Trouble brewing at UTech

Exactly two years after 80 University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) lecturers applied for promotion they are still awaiting word from the processing committee, according to one of the applicants.

The applicant, who is a senior lecturer and a UTech Administrative Staff Union (UTASU) member, told the Jamaica Observer that the university gave the applicants a deadline of July 31, 2020 to submit their portfolios for consideration under the current ordinance governing promotions, as the administration intends to revamp the rule to make the process more rigorous.

The lecturer, who requested anonymity, said word of the plan to revise the rules “precipitated a herd response to promotion”.

“Had the university not weaved this spidery deadline translated into a call for promotions, many would be sitting undisturbed, as Little Miss Muffet on her tuffet, with no effort to go through the back-breaking promotions process,” he said.

Several attempts by the Observer last week to get a comment from UTech were unsuccessful, with calls from this reporter being placed on hold for extended periods of time, ending without anyone coming back on the line.

On Sunday, a UTceh source told the Observer that staff were advised that the promotion process was halted due to financial constraints caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which the university said also severely impacted the funds needed to award financial assistance for study leave, promotional appointments, and staff loans.

According to the source, this development was published in the university’s newsletter —
The Broadcaster
— which also stated that all promotions have been placed on hold.

The source also said that, although the University Council meets every quarter, neither the council nor the University Academic Promotions Committee (UAPC) has yet to announce a date for the resumption of the promotions process.

Last week, the lecturer said that UTASU had warned the university that its approach would be troublesome.

“Heedless to the word, they plunged headlong in giving a deadline and suspending the process of promotion in the absence of a new document — a move the union, in a letter dated June 12, 2020, described as iniquitous, despotic and antagonistic,” he said.

“Now, the university is claiming that it hasn’t the funds to tend to this wage bill and that the Government hasn’t given the funds needed to cater to the demands of this wage bill, with the financial arm of council, therefore, jettisoning a budget outlining how this is to be achieved,” he added.

The lecturer said that at UTASU’s annual general meeting on Thursday, August 18, 2022 a distraught member tabled a terse motion that received unanimous support from the members.

They demanded that UTech, at the least, accords them dignity in having the promotions process completed, or else normalcy in operations cannot be guaranteed.

“This comes at a critical junction in the operative machinery of the university, as, [on] August 29, classes are set to begin. Determined members await word from the powerful council-led university, who some members feel is the obstructive Prince of Persia before Daniel,” he stated.

“The inaction of the university to address the promotions becomes the embers to fan the growing flames of discontent of approximately 80 members directly implicated and a burgeoning academic core who want to, but who cannot, apply until the impasse is settled; and members who have applied know exactly where they stand,” he added.

The lecturer said that some members of the union had “literally traversed land and sea” to get the required documents “done over” by authorised personnel, within and outside the university, some of whom have passed, in order to compile a portfolio “nothing short of the size of a tome” divided into the areas of teaching, research, qualification, and service.

“Members, including me, had sleepless nights, some staying overnight at the university to meet a deadline… scampering to get five copies of the colossal document into human resources. Sometime after, committees were appointed in each faculty to consider applicants and their worthiness for the coveted academic ranks of senior lecturer, associate professor, and professor,” he stated.

The lecturer explained that this process included individuals approved by the faculty promotions committees having their documents sent to UAPC to be ratified and members who failed in their bid would be told accordingly.

“These were not done. To be clear, members are not asking for everyone who applied to be appointed, only those qualified, and that the council simply takes counsel and bring this process to a completion,” he said.

He claimed that some of the applicants have been axed naturally, with the passage of time, as they have retired since submitting the documents, and can no longer benefit.

“Others are refusing to have the guillotine of time come their way in the face of retirement, the implication being that pensions will be paid based on the last salary at retirement. What is more, some members feel disenfranchised, since, with the current state of affairs, they are prevented from applying for administrative positions which require an academic rank,” he said.

The lecturer told the Observer that he and his colleagues are not budging as they contend that this is not a benefit for which they are negotiating. Instead, it is a right, having gone through the process the university legitimised for promotions, and they feel their rights are being trampled upon.

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