BELIZE CITY, Mon. Nov. 9, 2020– The year 2020 has been far from easy for the University of Belize, and it appears little has been done to reduce the hardships being experienced by the faculty, staff and student body of the institution.
Since July, there has been a public outcry from the University of Belize Faculty and Staff Union (UBFSU), which is calling for more transparent and inclusive governance following the unilateral decision by the university’s board of trustees to declare the school to be in a state of financial exigency.
This declaration led to a salary cut for the majority of the educators at UB and also resulted in the dismissal of over 100 faculty and staff members. The UBFSU responded by staging a series of industrial acts until finally they were acknowledged and invited to a meeting with the board to discuss a way forward that was feasible for all parties involved.
Despite these discussions, however, things continued to grow problematic for the university, and this became particularly evident in August when the new school year was scheduled to begin. Teachers complained that they did not have enough time to prepare and upload coursework via the new online channels, and were trying to negotiate a postponed start date for classes.
Again, the union threatened industrial action and would refuse to engage in class instruction until they were heard by the board. It wasn’t until September 15, 2020, that an agreement was announced between the board and the union, which entailed a tiered salary cut, an increment freeze for the financial year, a voluntary separation program, and more.
Both parties had agreed to work in collaboration as they maneuver through the school’s financial restraints due to the economic effects of COVID-19. It would appear, however, that little progress has been made and frustrations continue to fester between the students, the educators and the UB board.
One retired faculty member, Sheron Palacio (former Director of Student Services), reached out to a local media outlet with a letter of concern regarding the unfavorable operation of the school and the lack of efforts by the Minister of Education to rectify the matter.
According to Palacio, in a letter published November 5, 2020, the faculty has been facing a series of unfair conditions, including the aforementioned salary cuts and the termination of 100 staffers.
In addition, Palacio also criticized the president’s decision to spend university funds on a School of Medicine, which she deems unnecessary for the country.
The school has allegedly also failed to make good on their promise to provide a $500 technology grant to lecturers providing lessons from home.
Palacio also states that the president of the school has been absent from his office since March and is still collecting his salary, and that he “continues to hire his compatriots from Trinidad to fill high positions at the University” despite declaring financial exigency and terminating 100 Belizean teachers.
The disgruntled former staff member ended her letter with a call to the Government of Belize to take a closer look at the “dictatorship of President Clement Sankat.”
On November 6, 2020, the UBFSU also published a press release that lists these concerns and highlights a number of issues affecting the staff and students of UB. According to the union, successive weeks have passed and their proposals to improve the conditions at the school have been sidelined. The union says they are now seeing a demand for student services which has resulted in an overburdening of the office and negative feedback via social media.
Union members have also denounced the school’s decision to hire a Quality Assurance Director from overseas in the wake of the dismissal of 100 employees and its failure to provide adequate financial support to the staff.
In closing, the UBFSU suggested that the future of the school could be at stake if UB’s board does not attempt to rectify these issues. The release reads as follows:
“UBFSU earnestly desires to avoid further frustrations and disruption of quality, but the matter of overburdening students, faculty and staff and the resulting detrimental impacts to physical and mental health, and to quality for students, signals the future of the university is at stake. These issues cannot be avoided or postponed; the faculty and staff deserve to know what action is being taken to address this.”