Newly-appointed UWI St Augustine Campus principal Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine may have just assumed office, but she already has a full philosophy to develop, sustain and harness the enthusiasm and capabilities of the UWI community.
After her appointment in May, Antoine replaced outgoing principal Prof Brian Copeland and became the first woman to hold the post.
In a sit-down interview with Sunday Newsday, Antoine stressed that her philosophy – not a vision – is a narrowed combination of implementation and decolonised education.
“We talk about vision, but I think that word is overused. I’m about getting it done. Implementation. That’s my mantra. My main focus is to implement, because this university has a lot of brilliant people with lots of excellent ideas.”
Antoine isn’t concerned about whether or not she can impress or leave a legacy. Her target is on enhancing the university and improving the standard and delivery of education.
As she shared a light moment a few minutes into the interview, she said by the end of her term she hopes to give life to the many stalled projects. For now, she is curious as to how the university will be transformed under her influence and passion.
Antoine is a Cambridge and Oxford scholar whose doctorate from Oxford is in offshore financial law. She started her journey with UWI as a temporary law lecturer at the Barbados Cave Hill campus in 1989, then became a lecturer in 1991. Then she was appointed director and initiator of the master of law programme, a multi-campus hybrid delivery programme.
Over the years, she has served in several high-ranking positions at UWI, including law faculty dean and pro vice-chancellor of the Board for Graduate Studies and Research. During her time as law faculty dean, Antoine was instrumental in creating the Makandal Daaga Scholarship, an equal-opportunity scholarship aiming to support law students who are outstanding in and out of the classroom.
Now, as UWI principal, before diving into the heavy work, Antoine said initiating a rationalisation exercise among the UWI community is the first item on the agenda.
From there on she will revisit incomplete and ongoing initiatives started by her predecessor, Prof Copeland.
“We are not going to just throw that aside. We have not gotten as far as we should with them but I would want to develop those further, and use whatever skills I have to make them come to pass feasibly. Those are great objectives."
She has a keen interest in pushing the idea of multidisciplinary education and developing agriculture.
“We are leaders. The entire region looks at us. One thing about it, a part of being a Trinbagonian, is the uniqueness of the St Augustine campus. It’s not just oil and gas – it's agriculture. So we should be visible leaders in that dimension and we should be partnering with the government and NGOs and do more of it.”
She also hopes to tackle the tough issues of racism, human rights, equity in education, and all aspects of social justice face-on.
“That is what I have done all my life and that is what I hope to do on a grander scale and to be more inclusive, starting with UWI family...I want to ensure we all know what we stand for and what we are working for, and I feel very optimistic.”
She wants UWI to recapture a connective voice with a different approach to have a stronger presence in the community.
“I stand for community engagement, I stand for human rights. I feel if you are grounded in the society, as I’d like us to be, certainly it has to be (with) a focus on issues that are important to the society now.”
Lamenting the large gap in the education system created by the covid19 pandemic, Antoine feels obligated to work with all stakeholders to ensure the generation affected by this can find a loophole to thrive.
“I am of the view there are many students out there who have had a dent in the education from online learning. Some may have done better.”
All her plans are in line with enhancing the quality of education and at the same time ensuring everyone has access to tertiary education.
“We want to be that buffer, I want to ensure that the many people who are struggling could still have access to university...Whatever we do, we should not alienate those people.
“I believe UWI has a responsibility to help with that process of the buffering. It’s part of our civic responsibility to ensure that when we do become more self-sustaining, which we have to be, that we are still accessible to those that need us.”