Afro-Trinbagonians, Racism and the Education System
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: September 19, 2003
Democracy, finally, rests
on a higher power than Parliament. It rests on an informed and cultivated
and alert public opinion. The Members of Parliament are only the representatives
of the citizens. They cannot represent apathy and indifference. They
can play the part allotted to them only if they represent intelligence
and public spiritedness.
Williams, "Independence Day Address"
and sisters, it is good to be here this evening. For the past month
there has been a heated debate over what Professor Selwyn Cudjoe said,
what he meant and presumably the implications of what he said about
the future direction of tertiary education in this society. This evening
I want to state my position in a way that leaves little room to misconstrue
what I say and certainly to allow for a pause on the malicious slander
against my name. To do this, I begin with the observation of Saul Lieberman,
the great Talmudist scholar who, in introducing the Gershom Scholem’s
lectures on the Kabbalah, noted: "Nonsense (when it is all said and
done) is still nonsense. But the study of nonsense, that is a science"
(Quoted in Simon Schama, Landscape and
Memory. This means that implicit in whatever we say here this
evening is an exploration the science of nonsense which seems to on
the brains of all of those persons, be they from the University of the
West Indies or the Ministry of Tertiary Education, who fail to respond
to the content of my arguments. In this context, there are no definitive
answers to these questions that I pose nor for that matter there is
really no entity that possesses a monopoly on the truth of these matters.
Yet, we have a solemn obligation to explore them together to arrive
at solutions that are just and honorably to our people keeping in mind
that democracy is never about the vindication privileges, particularly
of the majority, but an attempt to protect the rights of the minority
and those who are less advantaged.
July 1, 2003, at the annual Emancipation Dinner of the National Association
for the Employment of African People (NAEAP) I observed: "NAEAP has
always insisted that if we wish to create a society in which every creed
and race find and equal place, no child should leave our schools without
a knowledge of the Christian Bible, the Bhagvad Gita or the pertinent
Hindu doctrinal text, and the Qur’an.
than wish a mutually respecting and respectful society into being we
must advance concrete solutions toward the achievement of a common end
and a common purpose. This being said, it means that action speaks
louder than words and one must possess the courage to express one’s
example, no member of a multiracial society should feel smug and secure
in the fact that eighty percent of its university student body consists
of one race and where no one seems to be even thinking of the consequences
of such a development.
is said of the US, it is to its credit that a month ago, in the case
of the University of Michigan, the US Supreme Court ruled that even
in university admission race can be used as a factor given the importance
of education in the creation of an equal society. The court did not
flinch from its position. Even Sandra Day O’Connor, a jurist who had
not always seen eye to eye with these matters, recognized the importance
of a co-equal branch of government facing up to its responsibilities.
we in Trinidad and Tobago willing to do the same in our circumstances?"
(Trinidad Guardian, August 16, 200).
is to be noted that I never said that eighty percent of the University
of the West Indies consists of East Indians. In fact, I never used
the word East Indian in my address at all. My entire address centered
on the challenges that face African people in Trinidad and Tobago.
Second, I never said that Africans should be given a quota at UWI.
I never used the word quota in my address or on any subsequent occasion
yet the press has continued to bandy about that word as though it were
truth personified. Third, I never said that race should be used as
criterion for admission to UWI, that is, if we understand criterion
to mean, "an established rule or principle for testing anything" (The
American College Dictionary) although I am convinced that any serious
discussion about a university education in a multicultural society cannot
be oblivious of its racial or gender bias.
On August 22, in responding
to Parsuram Maharaj attack on my position in
Newsday, I acknowledged that the last sentence of the excerpt above
may have been "ambiguous and the linkage between the composition of
UWI (one would also like to know what percentage of the faculty is Indian?)
and the affirmative action principle articulated in Grutter v Bollinger
a bit tenuous. In his eagerness to attack me, Maharaj misses my central
point. I am concerned about what education, in its all-embracing sense
must mean in a multiracial society and the role it must play to achieve
a truly integrated society."
were my concerns. To be sure, I do not expect either of the Maharajs
(I am not too sure who writes what since one plagiaries from the other
frequently) to understand that contiguity should not be mistaken
for causality. That is to say, although the University of Michigan
example was cited in a contiguous manner with the desirable social and
cultural mix of a university body in a multi-racial society, it is incorrect
to assume that one is the cause or the consequence of the other.
did not stop there. In examining the bias at the tertiary level of
education in the society and the extreme secrecy of the process, I did
a short report, "The Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Technology: A
Racket Exposes," that not one of our newspapers has seen fit to publish.
