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Friday 19 January 2018
Commentary

When Max saved me

Prof Ramesh Deosaran receives an appreciation award from President Prof George Maxwell Richards for establishing the ANSA McAL Pschological Research Centre and for his pioneering work as its director (1989-2000) at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus on April 22, 2004.

Prof Ramesh Deosoran writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

Save. This means “to rescue, to preserve, protect: to deliver from.” (Concise Oxford) Many a “born again” Christian has asked me, “are you saved?” I am not sure about that, but I remain quite sure about the times when Prof Max Richards, as the University of the West Indies (UWI) principal, saved me and protected my academic welfare.

As head of the Department of Sociology and Psychology (now Behavioural Sciences), I requested meeting him at seven on many mornings. And there he was in the principal’s office – rather small office but loaded with reports from all around. He was the essence of modesty and lack of executive vanity – obviously in the tradition of his predecessor, Prof Lloyd Braithwaite.

Sipping coffee and raising his head from reading the morning paper, and before I would say anything, he would quickly ask, “so how is the politics going?” And I would reply “who me, you should know more about these things.” He would chuckle and jokingly reply, “buh you is the man writing political columns and arguing in parliament. You think Panday has a chance?” He attended to my matters with such regard and understanding that earned my great affection and respect for him. Those days were bad for UWI financing. Once during my 7 am meeting with him, he suddenly stopped the conversation, called campus registrar Zaffar Ali, explaining he had to meet the finance minister at eight.

As principal, he saved my proposal for a BSc in psychology from what appeared as unnecessary obstructions. As one academic board member requested, the BSc proposal was sent out to several international experts who all gave full approval for the programme. Still, the apparent bickering continued, reminding me of similar examples to which former vice chancellor Alistair McIntyre referred in his recent autobiography.

Of course, there was much more to it – not unexpected in “university politics.” But the point here is that Prof Richards, recognising the undue delays, saved me from repeated pleadings and put the BSc psychology on the UWI calendar – a programme that became not only very popular, but triggered the quick establishment of similar psychology programmes at Mona and Cave Hill. This accomplishment is due to Prof Richards as much as anybody else. This chemical engineer was secure enough to help others succeed.

Then there was my proposal to establish a psychological research centre to support the teaching programme. Seeking private, external funding, and working with Prof Richards, I formed a public-spirited fund-raising committee led by then chief justice Clinton Bernard and including Russell Martineau, Dr Winston Ince, Robin Montano, Hayden Franco, Cecil Paul, Rev Winston Joseph, Nesta Patrick, and Prof Knolly Butler.

This, of course, was a “first timer” in 1989 - having a private business establish a research centre on the campus, especially with an agreement to have the donor’s name attached as the Ansa McAl Psychology Research Centre. Naturally, there was no “open arms” welcome here. You had to fight your way through meetings after meetings, etc.

To cut a long story short, it was Prof Richards again who, quite skillfully and recognising the help I needed, did some bobbing and weaving of his own, and together with CJ Bernard, brought the project to life – as you will see the centre today, quite busy under Prof Derek Chadee and his staff. (Full history in The Psychological Research Centre: Miracle of St Augustine, by Ian Ramdhanie, 1999).

Anxiously searching for research funds in 1992, Prof Richards agreed to accompany me in my car to meet the head donor, Anthony Sabga. Expressing thanks to Mr Sabga for constructing the centre, I began pressing the case for some sustainable funding and apparently became a bit too assertive towards Mr Sabga. Prof Richards, sitting next to me, squeezed my left leg, signalling restraint.

He saved me from losing the cause. Mr Sabga agreed to a modest donation for psychological research. Prof Richards left in 1996 and Prof Compton Bourne took over. Given rising concerns over crime, I proposed establishment of a Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice and a criminology programme. This story another time.

Prof Richards deserved the praises. I too remember him with great affection and admiration. Dr Jean Richards is right. We miss him. I will save the pictures and memories.

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