The University Mirrors Society
Posted: Saturday, September 7, 2002
By Stephen Kangal M.O.M.
I seem unable clear my mind from the unnecessary confusion caused by the enigmatic address delivered during an orientation seminar attended by freshmen, by UWI Principal, Pro Vice-Chancellor Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie.
The Principal stated categorically but quite unwittingly, inter alia, that "...the university cannot afford to be a reflection of society. For if it is, the university will never be able to lead our society in any sphere. We will be mere followers and shadow boxers..." ( Newsday Aug.28, p.25;Trinidad Guardian, Aug.29, p.17)
Is the learned Principal, with respect, now attempting to re-erect an impregnable St.Augustine wall and moat to re-establish and fortify the proverbial cloistered ivory tower to insulate, distance and alienate his UWI minions from being contaminated by the pseudo-mediocrity that he feels quite falsely prevails amongst the wider host community?
Must not UWI inevitably constitute a microcosm of the wider T&T/ Caribbean macrocosm? Must not UWI reflect, conduct intercourse with and benefit from the indigenous cosmopolitan richness endemic in contemporary T&T/Caribbean society?
What then is the raison díetre of UWI? Is the respected PVC reinforcing the boundaries that traditionally separated UWI from the wider host community and still do? What brave new solutions have the political gurus of the social sciences faculty of UWI proposed to mediate the political 18-18 stalemate by way of intellectual political leadership to conduct T&T out of an unprecedented constitutional dilemma? Are the faculty members the only role models/icons for inspiring leadership in the student body?
UWI neither has a monopoly in the leadership- creation process nor in delivering tertiary education. There is a proliferation of non-campus based institutions offering tertiary education in T&T to contribute to our human resource development.
Is the learned Principal falsely telegraphing a message to the innocent 2002 intake of undergraduates that the eminent cadre of individuals as well as collectivities, NGOís working currently within the extra-mural host society are not actively and effectively engaged in presiding over and driving the rapidly evolving change process from whom freshmen/ women can learn experientially the necessary leadership skills? Is UWI the only agent of change/production line for leadership?
What about the huge complement of former UWI graduates now working in the host society and who are contributing to development and change, to innovation and enlightened progressive entrepreneurship? Do you want to save the freshmen from them as well? Can undergraduates not learn leadership skills from their parents and peers, community/social leaders and patriots in their daily, extra-mural interface with the domestic setting? The UWI has no legitimate claim to a monopoly of leadership production.
Some may even adduce that leadership is caught not taught; that leaders are born and not cloned and incubated in a test-tube.
Should not the several faculties of UWI to a large extent derive their relevance and validity by internalizing and engaging the problems and aspirations of the funding society? What is The Principalís subjective assessment of the virtual first world status of conventional T&T society that motivates him to advise his charges to distance themselves from us? Are we so backward, spinning top- in- mud, going nowhere quickly that UWI theoreticians have to salvage us from our indolence by ignoring the pseudo- decadent status quo lest any inter-face should contaminate and drive freshmen/women into becoming "... mere followers and shadow-boxers?"
UWI must and does reflect the ethnic diversity, the multiculturism, the stresses, the developmental agenda, the aspirations and the prevailing value systems of the wider society. This is its mission. How therefore, can it not afford to reflect the host society?
UWI serves as a laboratory/ test tube for conducting experiments on the problems of the host society. Leadership skills cannot be inculcated in a vacuum from the library shelves. Students must internalize the prevailing national ethos.
UWI has forged a social compact with T&T/Caribbean. UWI must constitute a genuine meeting place- a permeable interface with the wider community. It should be a zone of convergence and impact with society. Do not erect a No Entry Sign at the gates of UWI.
Not satisfied with making the above-mentioned faux pas, the PVC went on to mislead and conduct his recruits into the realm of make-believe idealism. He suggested by inference, that clear principles, strength of character, self discipline, self restraint are the selection criteria that the electorate applies in determining political leadership positions in T&T. In the face of numerous allegations of corruption in the build up to the 2001 poll, the electorate did not consider honesty, integrity in public life, transparency and accountability as salient values in the society that their elected representatives must possess. All signs are that they will not do so in 2002. Tribalism or ethnic security reigns supreme in Trinbago. Therefore only 52% (TV6 poll) thinks that corruption should be a major issue in the October 7 election with 48% saying no.
On the contrary sometimes the criteria for political leadership is the colour of your skin, ethnicity, caste and deception. In some Caribbean countries, Dr. Tewarie asserted to a Conference of Caribbean Ombudsmen recently (Guardian, May 14, p.9), that it was "...difficult to separate the gangsters from the politicians." This is hitting nearer home.
Look at the level of bankruptcy of political leadership that resulted in 25% of Trinbagonians living below the poverty line, ethnic polarisation, under-development, rural stagnation, urban decay, the rich getting richer and the poor poorer as well as the deceleration of the economy in 21st Century T&T. This is the stark social reality in the face of the abundance of indigenous physical and human endowments.
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