NAEAP funded this study out of its scarce resources. In that report
I drew certain conclusions that, interestingly enough, the never appeared
in any of our newspapers. Such, of course, is the great freedom for
which our press takes delight. This evening I will read from parts
of this report:
was built at a cost of close to $100 million dollars. Twenty eight
million was provided by the Trinidad and Tobago government, 15 million
by the energy sector and a loan of $57 million from the Caribbean Development
Bank. Today, it costs about $20 million to run this Institute about
fifty percent of which comes from student tuition. Corporate gifts
make up the next fifty percent.
consists of approximately 1,100 students; 17 full time faculty members
and about 35 part time members. Of the 17 full time members, only one
African has a permanent spot on the faculty. Fourteen members of the
faculty are Indians. There is not one African who is a senior instructor
on the faculty. All of the senior instructors, except one, do not have
a MA degree as required by the rules of the institution. Of the part
time faculty, there are no more than five African members; approximately
thirty members of the part time faculty are Indians.
student body follows a similar pattern. Approximately seventy five
percent of the student body is Indians; about twenty five percent are
Africans. About seventy five percent of the students are male; twenty
five per cent are female…There are about 120 persons on staff of which
approximately seventy percent are Indians…"
sad feature of TTIT is the dishonesty of many of the students and what
can be called the inferior education that is offered by some of the
faculty members. Since faculty members can only teach twenty-two hours
per week, they are paid $150 per hour for any teaching they do after
that. As a result, some of the faculty makes mas’ with this situation.
It is almost as though teaching at TTIT has become a function of mass
production. In the last semester seven out of the seventeen full time
instructors taught more than 25 hours per week. One faculty member
taught as many as 38 hours per week, which meant that he or she made
close to $23,000 per month. The question arises: how in heaven’s name
can an instructor teach 38 hours a week and still find time to correct
his examinations, do his continuous assessments and yet attend to other
faculty matters? At my school, for example, an instructor teaches about
five hours a week….
June 27, 2003, a short audit report by Southern Alberta Institute of
Technology Audit Team (SAIT) was particularly harsh on the Institute.
Its general findings were as follows:
is still general concern over the level of the exams and assignments.
As the students progress through their programme, higher expectations
of critical thought and self-direction are expected. Exams and assignments
should reflect that within the scope of the course objectives. While
significant improvements have been made in many courses, further emphasis
report also commented about the plagiarism it found at the Institute
and noted "the communications course need to address plagiarism and
the citation of sources more thoroughly...."
also found other weaknesses at TTIT. Of the fifteen programs examined,
five were approved; one was approved for one year only; four programs
were conditionally approved and one program was not approved. When Harris
Khan, the General Manager of TTIT, received the Draft Report from SAIT,
he responded to Roy Barker, head of the Report Team, as follows:
Many thanks for your quick
response with the preliminary report. It has, however, left us in a
bit of a shock as the overall tone and comments would suggest that we
have not done well at all. Any third party reading this would come
to the conclusion that we have in fact failed this audit. This is contrary
to the feedback we had from the teams at the end of each audit.
overall tone of the direct feedback was perhaps directly opposite to
that of the preliminary report. As a result, we are not sure where
we stand now.
Harris Khan should not lead
TTIT in the first place. TTIT is a tertiary institution. Up until
three years ago, Khan’s sole qualification was a TECHNICIAN’S diploma
from San Fernando Technical Institute. Three years ago, he received
an Executive MBA from UWI’s Institute of Business rather than a full-fledged
MBA. Needless to say, one does not need an undergraduate degree to
enter that program and one does not take all of the courses that one
takes in a regular MBA program. In other words, Khan possesses no academic
qualifications. He should not head an institution that gives out academic
degrees. SAIT recognized this difficulty. It recommended: "TTIT had
reached a point where the appointment of a Dean of Academic Programme
would improve the management of academic resources."
is also questionable whether Hamood Mohammed, a senior instructor, has
a BSc degree in Telecommunications. The Board of Management should
tell the public where and when Mr. Mohammed received his degree. Another
faculty member received his doctoral degree from Western Pacific University.
I wonder if such a degree is accepted at TTIT or UWI?
faculty at TTIT also gives grades at random. Several instructors give
grades without giving exams and wrong answers are marked correct. The
SAIT Pre-Audit Report observed: "Four scripts were provided [to the
reviewer for Advanced Drilling Technology]: the marks were 90 %, 91
%, 100% and 100%, and these were very high. The bonus mark questions
are unusual, to say the least." One such question was: "Who is the
PCI head at NESC-TTIT?" As the reviewer noted: Such a question "is
hardly justified in helping students pass the DRLG453 course." Even
wrong answers are marked as being correct. The reviewer noted: "An
answer on the advantages of unbalanced drilling: ‘Effective in drilling
for and producing hydrocarbons being marked as correct is not acceptable.
