Editorial | Bad committee for UWI report | Remark

ALTHOUGH THE Jamaican Parliament’s decision to consider the report of the Byron Commission on Governance at the University of the West Indies (UWI) is welcomed, this newspaper does not believe its timing is right, or that the issue is ahead. a committee that can deal appropriately with, and therefore do justice to the issues it addresses.

We therefore suggest, at the risk of sounding offensive, that Fayval Williams – the Minister of Education, who, at our urging, tabled the report – ask Prime Minister Andrew Holness to obtain the abandonment of the January 12 session. of the Human Resources Chamber and Social Development Committee. It must also advocate for the creation of the joint select committee of the House and the Senate to deal with the issue in the manner previously exposed by this newspaper.

Our position on the hearing schedule has to do with this week’s revelation that UWI Vice-Chancellor Hilary Beckles has launched an investigation into how Chancellor Robert Bermudez and the University Council – the university’s highest decision-making body – lasted April managed her renewal for six years.

This investigation, and the manner in which Sir Hilary’s committee proceeded, has been interpreted in many quarters as an overt putsch against Mr. Bermudez, a Trinidadian business tycoon. The development has exacerbated still raw wounds at UWI, while deepening and widening the institution’s chasms. And this carries a great risk to the reputation and credibility of the UWI, which the Caribbean governments, which own the university, should, as we previously suggested, attempt to cauterize by imposing a truce on the fighters. In this regard, a delay in the hearings by the Jamaican parliamentary committee would lead to a cooling off.

Much deeper reasons

The other reasons we suggest the postponement, and our call for a fundamental restructuring of the committee, go much deeper.

First, as it should be widely known, this newspaper lacks confidence in the Chairman of the Committee on Human Resources and Social Development, Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) politician Heroy Clarke, to wisely or competently oversee any matter. of the potential magnitude, sensitivity or importance of it. No one should!

Indeed, Mr Clarke’s dignified display at Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee hearings last year, when he and others, without cause and for seemingly narrow political ends, attempted to undermine the Auditor General , Pamela Monroe Ellis, remains the business of politics nightmares. He hasn’t done anything since to make him worthy of redemption.

In addition, we believe that the issues raised by the UWI Review Panel, which was chaired by the eminent Caribbean jurist Sir Dennis Byron, are so broad and nuanced that they require a breadth of expertise in their exploration. and experience beyond what resides in Clarke’s committee. .

Indeed, the Byron Committee, whose members were Bank of Jamaica Governor Richard Byles and Jamaican businesswoman and banker Jacqueline Sharp, made two fundamental observations about the UWI:

• That there is an existential financial crisis; and

• That it has a Byzantine governance structure that tightly concentrates power and is often unresponsive to complaints or proposals for change.


Their main suggestion for dealing with the tax problem was to double, to 40 percent, the proportion of economic costs that students should contribute to their education. This would come with easier access to student loans and easier repayment programs. Sir Hilary, however, believes the university can overcome its financial challenges by becoming more entrepreneurial and keeping costs under control.

On the governance structure, the Byron committee proposed a series of reforms, including one that would create an executive committee of the Council, which would be more agile and closer to the operational functions of the university than the Council as a whole. Some critics interpreted the move as an attempt to wrest power away from Sir Hilary, and also claimed that the entire governance review was a ruse to remove him as vice-chancellor.

We believe that the different visions of the management and the financing of the UWI deserve a serious but respectful public debate. The Jamaican Parliament, representing much of the UWI constituency, is a good place for this speech. However, as we said over the summer, the approach to such hearings should be different from the norm for parliamentary committees.

Obviously, the authors of the report and the management of UWI should be invited to address the larger contextual framework of the document, its recommendations and what, from each point of view, is and is not feasible.

In addition, the sessions of our joint ad hoc committee proposal on the University of the West Indies should be open to stakeholders, inside or outside the region, who wish to make written contributions or appear virtually before the committee. . The UWI is too important an institution to the Caribbean for its future to call for anything less than full and serious engagement – not with protagonists facing each other with blunderbusses.

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