Theodore Lewis

Professor Theodore Lewis

IN a series of articles in the Express, Dr Sheila Rampersad has highlighted findings of the published (online) The UWI Chancellor’s commission on governance at the university. She gleans from the report that the authors felt the university to “lack healthy leadership at all levels” resulting in a toxic campus culture”. My own reading of the report tells me that had this been University of Minnesota, where I taught for 18 years, the faculty would have been outraged by it.

The Chancellor, to be effective, must be skilled in operating behind the scenes. He cannot be the main event. One of the real problems here is that the individual campuses of The UWI each has principals. The principal of St Augustine is Prof Brian Copeland.

He attended great universities where washing dirty linen in public would not be seen, and where accomplishment abounds. I don’t think he would be amused by this report.

The Chancellor did a silly thing here—the top man at the university initiating a report that sullies the brand. Say what you want about The UWI, but it is what we have. And what people in leadership roles there must do is make it better. Chancellor Bermudez has seven years to do that in his role, and he is now in his fourth.

So, half of his time has elapsed, thus, whatever criticism comes out of the report must be a partial indictment of his tenure so far. Halfway through his tenure, and he has now opened a Jack Spaniard’s nest.

The trouble is that the public rarely gets glimpses of The UWI culture, and we are left with a distant sense of the brand, which, for the most part, is wholesome.

We are not awash with universities in the region. The UWI is the flagship. We want it to work. It is the case, though, that locally the university rarely engages with the public, whose taxes make it viable. It operates in isolation. It rarely reaches out.

I have been of the view that The UWI (Trinbago) is deaf. Certainly, it did not hear Prof Courtenay Bartholomew in 2007 when he had cause to write a letter to Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, Minister of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education, in which he criticised the admissions policy of the medical school at Mt Hope. Prof Bartholomew wrote about “discriminatory or preferential admission practices”. He explained that Mt Hope had rejected the applications of “two members of (his) competent and dedicated staff of the Medical Research Foundation, who in addition to their A-Levels had BScs from very reputable universities in the USA and impressive extracurricular health-related activities while there.”

The question Prof Bartholomew raised, still lingering, is one of fairness in access policy and procedures.

About four years ago I was invited by the Montego Bay campus of The UWI-Jamaica to speak to secondary school pupils about STEM careers. The faculty of engineering came out in full, and I saw students being hugged and encouraged to pursue engineering by lecturers. I was taken aback by this absolutely refreshing demonstration of a university reaching children where they were. Children of humble circumstances. It is at that gathering that I first came to know that The UWI-Jamaica has a four-year option for the degree in engineering, making it possible for students to enter with five O-Levels, and doing an extra year of work on campus. That option is not available at St Augustine, to my knowledge.

So, one issue here is that there might be unevenness across the campuses. That is a good thing, if at the Chancellor’s level there is an alertness that facilitates the capturing of best practices at individual campuses that can be made widespread across all of them. What is the explanation for the fact that local students who are denied admission into medicine at Mt Hope are accepted at Mona? This is the sort of unevenness that can be seen from the heights of the Chancellery.

How do we explain the decline of the status of the agriculture department at The UWI? Was that not an error?

Universities across the globe have arrived at three criteria that they deploy in determining their effectiveness, namely teaching, research and service. I think that these criteria should lead, not follow governance. Universities must ask themselves “are we world class?” And they should look across their academic offerings and try to answer that, programme by programme. One shortcut here is that university quality is dictated by the productivity of individual faculty members—talents who are prodigious in their publications, acquiring patents, or ability to get research grants. The UWI must look across the campuses to determine where world-class quality lies.

One movement in universities that so far has not yet reached our region is that of industrial parks that are collaborations between industry and university.

Across the globe, companies are intentionally locating their facilities in proximity to universities. They want their creative people to breathe campus air.

The most iconic of these is Silicon Valley in California, when the major IT firms could be found. It was built in proximity with the great Universities there, such as Stanford. Another one is The Research Triangle of North Carolina, a collaboration anchored by North Carolina State University, Duke University, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In Bengaluru, India, the IT industry is clustered on the Silicon Valley model, of universities and creative firms working in proximity.

There is some talk that the Commission Report is prompted by a power issue between Chancellor Bermudez and vice Chancellor Beckles. But Prof Beckles was the Chair of the search committee which picked Bermudez for the position. He is also one of the few world-class scholars in The UWI system.

It is around people like him that the university can build its brand.

Theodore Lewis is Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota. He has been a part-time

Senior Lecturer at UWI.

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The news that the highly transmissible Brazilian Covid-19 variant has been detected in this country adds new urgency to the need to raise our defences against this virus.

Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley’s declaration that this country must now have contingency plans for the event of volcanic ash blowing our way and wreaking havoc within our economy, both of the strictly commercial type as well as in our agriculture, is a reality that we have to face.

WE are in another lockdown because of the behaviour of some of our young people whose main focus is to enjoy life with no worry about tomorrow. 

Recent contributions in the press have joined the consistent commentary of Basdeo Panday on the irrelevance, unrepresentativeness and ineffectiveness of our present system of government. Their conclusions point to the urgent need for constitutional reform.