Similarly, the answer to the advantages of completing a well underbalanced…was
also marked as correct, and it is clearly irrelevant to a question on
completions. The instructor needs to be coached in the care
and standards required in marking examination papers."
the University of Houston, which runs the BSc in Applied Technology,
observed that some students were not qualified for the course. In fact,
rifts were reported between the TTIT management and the resident faculty
of TTIT because the requisite equipment was not available for the classes.
This is one reason why the University of Houston will no longer be associated
with TTIT after June 2005.
are serious matters since institutions such as TTIT are supposed to
fill the gap between secondary and tertiary education and have the responsibility
to produce the technicians of the nation. No one, it seems to me, has
ever asked why the University of Houston removed its accreditation from
TTIT. No one, it seems, has asked why the University of Houston has
been asked to leave the program
I made this report, the Maha Sabha became furious and started an all-out
assault on me. They realized that TTIT’s woefully inadequate practices
did not vindicate their triumphalism about the virtues of meritocracy.
They became nervous. They knew UWI was our next target. From the inception
I made it clear that Bhoe Tewarie’s appointment at UWI, as was that
of Harris Khan’ appointment, had very little to do with merit. These
men were appointed because of their racial affiliation. My critics
became enraged. Foolish as he is, Dr. Morgan Job bleated: "If Selwyn
Cudjoe’s racial quota is implemented, UWI will have semi-illiterate
African lecturers teaching illiterate students. They will go into the
classrooms, the Public Service and police to compound the problems which
plague the nation, and are a necessary consequence of the blight of
mediocrity we have nurtured and promoted" (TG, August 21). The only
problem with Dr. Job’s argument is that he began with a wrong premise,
which dictated that he had to arrive at the wrong conclusion. Professor
Kwame Natambu was equally absurd. He, too, began with the incorrect
premise that I had called for a "quote system" a UWI. Like Dr. Job,
he too, could only arrive at an equally absurd conclusion" (See
Trinidad and Tobago Sunday Mirror, Sept. 14, 2003).
Needless to say, Dr. Job and
Professor Nantambu missed my point. What I said then and repeat now,
is that admittance to UWI is not, cannot be, based solely on objective
criterion and no sane person can deny this statement. The admission
of any student to a university involves subjective judgments that are
even more pervasive in the making of academic appointments, staff decisions,
and the general peopling at UWI. After all, we are dealing with people
who do not drop their biases and prejudices once they walk into an admission’s
office. I contend further. Given the ethnic impulses and creedal imperatives
of Hindus that their tendency to curry favor for their own extend into
the admission’s room, the staff room and the faculty room and this concern
must be aired openly. Too many Afro-Trinbagonians suffer from the preferences
that Indians give to their own in all walks of life.
agreed with Dr. Job and the Maharajs that "students must enter UWI on
merit." My only question was this: What, in these circumstances, constitutes
merit? I insist that grades cannot be the sole constituent in the determining
the merit of someone who enters a university. There must be other criteria.
There is no reason in the world to think that if the whole of Central
received As on their GCE that our university should consist exclusively
of only the people of Central or Laventille for that matter. Serious
academicians know that genuine university learning, especially in a
multiracial and multicultural society, cannot take place where only
one kind of people and one kind of culture is present. Such a learning
community is antithetical to anything that we seriously consider a university
conception of merit has to be more varied than this. Education has
to be more sophisticated than throwing a bunch of students whose only
credentials is that have performed well on standardized tests having
successfully regurgitated what they have been taught in a classroom.
This is why I contest what the Jobs, the Maharajs and the Tewaries present
as the contents of merit. I am concerned with how the notion of merit
is implemented and thus proposed the following questions: what constitutes
merit in terms of one’s entrance to UWI, how is it implemented, and
how do we know that the process is administered fairly?" This is my
position. In retrospect, it cannot be affirmed too strongly that UWI
is a public institution to which our citizens contribute millions of
dollars. The public has every right to hear an answer to these questions.
UWI has every obligation to facilitate discussion in these areas. After
all, it is the first place where a discussion of a university’s viability
begin; an important exercise in the transparency of the university.
