This is an excerpt from the address by Professor Edward Greene at the Dual Ceremony of his Installation as 10th Chancellor and the Graduation Ceremony at the University of Guyana on Saturday, November 16, 2019
I was once told by an eminent Guyanese Historian, the late Professor Elsa Gouveia that “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.”
I see my task as putting this ceremony into a context by connecting the dots and capturing their meaning and purpose. On the one hand, we connect the dots by looking backwards, from whence we came – our achievements, our challenges and the lessons learnt. On the other hand, we aspire, propose priorities and look forward to dotting the future. But in so doing we have to be mindful of the need to give meaning and purpose of this ritual which, for me, is to facilitate the unleashing of our most ambitious imaginings and our profoundest commitments. Connecting the dots, and capturing the meaning and purpose of this ceremony are embedded in my understanding of a University.
My Understanding of a University is not novel nor new. It draws on a body of knowledge, expert assessments and evaluations that connect the dots overtime.
A University is not about results in the next quarter. It is not even about who a student has become by graduating. It is about learning that molds a lifetime, learning that transmits the heritage of millennia; learning that shapes the future. A University looks both backwards and forwards in ways that sometimes conflict with a public’s immediate concerns or demands. Universities make commitments that are timeless, yielding results we cannot predict and often cannot measure.
Universities are curious institutions with varied purposes that they have neither clearly articulated nor adequately justified. This results in public confusion especially at a time when higher education has come to seem as an indispensable social resource. It is therefore understandable that this situation produces a torrent of demands for greater “accountability” for institutions of higher learning.
The University of Guyana is a perfect example of an institution on a development trajectory. One indicator of this is the increasing enrollment from 164 students in 1963 to approximately 1000 in 1981 to over 8,000 in 2018. The graduating class in 1967 was 32 including 28 male and 4 female. This year the graduating class numbers 1918, including 610 male and 1308 female. Herein lies a vivid reminder that in terms of global numbers females are outperforming males. But it is also a reminder that both female and male in this 2019 graduating class, you have been blessed with far greater opportunities for access to higher education than that of your parents and guardians and the generations before. But these opportunities—the link between looking backward and forward—are accompanied by obligations.
As incoming Chancellor, I am still in the process of coming to grips with the steep learning curve. However, I know that as Chairman of the Board (Council as it is called) I must work in partnership with the Vice Chancellor as CEO and the Management Team, and with all stakeholders within and outside the University in building Accountability to the Future. This means:
Among the core values of a University, I highlight six (6)
Creating a New Geography of Learning
This graduation is taking place when the global arena is engaged in delivering the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which the Government of Guyana is one of the 192 signatories. Without going into detail, it is obvious that the 17 goals and 169 targets of the SDGs are interrelated. What this signals is that in preparing students to truly tackle the essence of sustainable development, the University must give due consideration to a new geography of learning that breaks down the silos in designing course offerings: a new geography of learning and builds on the principles of free enquiry and life-long learning. There are useful models of higher education, burgeoning around the globe. Some are like our own experiences and others are unlike our own experiences. A common tendency is for narrowing distances between fields and disciplines, forging interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches, grasping at intertwining the arts and sciences, striving to produce development scientists and recognizing that increasingly, in this transnational and digitized world in which we live, knowledge itself is the most powerful connector. Hence the foresight of UG's administrators through the Academic Board and Council must be highly complemented for approving the introduction of the PhD degree in Biodiversity. Programmes like these truly fit the bill of "transformational", "cutting edge” and "preparing its graduates for a future" that must confront the challenges such as global warming and climate change.
But there is another dimension to the new geography of learning which I attribute to one of my mentors. It is his advice mainly about emotional intelligence. "Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, invite smarter people or find a different room". In academia, it is called collaborating. In professional circles it’s called networking. In organizations it’s called team building. And in life it’s called family, friends, and community. We are all gifts to each other, and my own growth as a leader has shown me again and again that the most rewarding experiences come from my relationships.
Making a Difference and Making the University Relevant
So how do we use our relationships to make a difference and make the University relevant? Our accountability to the future makes additional demands on the citizens of the University which is uniquely multivariate. It is a place of philosophers, artists, adventurists as well as analysts, scientists and activists. It provides the enabling environment for posing the questions of ethics, of discovering the truth and confronting the human, the social and the moral significance of our changing relationships with the natural world. As citizens of the university, we are accountable to one another and to shaping the institution that in turn defines our possibilities and that of future generations. This is so even after you leave this campus. Hence there are certain imperatives: your active roles as alumni, and contribution to the University's welfare must be seen as an investment in ensuring its international recognition and protecting the integrity of your qualifications. Accountability to the future encompasses special requirements: to give back to the University, bolster its development and promote its purpose. Class of 2019, this could be your collective legacy.
Yours is the good fortune to be armed with the knowledge. You had the opportunity. You seized it. But there is much more. You need to recognize your accountability to your community and the wider world. Your accountability to the future is to help to break down those barriers of divisiveness, inherited from generations that have left the scars of racial conflict and discord; of dismantling the coarseness that has crept into our social discourse and the rupturing incivility that has become ingrained into our political culture. As President Obama said in his Eulogy at the memorial service of the late Ranking Congressman Elijah Emmanuel Cummings last month 'being civil and honourable is a moral strength and not a weakness'. Hopefully during your years at UG interacting with a cross section of colleagues and friends—collaborating or competing or grappling with ideas and ideals or confronting a myriad of challenges — you have come to the view that sometimes the only thing that’s important really, is just letting each other know we’re here, reminding each other that we’re part of a larger self.
This is the time for bold measures inspired by this ritual today. It is not about individual egos. It is about collective leadership that must be put to the benefit of this country. Yours is the generation of graduates fortunate to emerge at the cusp of a projected buoyant economy in this dear land of Guyana. It is the Eldorado (and I don't mean Eldorado 15) of which your parents and their parents dreamed. Your reality is to recognize that the Degree or Certificate that you are about to receive is a blunt instrument unless you go forth and build something with it.
Voices for Transformation
How do you go forward to build something out of your degrees and certificates? For a start you can aspire to be voices for transformation. Recently at a Symposium of Youth from around the globe at the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings in October, a clarion call was sounded. That clarion call is most relevant to my appeal. As you take the next steps, you don’t need to wait for someone in power to give you permission or even listen to you to be an activist. You can begin by educating yourself on issues, educating others and organizing in your communities. You can generate momentum and consciousness and try to make advocates out of everyone you meet. You can say to your political leaders that they should have noticed by now that this generation is ready to speak out, write, lead, march, vote on issues important to them. Let them know that as activists you refuse to be ignored. Taking this kind of stand demonstrates an unfettered understanding of who you are, where you came from, where you are going and why.
For me, these are some important elements or dots toward the transformation of our civilization.