GODFREY J MARTIN
I THINK there are many latent issues in the UWI saga and some of what I have read in the media seek to pitch this as a fight between the chancellor and vice chancellor. This will invariably move to the race question and this may cloud some of the underlying issues.
There is no quarrel here about the role of the vice chancellor in this university as the academic and administrative leader.
The chancellor’s role is primarily ceremonial but there is a committee which he chairs that would be like a board of directors helping with strategic direction of the university. This fits in with corporate governance best practice.
If the question is on the appropriateness of Robert Bermudez as chancellor, then this falls on the governments and the search committee that elected Bermudez as chancellor. This includes the PNM Government and also Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles.
I think there may have been a view that they wanted a successful businessman to be chancellor and to help mobilise funding for the university. This is a view that the PNM Government, among others, have held. A review of past appointments in the state sector here shows this. The view that local businessmen make money for themselves and can therefore do so for the common good is a flawed model.
Issues for UWI
Some of the underlying issues go back to the Report of the Chancellor’s Commission on Governance. This commission included a former vice chancellor, among others. Perhaps if this document was properly discussed within the university and in the region then some of the issues now raging would not have arisen. Among them are:
* UWI has a financing and money issue. I understand that it is a challenge getting full contributions from several of the governments. There are shortfalls and this has to be raised if the university is to truly develop. Support and endowments locally and from abroad are important. It also has an archaic structure.
* The Governments of TT and Jamaica are the two main contributors and they did not support the reappointment of Vice Chancellor Beckles. Why? We can only hope they will still engage with the university currently.
* Beckles’s judgment seems to be part of the problem. He supported Bermudez for the chancellorship and there may be other examples. What is the relevance or purpose of him now setting up an internal committee? Is he going to fight with the TT and Jamaica Governments who are the main paymasters?
* Under his leadership, the university continued to implement a mandatory retirement age of 65 years for academic staff members. This issue would have arisen when it came to the appointment of a vice chancellor. He was therefore at the mercy of the committee and the contributing governments. Many of us would disagree with the approach of mandatory retirement ages as there should be flexibility.
I agree that we need to revisit the role, function and structure of our university. We started as a colonial university and today the process of decolonisation is still to be completed. The mindset is still on a colonial model. I understand that a comment was made that UWI was run like a colonial relic or outpost. There may be some truth here.
The university has to deal with the environment where it operates. It has to serve the communities and seek to solve problems of the societies. Its research agenda should tackle these major issues and at the same time provide support and partner research with business and the community organisations. For example, moving products from the lab to manufacturing and helping co-operatives and community groups. The university can create partnerships with other universities and institutions globally and leverage on the open-source movement.
The university in its composition must be sensitive and reflect the societies it serves. Its curricula must ensure that it prepares students for the major risk challenges of our times. There have been valid calls in the past for significant changes in intake policy. For example, in the Faculty of Medicine at St Augustine where the near absence of African students, particularly males, raises profound questions.
I must confess that I am deeply disappointed with the state of affairs at UWI. It does not currently appear to be fit for purpose. I had an opportunity as a student and student leader, sitting on the top boards of the university (including council) in the seventies and we were then steeped in colonial traditions. I subsequently saw the university as a lecturer and my reflections are that we are behind the curve. We are good at congratulating ourselves but the vision of transformation is still a dream to be achieved.
The current saga will play itself out in time. I think our focus needs to be on the transformation agenda and in helping UWI to fully achieve its potential for our region.
Godfrey J Martin is a UWI graduate, a former president of the Guild of Undergraduates (1974-1976) at St Augustine, a former lecturer at UWI (1984-1987) and a former member of the UWI Alumni UK Association