IN ALMOST six decades, the St Augustine Campus of The University of the West Indies (UWI) has never had a female principal. That is, until now.
We today hail Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine on her assumption of the post this month. She follows in the footsteps of Prof Brian Copeland (2016-2022), Prof Clement Sankat (2008-2016), Dr Bhoe Tewarie (2001-2007), Prof Compton Bourne (1996-2001), George Maxwell Richards (1985-1996) and Prof Lloyd Braithwaite, among others.
Though Dr Antoine is the first woman in the post, this is not for want of there being no suitable candidate for the job in the past.
The UWI’s history is studded with examples of female excellence. Consider the careers of historian Prof Bridget Brereton (who in 1996 became the first woman to win the prestigious Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for Research, Teaching and Administration), or former deputy principal Dr Rhoda Reddock, or gender theorist Prof Patricia Mohammed.
Like those who have gone before her, Prof Antoine brings to the role a vast array of skills and expertise. She previously served as the university’s Pro Vice-Chancellor of Graduate Studies and Research and was also the first sitting dean of the Faculty of Law at the St Augustine campus.
There, she was instrumental in reshaping the curriculum and established the International Human Rights Clinic, an innovative fusion of academia with activism which has borne fruit through its ground-breaking advocacy on a range of causes such as the rights of migrants/refugees, indigenous peoples, LGBTI individuals, children and the incarcerated.
Also influential has been her work as chairman of Caricom’s Regional Marijuana Commission, a body that paved the way for meaningful legal reform in several states.
Already, Prof Antoine has expressed a desire to continue to position the university as being central to a range of contemporaneous issues. She would like to place emphasis on the uniqueness of the St Augustine campus and see that campus takes on more of a leadership position in the region when it comes to areas such as agriculture.
“I stand for community engagement, I stand for human rights,” the new principal said in a recent interview. “I feel very optimistic.”
Such optimism will be crucial to her task in the years to come. A downbeat economic outlook has placed tremendous pressure on institutions like The UWI which have relied on government funding.
It has also challenged the relevance of tertiary education at a moment when fewer and fewer people can afford to attend classes. A rapidly changing work environment has also upended career trajectories and education models.
Still, in her exciting new role, Prof Antoine has an opportunity to make The UWI more relevant than it has ever been.