Reading Caribbean Airlines’s decision to continue its intention to purchase the Boeing jets it has on order had me stunned in amazement. My normal splenetic delivery was silenced for once. My weakly-beating heart almost stopped its puny efforts to maintain my existence on this green earth.

The problem for St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean small states is that they’re not poor enough.

By standard World Bank macroeconomic measures such as Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, they’re not as badly off as sub-Saharan African countries.

The problem for St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean small states is that they’re not poor enough.

By standard World Bank macroeconomic measures such as Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, they’re not as badly off as sub-Saharan African countries. It means that when the bank and other multinational agencies decide on the allocation of aid and development dollars, they’re given less access and fewer concessions.

Correctly so, you could argue. The poverty and deprivation I saw in rural Sierra Leone in West Africa were far worse than I’d seen elsewhere, including Haiti. Added to that, the country hadn’t recovered from a brutish civil war abetted by notorious Liberian warlord Charles Taylor—the kind that saw unspeakable atrocities, such as soldiers carving foetuses out of the bellies of pregnant women.

SVG, Haiti and Guyana are underdeveloped countries, but not as much as Sierra Leone. However, regardless of the facts on the ground or the numbers in the computer, the bank recognised that GNI per capita was an incomplete measure of a country’s development.

All countries are rich or poor to degrees that are macroeconomically measurable. But when climate change can wipe out some of them, GNI measures can’t capture that. Additionally, in the case of Caribbean countries, they’re set back decades by hurricanes, as Grenada was by Ivan in 2004 and Dominica by Maria in 2017.

A Caribbean or Pacific small island state can go from middling prosperity to poverty in the course of one natural disaster.

In a report titled “Small States: Vulnerability and Concessional Finance”, the World Bank acknowledged calls by countries in its Small States Forum (SSF) “to include vulnerability as a criterion for accessing concessional resources”.

It said that work needed to be done in defining a Vulnerability Index. That report was in 2018. And yet as I recall, the index was an issue at SIDS 1994—the United Nations Global Conference on Sustainable Development held in Barbados 24 years earlier.

“SIDS” means Small Island Developing States. That is a misnomer, since big states were represented. The sight of Fidel Castro walking into the room and instantly causing a rock star stampede won’t be forgotten.

The World Bank’s Vulnerability Index incorporates “small states” of the SSF, including Namibia and Botswana. Namibia is two-thousand times bigger than St Vincent, four times Guyana, and mineral rich. Their resilience to shocks is much stronger than SVG’s. Why are they even in the small states conversation? This definitional elasticity doesn’t seem helpful to the cause of SIDS.

From SIDS 1994, the UN crafted the Barbados Programme of Action. Top of the list were climate change, and natural and environmental disasters. It’s remarkable that the World Bank was still talking about defining a Vulnerability Index more than two decades later.

Climate change continues to be the main consideration, but the volcanic eruptions on St Vincent should reopen the conversation.

Most Caribbean volcanoes do not seem to be a present danger in the way that La Soufriere in St Vincent is. Mount Liamuiga in St Kitts, for example, is a great hike. When you reach the top, you can descend into the crater.

Nonetheless, The UWI Seismic’s website says that “there are 19 ‘live’ (likely to erupt again) volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean. Every island from Grenada to Saba is subject to the direct threat of volcanic eruptions”.

In St Vincent, overseas relief kicked in to ease water and other shortages. But short-term emergency measures are not enough.

Here’s the bind in which small Caribbean states find themselves. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) told them that no, they have to compete at market price to sell their bananas and sugar. No more preferential pricing that recognises their disadvantages on economies of scale.

WTO regulatory insensitivity effectively killed these industries. In many Caribbean SIDS, all their eggs are in one basket. If that isn’t acute vulnerability, I don’t know what is.

For Caribbean SIDS, we should have been at a place where development aid allocation matches a universally-agreed index; and we have strategic, joined-up planning/execution from the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and others.

Small states partially compensate by playing geopolitical games of influence. Getting money from China or Taiwan. Throwing in their lot with Japan on whaling, to the consternation of their own conservationists.

It’s not enough.

Last week I wrote about how Montserrat has done since the 1997 eruption. They are a British Overseas Territory, but the British-funded rebuild has been sluggish. In my two visits in 2007 and 2014, little changed. I was told in 2007 that a new airport would be built soon. To date, it hasn’t.

However Montserrat’s former premier Reuben Meade told me last week that “the Brits covered all of our expenses for the volcanic situation during and post eruption”.

“They continue to fund some 60 per cent of recurrent expenditure each year”.

Meade said the task of Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of SVG, will be hard.

“SVG will need to find a donor to fund the continuing evacuation expenses which will be very high. Their economy will be in freefall for quite some time. It’s going to be tough for them”.

For SVG, mother country largesse is not an option. They’re nearly broke. Even if La Soufriere stops erupting and the pandemic is eradicated tomorrow, they’ll need smarter, long-term development engagement by donor agencies. A true measure of their vulnerability would be a good start.