Making UTT a National University

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 27, 2010

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI am sure that Sat Maharaj’s would say that ah follow fashion. However, the truth is that his recent discussion of UTT, its academic standards and it place in the society reminded me of questions I raised two years ago when Ghana’s former President John Kufoor visited Trinidad and I made an address in his presence. Just for the record, my speech can be found on on August 6 2008. My interest in this matter goes back a long way. This contribution only adds to Sat’s concerns. At least, there are some things on which we agree.

In reading Sat’s article, “UTT Degree Questioned” (Guardian, October 21) I was reminded of a statement the Hon. Patrick Manning made two years ago at an academic conference. Asked whether Trinidadians and Tobagonians should study in their own country, he responded: “I would always recommend that you should do a first degree in your country, you should not do further studies there. You should go outside to avoid the academic incest…Your first degree should be done at your university.” Certainly, a part of the question to our Prime Minister revolved around the issue: as it is constituted presently, can UTT educate our citizens to take their place in our society?

Asked further, if UTT was modeled after any university in the United States, the Hon. Prime Minister responded: “I am sure it is. I am not familiar enough with other universities to be able to answer that question definitely. What I do know is that the president of that university, Professor Kenneth Julien, who was dean of electrical engineering and faculty of engineering at the University of the West Indies, is the major actor in the execution of our energy policy. He has been extremely successful in attracting business to the country…They don’t have faculty, it’s modeled in a strange way, but they have partnered with a lot of top schools around the world for almost everything. They have partnered with a university abroad that has distinguished itself in that particular field. So we have access to quality education. It’s a tremendous idea.”

Such a response raised more questions than answers. I argued that one should differentiate between what educators call schooling and education and their implications for building a nation. I also argued that UTT should outline a curriculum that emphasized the cultivation of a citizen who had a more integrated exposure to the humanities, the arts and citizenship skills so that he or she could participate more effectively in nation building.

UTT says that it wishes to create an academic institution “to meet the need of Trinidad and Tobago for a highly qualified technological manpower base.” This led me to ask that if an undergraduate had to be educated (not trained) at home before going abroad to do a graduate degree, was the Prime Minister satisfied that the skills our students were receiving at UTT are the best was to prepare a Trinidadian/Tobagonian citizen/scholar/technician for a Trinidad and Tobago society?

This was part of the question that Sat was asking when he asked how well UTT was doing in training its graduates. Mine was a more basic concern: how well is UTT training our undergraduates and does the university’s curriculum fit into our concept of what it means to be an educated person in Trinidad and Tobago. Surely, we do not wish to set mindless automata lose within the nation or around the world who only possess techniques and skills but have no idea about what it means to be a socially responsible citizen.

There are other problems about how this university conceives itself. In what sense can it claim to be a national university? And if it is a national university, what constitutes its nationness? Without a faculty and without a set curriculum, how could a university that has been in place only four years offer post-graduate degrees? On what basis are these degrees granted and are there any residency requirements to obtain such a degree?

As it now stands, it is theoretically possibly for someone to live in Alabama, never set foot in Trinidad & Trinidad, know absolutely nothing about Trinidad and Tobago and yet be the proud owner of a degree from the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

But what happens when such a degree is recognized by no one save and except those who grant it?

Under the circumstances, the question arises: what makes a degree from UTT unique, distinct or even desirable? Professor Julien, the first president of UTT, may be very good at attracting business to the country. He may even be an energy czar who has done a lot for our energy industries. The question remains: how did such experiences translated into his conducting a university that is respected by the world and should he be be responsible to no one but himself? It is question that Professors Kenneth Ramchand and Ramesh Desoran will have to answer.

UTT should be about the business of developing conscientious citizens who are good technicians. We cannot do this by creating a satellite institution, without a Board of Trustees that reflects its heterogeneous offerings, a president who is responsibility to no one, a vacuous or largely-unknown faculty and a comprehensive, well thought-out statement about what this university is supposed to achieve.

We can achieve a viable UTT only through public discussion and debate. In The Knowledge Factory Stanley Aronowitz, a distinguished Professor of Sociology at CUNY argues that “at the secondary and post secondary levels, the role of the humanities is to articulate, in the public sphere as much as the classroom, the essential elements of national culture. If the student is to situate himself in society, it is by means of imbibing those knowledges that mark him as a national subject. Some recent writing on the higher education insists that the process of social and cultural formation is effected, in the main, though literature rather than through history and philosophy.”

