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.