Inundating us with public relations is certainly not the way to go.
my discussion, I also made it clear that the a student’s admittance
to UWI could not be based on grades (that is, standardized tests) alone
even as our dearly beloved Principal, Bhoe Tewarie, insists: "We do
not ask the students what race they belong to. We only ask them what
grade they got" (TG., Sept. 9). I suspect that he will live to regret
these remarks. Nor, for that matter can Mr. Danny Montano, Minister
of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education, ride into this important
discussion as a knight in shinning armor to save the day for UWI. Too
many students complain about the biases that exist at UWI; too many
African students have reported that although they have better grades
than their Indian counterparts, the latter always seem to get a place
at UWI while they are left in the cold to dry.
spite of what Dr. Tewarie says, no modern university bases its entrance
into university exclusively on the scores that one gets on a standardize
tests. Just this morning, a senior admission officer at Harvard University,
outlined that Harvard’s criteria for admitting students to its undergraduate
point averages. That is, the grades that a student received throughout
his career at high school and more particularly, the grades he received
in rigorous courses. Since the competition at Harvard is so great,
nearly all of the students who apply have at least an A- in their grade
test scores, such as the SAT 1 and SAT 2, formerly the Achievement Test,
serves as a second criteria for admission. These tests are analogous
to our GCEs at the advanced or ordinary levels;
from headmasters, one teachers, one’s guidance counselors, etc.,
student’s activities at school, particularly one’s leadership activities
outside the classroom, such as being the president of one’s class, one’s
student body, one’s football team, etc.
this system, scores on standardized tests are relegated to a secondary
position for the very good reason that all of the applicants receive
A-s in the first category. This is why these universities, through their
applications forms, ask for one’s transcripts (which shows a students
progress during his years at college); a student’s essay that is looked
at very carefully; a student’s extra curricula activities; and recommendations
from her teachers. Although Harvard is not begun it, many Ivy League
intuitions have begun to de-emphasize the importance of standardize
tests (such as the SAT examinations) in selecting their first year students.
So that when the Dr. Tewarie says that entrance to UWI is based on grades
(that is, standardize tests) alone, he must know that he is locating
himself squarely in the last century. But then Dr. Tewarie is smarter
than this. He must have misspoken under the pressure of the circumstances.
course, there is a reason why criteria other than grades are taken into
account when one is selected as a student to attend a university. As
I pointed out to Parsuram Maharaj there is a clear distinction between
training (that is, the ability to use a surgeon’s scalpel properly)
and an education that is meant to prepare students to act purposefully
in their social environments. If a person were in the jungle in Africa
or India and a lion was coming at him at full speed and he began to
recite Shakespeare he would most certainly die. He would survive only
if he could use a gun or a spear. This is why the Greeks observed that
"to know is to know how; wisdom is skill in action and therefore power
to act. Heraclitus, the first of the philosophers to turn to this theme,
assumes as a matter of course that
logos and sophie carry the double reference of true word
(and thought) and right deed" (Quoted in D. Chattopadhyaya,
Indian Philosophy, p. 88). Incidentally, this is also true in
Indian philosophy. For the early Indians, "the only wisdom then known
then was the wisdom of practical activity" (Ibid., p. 88). It is to
Dr. Tewarie’s credit that he recognizes the intimate connection between
the academy and the world of work. This is one innovation on which
I wish to congratulate him.
is why I felt that Dr. Tewarie’s categorical statement about the role
standardized tests play in a student’s entrance to UWI was so unfortunate.
In this context, one may wish to suggest that T&T has become more
of a jungle because we are more concerned with
training our citizens than with
educating them to act as moral agents in a world that is lacking
in this regard. In our society, we are more concerned about granting
favours based on one’s ethnic affiliations rather than rewarding people’s
accomplishments. While we genuflect at the shrine of grades we ignore
the imperative to educate our secondary and tertiary-level students
to act in ways that conduce to their moral upliftment. In genuflecting
before grades and jockeying for positions of power and prestige we forget
to develop the capacity for moral discernment in our students and in
our leaders. One only has to look at the behavior of Bhoe Tewarie and
Ganga Singh with regards to Tewarie’s appointment UWI; the appointment
of Sunity Maharaj, his first cousin, to the executive directorship of
the Commonwealth Journalist Association although she was a member of
the selection committee; and Harris Khan’s leadership of TTIT, in spite
of his lack of academic credentials, to understand how moral discernment
is honored so often in the breach by so many of us.
want to suggest that if we wish to talk about the integrity of our educational
system, our students and our leaders we must begin to talk about the
role that moral discernment plays in our society. In his first Independence
Day address to our nation, Dr. Eric Williams, our first Prime Minister,
made it very clear that democracy "rests on an informed and cultivated
and alert public opinion. The Members of Parliament are only representatives
of the citizens. They cannot represent apathy and indifference. They
can play the part allotted to them only if they represent intelligence
and public spiritedness" (Quoted in Selwyn R. Cudjoe, ed.,
Eric Williams Speaks). In underscoring the "crucial inter-relatedness
of political institutions on the one hand and public values and attitudes
on the other," Professor Ruth W. Grant made it clear that Dr. Williams
understood "that the success of institutional structures depends on
the underlying values that support them" ("Ethics and Politics: Institutional
Solutions and Their Limits.") This is why we must focus on the kind
of education we deliver to our students and why we must always question
assumptions that we are all to willing to take for granted. Again,
I insists, scores on standardize tests cannot be the only criteria for
entering our universities.