Certainly, a curriculum that is defined by its foreign technical content; a faculty that has no commitment to national development or knows little about our society; and a President who is responsible to himself alone cannot fulfill the civilizing role that we expect of a national university. The national content in UTT is an indispensable prerequisite to its success.

In a next article, I would offer some suggestions for the future development of the university.

8 thoughts on “Making UTT a National University”

  1. The name UTT should be change and a more strickter academic regiment developed. Once a university receives a “bad rap” at it’s foundation it is forever blighted. The “modus operandi” of universites is to aim for academic excellence and to link UTT to Trinidad’s academic culture is morally and ethically wrong.

    The vision of UTT was indeed a good vision but a poorly executed vision. The government should select 7 scholars and send them on a mission for the next three months to look at how universities function. Then from their pool of experience begin the process of re-shaping the academic agenda of this new university. Have Al Gore come and open the University so that a bit of international attention is directed to it.

    The academic program must be focused on national need rather than a continued list of unemployable degrees. Accreditation should be sought from some higher university until the university has developed it’s own academic culture.

    As for name I would politely suggest Capildeo Williams University. In honor of T&T first scientist and the nation’s first phd student and first Prime Minister.

  2. Dr Williams naming honor ?No Khem , enough with dem useless phd’s. I prefer instead , the Capildeo/Naipaul/Chambers University.
    Surely,a more fitting honor of T&T first Scientist,first British knighted Nobel Literature winner, and first educationally challenged Prime Minister.
    This in essence,would quicker force our kids to aspire ,and achieve , yes?

    1. History tend to kinder to leaders as time passes by. Eric himself said prior to his demise “no monuments” to which the Manning administration went about naming everything after him. However, I think his transformative statement made when I was a little boy was “the nation’s future is in the schoolbags of the children”. Now in my school bag you could have found roti and allo, or roti and pumpkin. Along with some books and that defined for me the future. So by embracing his name in academia I am quite sure the doc would have not had a problem with that, since it was under his hand the education system was transformed. As for Capildeo he was man beyond his time. Being T&T first scientist and an academically astute individual I think deserves some recognition.
      As for your two other choices Naipaul and Chambers I don’t think they compare…

  3. We anxiously await Dr. Cudjoe’s opinions on this topic. Finally, he is taking on a topic on which we consider him an expert.And, hey, for the first time, there are no racial ramblings. Bring it on Dr. Cudjoe,we welcome your comments.Let’s anxiously wait for Part 2.Unfortunately,we are just a few souls in T&T who value this man’s analysis.That’s what happens when you try to preach from afar and assume that you have an audience.Pity!

  4. What is wrong if UTT targets a different but necessary skill base in order to develop its citizens? I think it is quite a commendable and worthwhile goal . I agree we must keep learning from other established educational institutions but we must not be afraid to use our distinctive cultural endowments to personalise the outcome and so possibly create something new. “We cannot just be reflectors of other mens thoughts”

  5. The fact of the matter is that politics and education do not mix. UTT started off on the right track, but became a political spanner in the PNM tool chest. Julien had little choice but to steer the ship in whatever direction PM Manning wanted.
    UTT should be stripped of all of its “unentrepreneurial” activities. Thet should get out of education, they should get out sport, they should get out of many other programs. They should concentrate on developing entrepreneurs.
    UTT’s spending should be refocused. The PP should look towards spending synergies between UTT, UWI and Costatt. Right now we are paying for three of everything, from toilet paper all the way to high speed servers.
    Consolidate procurement, consolidtae programs and we will see a better UTT

    1. “The fact of the matter is that politics and education do not mix”

      The minista ah education is ah politician. So how dey eh go mix bubba.

  6. “We anxiously await Dr. Cudjoe’s opinions on this topic. Finally,… for the first time, there are no racial ramblings.”
    Poor pathetic soul , dis T-Man character,obviously he did not grow up with a wise lady like yours truly , never learned the game of chess,or the subtleties of nuance writing in the broken down Mattlot primary school he was unable to finish , as this fool would have known that ” all skin teeth , ain’t laugh,” “sometimes you have to play dead to catch cobeaux alive,”and one often must sacrifice several Pawns ,a Bishop, Knight , and even a Queen, to draw the enemy out, so as to achieve your end game of winning the encounter.
    Rest assured my friend, that in the estimation of half of the rest of this our nation, you and similar, selfish , country hating others, are indeed the enemy, and will be stopped at all cost- even if we have to throw out that ugly baby with the dirty water, hummm- you self loathing , Eurocentric wannabe fraud?

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