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UWI governance chair says no move to target vice chancellor


CHAIR of The University of the West Indies (UWI) Chancellor’s Commission on Governance Sir Dennis Byron has insisted that there is no link between changes the commission has recommended at the regional tertiary educational institution and the tenure of Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles.

Responding to suggestions that efforts were being made to replace Sir Hilary with the current second in command at The UWI, Chancellor Robert Bermudez, Sir Dennis said there appeared to be an “orchestrated campaign that, in the first instance, has conflated its findings and recommendations with matters related to the tenure of the vice chancellor and has proceeded to impute improper motives to our work that are neither reflective of the terms of reference nor the conclusions of our work”.

“The commission has recommended changes in inefficient systems and processes that predate the current administration and therefore is not seeking to target any individuals,” he insisted.

The commission’s 142-page report, which was accepted by Chancellor Bermudez, recommended a transformation of the culture of the entire workforce at all levels at The UWI. Among its recommendations, which were presented to the University Council in January, were changes that would reduce some of Sir Hilary’s authority and give more to Bermudez, a Trinidadian businessman.

That sparked concern in some quarters, and co-chairman of the Global African Congress, Cikiah Thomas, wrote to Chancellor Bermudez communicating his support for Sir Hilary remaining as vice chancellor.

However, in a statement issued on Tuesday, Sir Dennis said: “It is evident that time has not been taken to carefully and objectively read the report of the commission itself, and it appears that some persons are selectively taking issue with conclusions that have been consequently distorted.”

“At no time has the chancellor engaged with the commission or sought to direct its work in any manner other than by his provision of the terms of reference on the appointment of the commission. We express the strongest displeasure at the insinuations and, in some cases, the overt personal attacks — some laced with racial invective — directed at the chancellor and reject these unfounded allegations that he influenced our work and inquiry in any way,” he said.

“The future of The UWI is a matter of the utmost urgent public importance and we encourage everyone to go online and carefully read the report of the commission for themselves to make their own determination of the rectitude of its recommendations and not rely on third party interpretations, or anecdotal information of what was actually written.”

Sir Dennis, former president of the Caribbean Court of Justice, said while the commission welcomed the public scrutiny and debate that its conclusions and recommendations have generated, the discussion should be conducted in a “sober, de-personalised manner that focuses on the institution, its sustainability, and what is required not simply to assure its survival but its resilience in a world that has become extraordinarily volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous”.

According to Sir Dennis, “The UWI is faced with deep structural and governance challenges that threaten its viability, its capacity to maintain and further improve its standards and its continuing ability to facilitate Caribbean development. In such a context, only the most rigorous, unsentimental analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of The UWI can ensure that the ‘Light Rising from the West’ is not extinguished.”

He said some of the structural and systemic governance issues identified in the report have existed and remained unchanged for a while and did not originate with anyone in the current administrative system.

The commission chair said the recommendations were solely aimed at strengthening administrative governance structures and buttressing the financial sustainability of the university at a time when regional governments and working people face deep financial constraints.

– CMC

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