This is why it is so crucial that we understand how public values begin
to establish themselves in the public sphere and how religious imperatives
shape our ethical and moral behavior. This is especially true when
we live in a multi-religious society. In
The End of History, Francis Fukuyama argued that while many of
the world’s religions have adapted themselves to a certain amount of
secularization, "The legacy of Hinduism and Confucianism is mixed: while
they are both relatively permissive doctrines that have proven to be
compatible with a wide range of secular activities, the substance of
their teachings is hierarchical and inegalitarian. Orthodox Judaism
and fundamentalist Islam, by contrast, are totalistic religions which
seek to regulate every aspect of human life, both pubic and private,
including the realm of politics." He says that Hinduism "is one of
the few great religions that is not based on a doctrine of the universal
equality of man. To the contrary, Hindu doctrine divides human beings
into a complex series of castes that define their rights, privileges,
and ways of life" (p. 228)
can argue that both Christianity and Hinduism counsels that one accept
one’s status in life with the possibility of a greater reward in the
next life, be it in heaven or being reborn into a higher status of life.
Yet it is indisputable that Hinduism sees the acquisition of wealth
as one of its four goals of life. Manu, the supposed author of the
Manu-smrti, the most authoritative work on Indian law, advises
Hindus on the seven approved ways of getting wealth: (1) legacy, (2)
gain, (3) purchase, (4) conquest (5) agriculture (6) trade and (7) the
acceptance of gifts. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya notes: "A persistent
them here [in Hindu philosophy] is the desire to increase food and material
wealth and even the gods were frequently described as participating
with human beings in raising cattle and increasing food and wealth"
(Indian Philosophy, p. 88). Necessarily, in a multi-religious
society, it must be asked if the practice of placing such a high priority
on gaining wealth pushes the adherents of Hinduism to subvert all notions
of ethics and moral as other members of the society understand it?
one may argue that Protestantism, particularly in its Calvinist and
Puritanical forms, is linked very closely to the pursuance of wealth,
which leads the capitalist to abandon all ethical and moral considerations
to gain his profits. He, too, is willing to abandon all notions of
ethics and morals to achieve his wealth. However, following the lead
of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
much work has been done on the connection between Protestantism and
work. Similarly, more studies need to be done on the relationship between
Hinduism and its effect on morals, honesty, fairness and equity. Perhaps,
these are questions that the Presidential Committee on National Self-Discovery
may want to examine, even though Professor Kenneth Ramchand’s comment
about the unimportance of an examination of race in the quest for national
self-discovery left me feeling very uneasy.
must also examine another dimension of Hinduism as we seek to understand
where Sat Maharaj is coming from and why he sees us as being genetically
inferior to Indians. Such a posture emanates from the role that the
caste system, or varna, as it is called properly, plays in the life
of a Hindu. Varna is based explicitly on color. In Sanskrit, the word
varna means color from which the word vanish comes, a concept that is
easily explicably since Sanskrit is perhaps the oldest recorded Indo-European
language. It follows necessarily that in a system where the demarcation
of people is based on the color of their skins--the Brahmins being of
the fairest color whereas those at the lowest caste are dark in color—it
is understandable how the leader of the Maha Sabha could see African
people as being genetically inferior. After all, during the Upanishadic
Age, at the inception of Hinduism, "the Candala, i.e., the lowest caste,
was freely bracketed with dogs and swine" as was recorded in Chandogya
Upanisad (Indian Philosophy, p. 86).
Under the circumstances, one
can understand why Sat Maharaj can talk so glibly about the genetic
inferiority of Africans without stopping to think how crude and boring
such a statement is; which is why he could say, "The problem with Cudjoe,
Afros and education is essentially one of culture. This is not only
a Trinidad problem, more a genetic one" (TG., Sept. 3). When he got
caught, he tried to weasel his way out of the mess by telling another
lie; that he meant "nor" rather than "more." As I demonstrated in "When
‘More’ Becomes ‘Nor’" (TG., Sept. 13), there is no way that Maharaj
could have misspoken. He was mistaken if he felt he felt he could fool
an entire population by substituting one word for another. Since he
did not fool us he sought to change the subject and blazoned forth:
"Hindus are Under Attack." While the media was prepared to turn their
eyes away from his boorishness, NAEAP continued to keep the nation’s
eyes focused on this issue.
then, did Sat, the Nazi, try to cover his tracks about his statement
about the genetic inferiority of Africans. He went into the Basdeo
Panday mode. Addressing his own community at the Ganesh Mandirs, he
continued his lying ways by suggesting that Hindus are under attack
by Trinbagonians because we dared to examine the admission procedures
at UWI and racket at TTIT. Not content with telling his people that
I asked for a "quota" of Africans to attend UWI, he spiced up his story
by asserting that now that Indian students had met "the standards" to
attend UWI, "this strange gentleman by the name of Cudjoe… says children
should get in there [UWI] on the basis of their skin colour. He expects
that they should get 20 points to begin with because they are black.
