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POINT AND COUNTER-POINT: Has Sankat abandoned his post as President of the University of Belize?

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Posted: Monday, February 22, 2021. 1:51 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Dorian Barrow, PhD, Florida State University: A while back I started a free-lance column, Point and Counter-Point, the aim of which was to provoke a national discourse on the state of education in Belize.  After a three year hiatus I am back on it, trying to revive such a discourse.  I am reviving Point and Counter-Point, in part because I remain an active teacher/researcher in the field of education and we now have a new government that would be now in Belmopan for 100 days this Sunday February 21st.  They were elected and given a mandate on an exciting 10 policy point agenda on EDUCATION in their Plan Belize Manifesto, and I think it is worth following closely to see how they roll out their stated policies for the education sector of the country, as education remains their most potent policy tool to help us break the bonds of poverty. 

One of the first things the Minister of Education, the Hon. Francis Fonseca, has done is to appoint a new Board of Trustees for the University of Belize (UB), with his appointment to the Board and Chairman, Mr. Anthony Sylvester Jr., in my view a great choice!  One of the interesting things though is that the President of the University, Professor Clement Sankat, who functions as the Secretary to the Board, has been out of the country at his home in Trinidad and Tobago, since mid-March of 2020, and can only attend Board meetings via Zoom. For one year Sankat has been running UB by distance, including performing his duties as the Secretary to UB’s Board of Trustees.  This is like if the Commissioner of Police Chester Williams would decide to run the Police Department from a flat in London, England.  As I said Sankat has been doing this thing of running UB from a distance for one year!  What a dream job.

Now I know, we live, in times of big tech, the internet and the world wide web.  Many of our schools are now fully online and operating quite successfully and effectively using online instructional platforms.  But many are also struggling, even with the principals and most of the teachers going to school every day.   The reason for this is that we recognize that effective leadership is much more substantive than just consideration for our medium of communication.  Things in schools and universities happen -students need explanation as why teachers aren’t showing up for classes; teachers need explanations as to why benefits have been deferred; and the population needs an explanation as to why some key student support services are being curtailed in these times of the pandemic – and our leaders have to be there on the ground to assess the situation and respond very quickly on many occasions.  There may not be time to set up a computer and get you on Zoom immediately.  Furthermore, UB has property and control spaces like the Marine Research Centre on Calabash Caye that has limited, and at times no internet access.  How you respond to emergencies in those spaces can be problematic if you are not in the country.  Currently, and for the past year, any decision in these types of situations the President has to be completely dependent on people in the country to make.  Leaving the University open to such possibilities to me could be considered a dereliction of duty.

As everyone knows even in normal circumstances the President is not expected to be in the country every day of the year.  He too is a worker paid by us and is entitled to vacation leave.  But in those cases an acting President is appointed and has the full authority of the President to act.  No such person has been appointed over the past 320 days. Fortunately, UB is blessed to have a very competent second in command in the person of VP Dr Marriot Simon – and I MUST add a fine compliment of Deans, Directors and Department Heads – who are doing all they can to keep the UB ship afloat in its sea of problems.  My view is that if Professor Sankat has, for all intent and purposes, abandoned ship, Marriot should be given the job.  After all he has a year’s experience doing it without the financial and other benefits afforded the President.      

Please feel free to challenge this position so that we can begin to get this discourse on education in Belize going.

Dr. Dоrіаn Ваrrоw іѕ сurrеntlу wоrkіng аt Gаlеn Unіvеrѕіtу аѕ thе Dеаn оf thе Dераrtmеnt оf Еduсаtіоn. Не hаѕ а lоng hіѕtоrу оf іnvоlvеmеnt іn еduсаtіоn іn Веlіzе, hаvіng ѕеrvеd аѕ а Lесturеr аt thе Unіvеrѕіtу оf Веlіzе, аnd аѕ Сhіеf Ехесutіvе Оffісеr іn thе Міnіѕtrу оf Еduсаtіоn. Dr. Ваrrоw іѕ аn еmіnеnt рrоfеѕѕіоnаl whо іѕ wеll rеѕресtеd bоth lосаllу аnd аbrоаd. Не іѕ ѕеrvіng аѕ аn еdіtоrіаl mеmbеr аnd rеvіеwеr оf ѕеvеrаl іntеrnаtіоnаl rерutеd јоurnаlѕ аnd hаѕ аuthоrеd mаnу rеѕеаrсh аrtісlеѕ/bооkѕ rеlаtеd tо еduсаtіоn. Араrt frоm еduсаtіоn, hе іѕ аlѕо а ѕроrtѕ еnthuѕіаѕt.

 

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