Indian communities. He published countless articles on various subjects in the mass media, journals, and books. He also organized international conferences on the Indian diaspora and presented papers at many conferences. He was a guest lecturer at universities in Mauritius, India, Fiji, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, USA, and other countries. He is a well regarded political analyst on American and Caribbean politics. He makes him home in Guyana, Trinidad, and America and travels frequently to India.