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The New Beau

July 22, 2001
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe

PART of the problem of discussing issues of legitimate public interest with illiberal minds and persons of intellectual density is that substantive issues go begging while peripheral issues become cause célèbre. Bhoe Tewarie is selected to become the principal of the University of the West Indies (St Augustine), the premier academic institution of the area. I raised issues related intimately to the man's scholarship and fitness to run the university and is subjected to abuse and dotishness unbecoming of serious people.

First, Clevon Raphael asks of this "new beau" if I was acting "out of sour grapes…perhaps had applied [for the position] and did not get it". (July 15). Next, the Singhs (Suresh and DH) from Chaguanas accuse me of "casting aspersions and doubts on the integrity and academic ability of a fellow academician". The latter accuses me of "Black Aryan supremacist posturing" even as he insists: "In a society such as ours it is imperative that a system of meritocracy be implemented in the recruitment of personnel to fill vacancies time and again." Without any intent of irony, Bhoe declares, "his new assignment is to make UWI a world class institution that is in sync with the changes in society and the economy."

And this is precisely the problem. How can a non-academic make an institution world-class when he himself has demonstrated no evidence of world-class, nay local class, scholarship or achievement? As I made clear previously, if we use accepted criteria for measuring scholarship or academic achievements we can ask what are his achievements and intellectual production? While at UWI, Bhoe, the Blessed, resided at the lowest rung of the academic level. Of the four levels of academic status in ascending order (that is, lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, professor) Bhoe was only a lecturer. In terms of intellectual production; Bhoe made no serious contribution to the intellectual development of his field by way of articles. He wrote no books. If there are those "who know me, or know my work", as Bhoe asserts, let them tell us publicly what his achievements are.

To understand world-class achievements and the stature of persons who run world-class institutions one needs to look at the intellectual biography of Laurence Summers, Harvard's president from July 1, and Shirley Tilghman, Princeton's president from June 15, 2001. Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury and Arthur Okun Distinguished Fellow in Economics, Globalisation and Governance at the Brookings Institute, became a professor at Harvard University in 1983. From 1987 to 1993 he served as the Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy. He has also published several books and over 100 articles.

Tilghman, the Howard A Prior Professor of the Life Sciences when she joined Princeton in 1986, is "a world-renowned scholar and leader in the field of molecular biology". Although she did not receive her degree from a first-rate institution, she went on to distinguish herself in her field. While she was doing postdoctoral studies at the National Institutes of Health, she made several "groundbreaking discoveries while participating in cloning the first mammalian gene, and then continued to make scientific breakthroughs as an independent investigator at the Institute of Cancer Research in Philadelphia and an adjunct associate professor of human genetics, biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania".

These achievements of serious scholars can stand up to public scrutiny. The quality of their scholarship and intellectual achievements reflect the respect these institutions have for their publics. They recognise that a university is a public institution, funded by public funds and responsible ultimately to the public. Almost 100 years ago, John Dewey, philosopher and premier American educator, noted that "a modern university is [not] a personally conducted institution like a factory" where personal friends and those in government treat it as their personal sinecure.

The public is always the moral employer of the university. Dewey noted: "The modern university is in every respect, save its legal management, a public institution with public responsibilities. [Professors] have been trained to think of the pursuit and expression of truth as a public function to be exercised on behalf of the interest of their moral employer—society as a whole." Although Dewey was making a case for academic freedom and the right of professors to express views without fear of losing their jobs, he understood the public nature of the university's business.

Citizens have every right to question Bhoe's selection, his ability to do the job and even his factory-like vision of the university outlined in the Sunday Guardian (July 15). We even have a right to ask if his IOB record, particularly as it had to do with hiring, can stand up to public scrutiny. The public has a right to know if rampant curry flavourism defeated meritocracy in his selection to this post.

It is entirely possible that at this stage of its development the university needs a different type of academic leader to deal with the "massive changes" that have dominated the world over the last decade (Tewarie). Yet, if we accept Lester Thurow's contention that at the beginning of the 21st century, "six new technologies— microelectronics, computers, telecommunications, new man-made materials, robots and biotechnologies—are interacting to create a new and different world" (Building Wealth), how can we place someone at the head of our university who has mastered none of these skills or competencies and whose academic track record is disappointing.

In an age of knowledge-based technologies, an academic leader must demonstrate achievement in the humanities, the sciences or technologies or a combination of the above. If one is successful in one's field, then the public can be assured that one can master the larger challenges university leadership imposes. Recognition, achievement and transparency cannot be bought. They must be earned. They are the products of years of intellectual production and the respect one ganders from one's achievements.

Bhoe's appointment is just the latest chapter in UNC's corruption that touches every facet of our lives. Nothing, it seems, is sacred any more.

Bhoe: The Blessed One

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