Changing from a meritocratic institution to a racist institution. We
will fight them down the line because that cannot happen."
don’t know who Sat intends to fight and where he unearth the statement
that I said that applicants to UWI should get 20 points for their skin
colour. However, in his last statement, Maharaj reveals his Nazi-like
tendencies: state a lie, embellish it, draw conclusions from the original
lies and then march into war: "We will fight them down the line because
that cannot happen." Are these not the words and disposition of a Nazi?
content with Maharaj’s Nazi-like behavior, Minister Montano, jumped
into the fray to give credence to Sat’s lies and to defend UWI. According
to the Express, in response to a question, Minister Montano "said
claims being made now that the campus should institute a racial quota
system for student intake were ill-advised" (Sept. 10). Yet, the question
that arises is this: who advised that a racial quota should be instituted
at UWI? Not content with such folly, Minister Montano goes on: "Asked
to comment on the claim by Professor Cudjoe that there was racial imbalance
in the intake of students at St. Augustine and the campus should institute
a quota system, Montano said he was ‘not happy with all of this.’
society is divisive as it is already. It’s the easiest thing to wave
a racial flag at every turn but the reality may not turn out what it
looks like at first blush,’ he said.
the inequities which may exists, it appears to be financial and we have
to find a way out of it but we are not going down that road."
is your Minister of Science and Technology talking his nonsense. One
would have thought that he would have taken a little time to read my
statements or, at the very least, have his advisers read my statements.
But Minister Montano applies the same racist litmus test as does Sat,
the Nazi. In the first place, he does not answer the question: does
racial imbalance exist at UWI campus? The answers could be "Yes," "No,"
or "I do not know." If there is an imbalance, the question is how does
the Hon. Minister know that? Does UWI keep statistics based on a student’s
race or does it not? Perhaps the Minister could answer that question.
Is there discrimination at the institution? In other words, are Indian
students given preference over African students, to which Minister Montano
responded: "An analysis of intake lists at the campus, matched with
application lists for specific years led him to conclude that an imbalance
in student intake may be based on financial grounds."
it that Mr. Montano looked at the intake list and saw that an equal
amount of African and Indian students were admitted but African students
did not attend. How did he know that a disproportionate amount of Africans
decided not to attend and if he knew that what did he do about it?
But even an analysis of the intake list does not answer my question
if in so doing Mr. Montano is suggesting that the imbalance is due to
the fact that they African students cannot afford to go to UWI. My
questions are of another nature: How many students applied, what are
the academic qualifications of those who applied; how are they selected;
and who did the selection?
other question revolved around the Minister’s absurd claim that I introduced
a racial flag into the debate on the admission’s policy at UWI. Asked
about discrimination at the campus, Minister Montano revealed the following:
"In the face of concerns about discrimination on the local campus, Montano
had requested information earlier this year." Such a revelation suggests
that Montano and his Cabinet colleagues were aware of the charges of
racial discrimination that were being made at UWI. In light of this
confession, how could the Minister claim that when Cudjoe brought up
the issue he was waving a "racial flag?" Here is the Minister saying,
we heard these rumors and we investigated these rumors but when Cudjoe
brings up them in the public sphere he is accused of waving a racial
the nonsense gets worse. How did Minister Montano get his information?
He says he "requested information" which presumably was sent to him
directly for the very persons who are accused of discrimination in the
first place and he acted on that information. Did Mr. Montano expect
anything less? Were the accused expected to turn in themselves because
they were dazzled by this knight in white shinning armor? Questions
arise: what was the nature of the information he received; what other
research did the Minister do to authenticate or supplement the information
he received. Did the Minister at any time interrogate anyone, other
than the university authorities to determine the truth of their statements?
Did the Minister call upon prospective students to share their experiences
with him and his committee; were any hearings conducted to hear how
they felt. Can we know the names of the Committee members who examined
this information, the methodology they followed in trying to understand
the information provided; how many meetings were held; and is the honorable
Minister prepared to share that information with the public?
