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by Anthony Gafoor
Inevitably, due to the temporal confluence of the canine media growls on the Chancellor’s Report and the hissings of the felines in the international community on the issue of the reappointment of the Vice-Chancellor, the two matters have become inextricably intertwined.
As reported in the Wiredja.com article, this latter counter position of the Panthers first came from Heads of Departments at the Regional Headquarters at the UWI’s Mona campus in the form of a letter to the Chancellor dated February 26, 2021.
Other Panthers would join in the fray in stoic defence of Sir Hilary. The debate may have been first launched by Professor Selwyn Cudjoe and then by Cikiah Thomas, co-Chairman of the Global African Congress who wrote to the Chancellor according to wired a publication on March 14, 2021, followed by an editorial in the Kaieteur News by UWI alumnus, David Comissiong on March 16, 2021.
Therefore, despite the displeasure of Sir Dennis with those Panthers who linked the Chancellor’s Report with the reappointment of the VC, his plea to separate and de-personalize the issues, is a virtually impossible task. Though one can easily understand the principled position of Sir Dennis, he must surely know that the UWI is not an abstract entity.
Indeed, the Report itself inadvertently engages the agent structure debate in its frequent mention of staff members, managers, Principals, Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor.
So, it is challenging to be coldly objective and remove the personal, human element on issues that have now proven to be so critical and close to the hearts of members of an extremely vigilant and sensitive national, regional and international community.
Besides, no one knows in which hidden recesses of the brain such connections are made and no one can dictate whether and how such nexus should be forged in the minds of ordinary citizens, much more for highly qualified academics and intellectuals within the folds of universities worldwide.
The UWI touches the lives and livelihood of many of our citizenry both within and outside the region and its future which includes the role, function and renewal of the Vice-Chancellor, the Executive Head of the institution, would naturally elicit heated public debate as we now see being played out by the Bulldogs and the Panthers in the media.
As an eminent former judicial officer and as Head of the Commission, Sir Dennis would naturally be in a better position to not conflate the issues. His perspective that the Chancellor’s Governance Report should not be linked to the tenure of the Vice-Chancellor may be well-intentioned.
This is because the issues on the various campuses as raised by the Bulldogs such as low morale among staff and the toxic environment which prevails have long predated Sir Hilary’s term in office. Indeed, some of the Commission’s recommendations have already been made by the 2010 and 2018 ProCare Reports and the 2016 ATTAIN Report.
The Panthers may even wish to add a recommendation that since the current Report speaks of lack of diversity and underrepresentation of women in key positions at the campus level, it may also be useful to have women fill the position of campus Principals as this specific post has been recently advertised for more than one campus.
It would therefore be ludicrous to conceive that the Chancellor’s Report would be used as a yardstick or benchmark to determine the re-appointment of Sir Hilary. The exemplary performance of this luminary and visionary during his term as Vice-Chancellor has already been presented in various media fora – from the reputational revolution of the UWI which now ranks among the world’s best, to his academic and scholarly achievements, his social activism through the reparations movement and his unceasing advocacy for democracy, fairness, equality and justice.
Sir Hilary should therefore be assessed using the same criteria as apply to any other employee of the university – performance of his duties during his tenure. As reported by wiredja.com, the Panthers constituting the 146 international academics claim that there has been a departure from established procedures if Sir Hilary is not being reappointed a year in advance of the expiration of his contract and for the same six-year term as his initial appointment.
Since there is likely to be a legitimate expectation and presumption for both by Sir Hilary, then a dogfight and catfight are likely to ensure if there is indeed any deviation from these established practices. The world looks on with interest as a possible legal battle between the Craftiest Canine vs the Finest Feline at the highest level of the UWI erupts…Wuff! Wuff! Hiss! Hiss! Some may even question whether the UWI has now gone to the dogs and cats or is now going there again.
Fortunately, the University’s Statutes, Ordinances and Regulations, judicial precedents, the general principles of law and the national legislation of the various UWI territories across the region, provide effectively for any misfeasance as well as the necessary remedies for any travesty of justice.
Anthony Gafoor is a Judge and Chairman of Trinidad and Tobago’s Tax Appeal Court but contributes this column strictly as a UWI alumnus and part-time senior lecturer.