UWI political scientist slams PM’s criticisms of his principal
University of the West Indies (UWI) political scientist Dr Tennyson Joseph has labelled Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s attack on outgoing Cave Hill Campus principal and incoming UWI Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles as “political immaturity”.
He also suggested there may also be an element of what he called “professional envy”.
Dr Joseph, who heads the Department of Government, Sociology, and Social Work at Cave Hill, told Barbados TODAY that Stuart’s comments were reminiscent of the 1970s when the role of the UWI was not understood and the regional institution was heavily criticized by leaders and civil society groups.
“That was the stage of societal immaturity. Our societies have moved on from that . . . so what the Prime Minister is demonstrating is a kind of political immaturity in the sense that there is always going to be a university that is independent and autonomous of any political authority,” the political scientist explained.
At a joint meeting of the Democratic Labour Party’s St Michael South, South East and City constituency branches last Sunday, Stuart accused Sir Hilary of disrespect and blasted him for criticizing Government’s introduction of tuition fees for Barbadians attending the university.
“Barbados has one government and I consider it most disrespectful and ungracious for any principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies or any other principal of any other educational institution in Barbados to pose as an alternative government of Barbados,” Stuart said.
Dr Joseph contended that Stuart, a Cave Hill graduate, was showing a “kind of fear” of the university and appeared to be treating it like a high school where the principal and teachers were afraid to speak.
“A university is a place of independent scholars. It is a community of scholars so those people who assume it is a high school where you have a school principal and a prime minister picks up the phone and speaks to the principal about what the teachers are doing, is not what a university is. If that is what it was, then it would cease to exist as a university.”
Dr Joseph noted that while there was evidence in the wider society that some groups appeared “muted in fear of the Government, any society that prides itself on being a democracy should not want that to happen”. He insisted that the Prime Minister’s charges were unfounded.
“Making public comments about policies is not to present oneself as an alternative government and everybody knows that. It really is an indication of the ruling Government’s lack of understanding of a role of a university and the authoritarian instinct which it holds that every sector of society must be beneath the foot of a government. That does not exists in a mature democracy.”
The academic said it was very “shocking” to see a Barbadian leader lashing out at a Barbadian vice chancellor of the UWI and it appeared the statements may have been influenced by professional envy.
“There is something called professional envy in which people who are very often contemporaries look across at each other and despise the fact that they are professionally better off. A lot of the Prime Minister’s comments sounded like there was professional envy to the political autonomy of the university vice chancellor.”
Dr Joseph added: “There was professional envy to what he called a protected job which really means that as a politician we face the polls every five years, our tenure is limited, but you at the university have permanent tenure and that is what I mean by professional envy. There was also professional envy in the sense that Sir Hilary has just been elevated to the rank of vice chancellor and what the Prime Minister was trying to do was to diminish his status.”
Dr Joseph found no fault with Professor Beckles’ response which called for a meeting with Stuart to discuss matters relating to education and other issues. However, he suggested that Sir Hilary should have used the occasion to clearly outline the role of the university and dispel false notions about the UWI.
He added: “This notion that Cave Hill is owned by Barbados and Mona is owned by Jamaica is not true. There are 15 governments that contribute to the UWI as a collective – so the vice chancellor or any university academic is not beholden to any Caribbean government.
“Of course, there is a way we conduct our public affairs; we don’t insult anyone, we don’t call them names, that is for partisan people to do. Our language has to do with policy, our language is respectful. So I think that one has to remind the Prime Minister what the role of a university is,” the political scientist said.