The Minister made himself look
more foolish when he says: "the ratio of acceptance [of students at
UWI] matched the ratio of applications. There is no bias on the basis
of applications." What could such a statement possibly mean coming
from a Minister of Tertiary Education. That the ratio of acceptance
(that is, those who accepted the places offered to them by the university)
matched the ratio of those who applied to university for admission does
not tell us anything at all. Does Mr. Montano mean to say that if seventy
percent of the applicants were Indian therefore seventy percent of those
who were accepted were Indians? But if, as he notes that "2,700 acceptances
were based on applications for entry last year and only 1,800 of those
enrolled," how did he know that those who did not take up their places
were Africans? And if those nine hundred student (accepting for the
moment that he is correct) did not take up their places does not commonsense
dictates that the ethnic imbalance at the university must be skewed
in an every great manner in the favor of Indians than the Africans?
And does this not invalidate the Minister’s position that there is not
an imbalance of students at UWI. We may even add, that given these
financial imbalances, the university will continue to reflect an even
greater racial imbalance in the future.
if we accept the Minister’s position that students were accepted in
the same ration as they applied this puts Morgan Job and the Maharaj’s
in a spot. It invalidates their argument about the superior performance
of Indians over Africans although Indians may perform better in some
fields. This only suggests that each group has its academic strengths
and weaknesses. But this is where their analysis breaks down and why
Minister Montano must do an independent investigation, listen to the
testimonies of those who applied to the university and were not accepted,
what the criteria for admission is and should it not be changed as we
enter into the twenty-first century. In other words, are the criteria
for the last decade appropriate to the present decade and should considerations
not be given to other factors when students apply to our university?
African students have testified that they had better grades than some
of their Indian counterparts but failed to get into the university.
Even when students get into the university they are not treated in a
fair and equitably manner. Saying that the students were accepted in
the same ratio as they had applied does not answer the central questions:
were African students discriminated against when they applied to UWI;
what criterion was used by UWI to evaluate its prospective students;
and can we say that the financial impediments impacted more upon the
African students than the Indian students and why? To assert that students
were accepted in the same ratio at which they applied does not answer
the question in a way that enlightens our citizenry.
unfortunate aspect of Mr. Montano’s response is that he has read nothing
I have written. In his post-Cabinet meeting today the Hon. Mr. Patrick
Manning made essentially the same point I made initially. "No member
of a multiracial society should feel smug and secure in the fact that
eighty percent of its university student body [should] consists of one
race and where no one seems to be even thinking of the consequences
of such a development." The Prime Minister recognized that in a society
where there are competing interests one cannot dismiss the questions
I have raised in a cavalier manner. This is why one ought to be dismissive
of an Express editorial (Sept., 2, 2003) that argues that the questions
I have raised with regards UWI, TTIT and Mr. Maharaj’s racist comments
have the "potential for distraction and nuisance." In their absurdity,
There is a risk inherent
in the Prime Minister’s initial position [that there is no problem with
the debate that was taking place] in that the rhetoric on both sides
could escalate to the point where the process can be derailed, with
the work of rebuilding and fence-mending then sucking up energies which
could better be spent in finding possibilities for going forward on
this front. Such is the threat now being exposed in the sparring over
opportunities at the UWI, St. Augustine.
From this perspective,
then, both gentlemen will be advised to cool it. An ugly shooting match
over which group feels more victimized than the other, about ethnic
inferiority or about access to avenues for advancement is the classic
kind of ill-wind that surely will blow nobody good.
the important to note that this newspapers that sanctimoniously declares
that all Sat Maharaj, and by extension, the Maha Sabha, and I, by extension,
NAEAP, are engaged in is "an ugly shouting match," has never published
one word that I have uttered on this matter. More, it has not published
one word from our findings on TTIT that we made available to them on
two occasions. Nor, for that matter, has this newspaper found it necessary
to examine any of the issues I have raised with regards to education,
criteria to admissions to UWI, the possibility of racial discrimination
in UWI’s admittance policy or any matter. In fact, it is prepared to
note publicly, whenever it gets the time that Professor Cudjoe has called
for a "quota" system at UWI that it cannot authenticate. The Express
is yet to take an editorial position on the fairness of Hindu points
of views being given expressions in the columns of
Newsday (Trevor Sudama and Purasuram Maharaj) and the Guardian (Sat
Maharaj and Raji Vi) yet not one column is extended to NAEAP, the Emancipation
Committee or NJAC.
one in the Express, or any of the other dailies for that matter, have
attained the status to tell me to cool it unless they can demonstrate
in concrete terms where I have gone wrong and what they disagree with
in my statements. But, then, as in the case of the Express, they must
publish my views before they catoonize (if there is such a word) them;
editorialize on them; used them in their news stories and even in their
letters to the editor. In no other civilized society, whether they
have the potential for distraction or nuisance, would they allow such
standards of journalism.
my response to Purasuram Maharaj, I made it clear that my major concern
was "what education, in its all embracing sense, must mean in a multicultural
society and the role it must play to achieve a truly integrated society."
