What Professor Konrad Morgan owes to Mauritians

By TP Saran

The truth about what or who has come in the way of the reform that Professor Konrad Morgan has proposed to the governing body of the University of Mauritius. The truth, nothing but the truth, and only the truth.

For this is a matter of life or protracted degeneration for the UOM if not actual death. As an outsider, he has been in the unique position of taking a disinterested view of the affairs of the UOM, the same view which has no doubt guided him in whatever actions he has initiated at the UOM.

From all accounts that we have gathered, Konrad Morgan is a thorough gentleman, an affable and open-minded world-class professional. He was selected to lead the UOM after a rigorous exercise by a high-level panel comprising equally high-level professionals, all of whom had extensive experience and wide international exposure.

Prof Morgan is too cultured and refined a person to tell the blunt truth to the face of those who have met with him after he submitted his resignation, including the Minister of Tertiary Education and Research Rajesh Jeetah (‘the Minister’). That is probably why he has been speaking in coded, polite language, referring to ‘mixture of factors’ as leading him to resign, or that he has felt he is limited in his means to get the reform of UOM going.

As for the Minister, the stronger his denials of having interfered in the running of UOM and his assertion that UOM has full autonomy in its functioning, the less thinking people are prepared to accept his statement. That perhaps Prof Morgan has ‘failed to understand the complexity of the local system’ could be translated as ‘the VC became exasperated with the repeated attempts at interference in UOM’s affairs’, such as the Minister wanting him or his Permanent Secretary to be present at Council meetings, or addressing the convocation ceremonies at UOM.

These were the milder irritations. It seems that, since these attempts failed, the VC was then summoned to attend fortnightly meetings chaired by the Minister. In which country in the world does a VC have to attend management meetings chaired by a politician, and at such frequency? It is a wonder that Prof Morgan took this affront for so long! He surely had much better use for his precious time…

But as we have said, the VC is too civilized to express his hurt – rather, the hurt caused to UOM – directly as long as he is in Mauritius. But he would do Mauritius and Mauritians an immense service if, once he is back home and after having recovered from the trauma of failing to understand local Mauritian complexities, he were to reveal exactly what obstacles he met in trying to introduce profound and much-needed structural reform at UOM.

After a nearly 7-month long series of meetings with all levels of staff at UOM, starting shortly after he joined in Jan 2010, the VC followed up with a series of consultations and discussions at the level of Council, Faculties, Administrative Departments and unions (Academic and Non-Academic, and Students) before he came up with his proposals.

Reactions were invited, and further discussions took place, and amendments considered with agreement being reached at Council level before a Task Force was set up – again at Council level – to look into some specifics of implementation. There could not have been more transparency than that in the process.

The idea of the reform was to make the functioning of UOM more efficient through decentralization and delegating more power and granting autonomy to Departments and Faculties. And then came the replacement of Council members when a crucial decision was due to be taken, and the meeting of 22nd December 2011 postponed.

What this tragic turn of events demonstrates, especially after the timing chosen to replace at one go six members of the UOM Council, is that all the talk about allowing institutions to do their work in full independence is mere rhetoric.

Bye-bye to reform at UOM – for that matter to reform anywhere in the Mauritian public sector!

* Published in print edition on 20 January 2012

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