Saturday, April 20, 2024

ALL AH WE IS ONE: 20-year reversal


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WHEN THE PRINCIPAL of the Cave Hill Campus, and vice chancellor-elect of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Sir Hilary Beckles, bemoaned the fact that UWI was facing a 20-year reversal, he based his claims upon empirical data of student application numbers.

Little did Barbados know that hardly one week would have elapsed before the emergence of further evidence which would validate his concern of the sociological relapse of the wider society to previous – not 1990, but 1970s – conditions.

Sadly, that confirmation came in the now well publicised attack on Sir Hilary by the Prime Minster of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, who expressed a perspective on the role of the university which was embarrassingly backward, anti-intellectual, anti-democratic, authoritarian and pre-modern.

In the 1970s, with only the model of the plantation owner and colonial governor as a guide, Caribbean leaders viewed any dissenting voice as an act of treason. With no other profession from which to eke out a sense of status, a Caribbean prime minister was a terrifyingly insecure individual. When he came from a working class background, his insecurity was multiplied tenfold. Anyone of strong voice, strong mind, genuine ability and talent was seen as a threat: “He must be after my job” (put differently: “He thinks he is the government.”)

Similarly, the wider civil society, taking its cue from the political leadership, also exhibited a lack of understanding of the role of a university. The private sector, the church, the ordinary citizen all viewed the university with a mixture of suspicion, disrespect and open hostility.

Thankfully, in the intervening years, and certainly by the mid- to late 1990s, our societies matured democratically, and a far more enlightened understanding of the role of the university, though not fully settled, appeared to have emerged in the Caribbean.

The role of the private sector in the development of UWI is clear evidence of this shift in consciousness away from the dark decades of anti-intellectualism and fear of the academy.

By accusing the principal of Cave Hill of masquerading as an alternative government, simply because of his continued expression of an alternative viewpoint on social policy, the Prime Minister has raised serious doubts about the democratic development of Barbados.

His attack has raised a few troubling questions: why has the current Government channelled so much negative energy towards UWI, almost as a matter of policy? Why, in a country which is known for its PRIDE, has there been no official word of congratulation to Sir Hilary, on his deserved elevation to the rank of vice chancellor? Why was the first official reaction to Sir Hilary’s elevation lacking in generosity and national acclamation?

It was as if the Barbados Cricket Association, instead of congratulating the Barbadian Jason Holder on his appointment as West Indies captain, chose to denounce him.

What does this say about the leadership?

Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email


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