UWI Cave Hill Principal, Sir Hilary Beckles, today steered clear of a possible war of words with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
Sir Hilary proposed talks with Stuart who last night accused him of disrespect and blasted him for criticizing current Government policy in relation to university education that has seen the introduction of tuition fees for Barbadians attending Cave Hill.
“He has been trying to get Barbadians to decide whether [they are] going to accept the policies of the Democratic Labour Party in office, or whether they’re going to accept the policies of the Cave Hill Campus under his leadership,” Stuart said at a joint meeting of his party’s St Michael South, South East and The City branches at the Springer Memorial School, Government Hill.
“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 to loud applause from party faithful.
“We do not discuss governments. I would not and never would criticize a government,” Sir Hilary said this morning following the opening ceremony for the Suzhou Industrial Software Technology Institute at Cave Hill.
The Principal, who is Vice-Chancellor designate for all of UWI’s campuses, said there was however a need “to share our scientific assessment of policy, both positive and negative”.
“It is our responsibility to share an assessment and to find solutions to these problems. That is not the same thing as being critical of the government. They are separate things.”
Stating that Stuart is an “old friend”, Sir Hilary disclosed that he had written the Prime Minister requesting a formal meeting, “where we can discuss matters in relation to education . . . the contribution Cave Hill can make to the development of the Barbados economy and to discuss a series of issues on how the university can play a role in lifting this country out of recession.
“As soon as I receive the invitation to that meeting, I will be able to speak with the Prime Minister,” he said. “And I’m sure that when we have that conversation, we will discuss not only official business but we will also discuss some social issues as well”.
Last night, however, the Prime Minister did not appear to be in any mood for friendly chats as he scorched the UWI principal for perceived encroachment on the domain of the elected politician. Stuart said: “The tiger in Freundel Stuart comes out” at the first sign of war, “and anybody who wants a fight with the tiger, the tiger is ready”.
He went on to list his grievances with the university principal.
“For the first time in the Caribbean, we have had a principal of a university descending from Mt Olympus, as he sees it, and deciding that he presides over an institution that is not just an institution of learning, but is an alternative government.
“It is most disrespectful of the Government of Barbados that has to deal with hot immediacies, and difficult challenges from day to day . . . and in the face of all of these challenges, you have the principal of an institution departing from the highest tradition of his predecessors and trying to give the impression that there are two policy centres in Barbados, either the Cabinet room on Bay Street, or some office up at the Cave Hill Campus.”
Stuart spoke of his party winning elections to government under the late David Thompson’s and his leadership. He advised Sir Hilary that if he wanted to fulfill political ambitions, he should, “leave the security of your prepared position, come down and join the fray, and be prepared to be dealt with politically”.
But the academic who is scheduled to take up his new and elevated position of vice-chancellor in June at Mona, Jamaica, made it clear that he had no interest in the invitation. “My aspirations are going in the other direction,” he told journalists. “I am looking forward to giving a few years to the University as vice-chancellor, to participate in the globalization of the University of the West Indies. This is where I want to put my energy.”
Sir Hilary projected past his service to UWI. “Thereafter, I am looking forward to retirement in St Andrew. I have just a little piece of land in St Andrew where I am going to build my little chattel house, and I will go back to the breeze of the east coast, from whence I came.”