Sunday, April 14, 2024

IN THE CANDID CORNER: UWI at the crossroads


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Let me begin with this important declaration: In my column published in this paper on November 16, 2014, I made certain statements and references which I have been advised and now accept, were and are capable of bearing meanings defamatory of Mr Peter Wickham.

No such imputations were intended and I unreservedly apologise to Mr Wickham and hereby withdraw any such imputations which may have suggested that he is a person of less than honourable character.

UWI, at Cave Hill and elsewhere sees itself as the yeast that will enable the Caribbean cake to rise. – Professor Sir Hilary Beckles

I dedicate this week’s column to the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies, which ushered in a new era as its visionary principal Professor Sir Hilary Beckles took us back through the meandering development over the last 50 years. I have always been impressed not only with the pro-vice chancellor’s oratorical skills but, more important, with his outstanding ability to articulate and carve out a vision for our university at Cave Hill.

When the history of the Cave Hill campus is written Sir Hilary, “a black boy from St Andrew”, is going to bestride its pages like a colossus and take a special place among those stalwarts who built the foundation on which the regional institution now thrives.

The Barbadian public has not always given the Cave Hill campus all the credit it deserves. As societal problems plagued us, we often asked: “What is Cave Hill doing?” “What are we paying those boys on the hill to do?”

I recall in the early years when the late Wendell McClean, Frank Alleyne, now Sir Frank, and Dr George Belle were the voice of the Cave Hill campus. They fostered and engendered a kind of radicalism which was vibrant and responsive to the issues of the day. In a sense I miss that rigorous and vigorous academic and socio-economic and political discourse that involved the university in the affairs of the community whose resources sustain its existence.

Sir Hilary reminded us that universities must be organic within their environment. Cave Hill, he said, had its own architecture as it experienced expansion and growth.

Professor Beckles insisted that the university’s expansion was not willy-nilly but was predicated on the platform of economic and social needs, among them that of promoting social justice and entrepreneurship out of which emerged the department of management studies and a focus on business. He alluded to rifts during the university’s growth path. One initially between economic development and the humanities, which questioned the campus’ credibility, but he insisted that growth has been even and that Cave Hill was coming into own as the society develops. The other was between the private sector/entrepreneurial class and the university, a relationship which he insists must be better managed. To the “naysayers” who ask about value for money, Professor Sir Hilary trumpets that 70 per cent of the graduates find work within the first six months after graduation.

The campus’ 2012-2017 development plan locates the university at another crossroads. The pro-vice chancellor opined that while the Caribbean civilisation is rich in social culture, theology, the arts and popular culture, coherent societies have an obligation to promote peace, justice and citizenship. His lament was that many do not see science and technology as fundamental to Caribbean civilisation. He conceded that information flowing out of the campus has not spoken to the culture of research at Cave Hill. As he puts it: “We must disturb the public with our own research . . . . The man in the street must know.”

Even a cursory glance should excite our interest in research in relation to the genetic determinants of disease, what predisposes persons to glaucoma, the genetic determinants of diabetes, Sea Island cotton, the Blackbelly sheep who has been bleating for years for its own patent, organic farming, renewable energy technology, hybrid electrical vehicles, food security and academic entrepreneurship, all of which bear relevance to current problems and developmental challenges.

Sir Hilary said the campus has not always had the most organic relationship with the private sector. It is my hope that as the campus promotes itself as being in the vanguard for science and technology with a view to breaking the culture of secrecy, more will be heard to justify the substantial investment in the Cave Hill campus, which hopefully will remain “the light on the hill, over a society below that will never be at risk of caving in”.

• Matthew Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education and a social commentator. Email


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