Fixing UTech | We are hurting - UTech staff say poor conditions at university negatively affecting them
The University of Technology Academic Staff Union (UTASU) has said its members have suffered tremendously under what it has described as a prolonged period of poor management at the national university.
The union has said that the academic staff at The University of Technology (UTech) operate in less-than-favourable physical conditions without updated and efficient technology support.
UTASU President Joan Lawla explained to The Gleaner that the absence of a conclusion to protracted wage negotiations has resulted in continued low wages, which are some 60 per cent below those earned at the neighbouring University of the West Indies.
The union president also pointed out that the academic development of staff has been blighted, as participation in conferences and other academic endeavours has been curtailed.
"The list of problems affecting the academic staff is understated," she said in response to questions from The Gleaner.
Lawla, who was also speaking on behalf of the two other staff unions at UTech, in rebuffing the notion that the unions have been obstructionist in their role on the university council, noted that the unions have no power through force of numbers or veto.
"We are easily outvoted. It is only by moral suasion or asking that council decisions are aligned to the statutes governing the university that we are able to influence the management of the institution to act in what we regard as the university's best interest," she said.
According to Lawla, it is the view of the unions that the management of the university has not been acting judiciously, a view they expressed in a newspaper advertisement from as far back as 2013.
"Of note, however, and as was stated in our 2013 Gleaner ad, is the fact that the management of the university continues, even now, to commit flagrant breaches of good governance in several areas, including their employment and promotion practices. We are experiencing many of the same violations which were cited before 2013. Despite the secondment of the then president and the appointment of new members on council ... many members of the flawed regime have been retained in executive management and not much has changed," she added.
Turning her attention to the precarious financial situation at UTech, which was exposed during the institution's appearance before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament, Lawla argued that the unions have been vindicated, as they have long been raising alarm about what they see as the unviable expansion of the university without the proper financial support.
Pointing to the 2013 investigation into the affairs of the university, which she says highlighted a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the previous administration under Professor Errol Morrison as president, and Edward Seaga as chancellor, she said, "Apart from addressing those with urgency, we expect the university to either reverse the many appointments and additions that have overburdened the university's present financial capability and to secure from the relevant authorities additional budgetary support to make the expansion viable."
The union president lamented the fact that UTech continues to be without strong ethical leadership, pointing out that current Chancellor Edward Seaga has presided over a poorly planned expansion programme since his time as pro-chancellor.
"A range of bad investments, poorly thought-out management decisions, partnerships, e.g. UTech-JIM (Jamaica Institute of Management) and MOUs, negatively affected UTech, Jamaica's financial standing during this period. The university is still reeling from the effects of a series of court actions and a much-delayed infrastructural development project, which raises questions regarding the capital structure of the institution," she said.