Theodore Lewis

Professor Theodore Lewis

It is a function of our tortured history that we have a bacchanal at the main university serving the region, with two top people - the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor - at loggerheads.

Astonishingly, what we are not clear about here is who is the person in charge of the university. Since he is called Chancellor, Bermudez thinks he must be in charge. This is the Caribbean. There is much history to convince Bermudez that he has all of the accoutrements required to be in charge of something in the region, even though it is a university and he is not an academic.

After all, we had Dwayne Gibbs and Jack Etwatski down here, in charge of police, but neither knew how to find Despers’ panyard. Say what.

Lloyd Brathwaite wrote that it took a long time in this country for a black person to captain the police football team. Jobs like Police Commissioner or Speaker of the House, Governor General, or bank manager, required phenotypic distinction. This UWI problem is an example of what the Latin American scholar Isabel Quijano refers to as “lingering coloniality”.

All of the trouble we have had here issues from the fact that there is criminal lack of clarity as to who is in charge, at the institution in the region that is supposed to be the beacon to which we look for intellectual guidance. For starters, it cannot be just a businessman. It has to be an academic of distinction.

We could start by looking at any country in the region to see if we can find some guidance on what the problem is at The UWI. Let us take Grenada, as a random example. Now ask the question: who is in charge? The clear answer is Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell.

With The UWI the issue where does ultimate authority lie is muddled. To illustrate this, let me for the moment shift the question to University of Minnesota which I know well because I taught there for 18 years.

The question of university leadership at Minnesota is resolved with the plain question “who is the head, the person in charge?” And every citizen in the state knows the answer, because they can find it online. It has been the same since the founding of the university in 1869, and the answer is as it always has been, the president of the university.

And the current president, the 17th since its inception in 1869, is Joan TA Gabel. She is at the helm of the university. Nobody in the university establishment competes with her in any way on the question who runs the place.

The problem at The UWI is that, astonishingly, the university community and the governments that support the university are unclear as to who leads it.

The university itself is appearing with this Beckles/Bermudez issue to be dunce. It cannot answer with clarity the basic question “who is in charge?”

So, the Chancellor of the university is Robert Bermudez. Sir Hillary Beckles is the Vice-Chancellor. Well common sense tells you that with a set-up like that, as Shadow would say, you looking for horn.

In Bermudez’s corporate mind, Beckles is his subordinate. This is the Caribbean. If you tell a man that he is captain of the West Indies team, and you tell the other man he is vice-captain, you should not be surprised that when the team takes the field, the captain will want to take the ball, set field, and decide who will bowl. Bermudez thinks that he is the skipper of The UWI. The main man.

He is going on historical entitlement. This is the Caribbean.

If we look at what is on the university website as to the role of the Vice-Chancellor, who is Prof Beckles, you see the following:

“The Vice-Chancellor is the principal academic and administrative officer of the university, charged with advancing the university’s academic reputation and global standing, and championing the strategic direction outlined in the strategic plan.”

The Vice-Chancellor, Beckles, is the leader of the university.

But Bermudez is thinking that since he is Chancellor, and Beckles is Vice-Chancellor, he has to be the big man, not, Beckles. This is all very sad, and so very shameful for us in the region; so Naipaulian.

The fix here is easy. Bermudez should be allowed to complete his tenure, or be removed right way.

What we need at The UWI now is academic vision, and Bermudez is hardly the person for that. He is not an academic. He has no academic standing. He cannot run The UWI. This is our main university. Are we not bright enough to solve this little embarrassment?

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