Neither Minister Montano, the Maharajs, Dr. Job or even the Express
has told me how they see education functioning in this society and how
we envisage the distribution of jobs in the society in the year 2015.
For example, do we expect to see all our lawyers, doctors and engineering
technologists as being of one race; all of the security guards, our
service workers at Kentucky, our street cleaners being another race.
If I were a Hindu I would see nothing wrong in such distribution since
it could easily been interpreted as one’s caste position about which
one neither complained nor rebelling. In her discussion on ethics and
politics, Professor Grant averred that human beings, whether in a liberal
democracy or in a totalitarian state, "act to benefit themselves. Of
course, some may be motivated by a sense of public service or humanitarian
ideals, but it would be foolhardy to rely on such extraordinary people
as the foundation for a political system" ("Ethics and Politics").
She also suggests that one can not solve social problems "in the way
you solve problems of geometry or calculus by finding answers that works
once and for all." The suggest here is that one always has to examine
the process and re-engineer it if we expect it to respond to our future
no one has refuted that claim. In fact, no one has even attempted to
engage me in a scholarly manner. In our discussion, we have not even
begun to examine how the teachers and staff at our tertiary and secondary
schools treat African students. Indeed, it is preposterous to claim
that if we live in a society in which biases manifest themselves in
every aspect of our lives that when we come to select our students,
select and advance our faculty and staff that these biases would suddenly
evaporate, given what we know about Bhoe Tewarie’s appointment; Harris
Khan’s elevation at TTIT and Sunity Maharaj’s despicable behavior on
the CJC selection committee.
this time, I am not prepared to give any facts and figures about the
practices at UWI. I would hope that a broad-based committee be set
up to investigate this matter. A nation does not become so embroiled
over a matter if there is no substance to these charges. Selwyn Cudjoe
and NAEAP do not have the kind of resources that the Maha Sabha, the
University of the West Indies or the Government has to investigate these
charges. I will not sell the experiences short of those who attend
the university and those who are trying to get within its walls. Once
more, we present our findings on TTIT. We will come back to you with
our findings at UWI. According to Mr. Montano, even some members of
the Cabinet have had their suspicions about the goings-on at UWI. Needless
to say, Mr. Montano’s comments have not allayed our fears nor has Dr.
Tewarie done anything to allay our suspicions about the system.
this context, it is instructive to know that over the past two years,
the University the West Indies at Mona and St. Augustine has expressed
concerns about the disproportionate numbers of male and female students
at the institution. They are concerned especially about the low number
of African males on campus. As far as I know, no one has called such
a discussion sexist or unworthy of being thrashed out by rational minds.
At Mona and even at St. Augustine the Board of Undergraduates conducted
a study on Male Underachievement that was funded by the IDB. As far
as I know, no one has claimed that such a discussion or study was out
of place, is a distraction or a nuisance or has it placed the nation
at risk. No where has one heard the comment: "The society is divisive
as it is already. It the easiest thing to wave a [feminist/sexist]
flag at every turn."
for that matter is the Minister concerned that less than forty percent
of the students who take the GCE and other exams receive full certificates.
As we understand it, the government has set up institutions such as
TTIT as an intake center so that these students can be prepared to go
on to university. I wonder, if on the basis of the TTIT Report we have
just published and with the virtual death of John Donaldson Technical
Institute, the Minister is willing to say that TTIT remains a good model
for the transition of our secondary students to our university or, is
this another case of NAEAP and Selwyn Cudjoe, raising the racial flag.
Minister Montano may not remember it, but at virtually all of his campaign
rallies during the recent local elections, the Prime Minister emblazoned:
Race is a problem we must address. The President also echoed this sentiment
at a Maha Sabha function until he changed the name of his committee
to the Committee on National Self-Discovery. I don’t know if the President
and the Prime Minister were raising the racial flag, distracting and
being a nuisance when they raised these concerns and acted on them.
Surely, the Minister of Tertiary Education should understand that race
and race relations are at the heart of a multiracial society. As such,
it cannot be swept under the rug as politely as he would like to do.
The Prime Minister took a more realistic tone when he averred: "There
must be openness in these matters and if the matters are discussed in
public, so be it, as long as they are not discussed in a manner that
will lead to discord rather than a resolution of the issue" (Trinidad
Guardian, Sept. 13, 2003).
intense debate we have experienced over the past month indicates that
much work lies before us. It is important that we see our work as a
part of the emancipation process that was started by Eric Williams who
saw the liberation of all oppressed people in the nation as his ultimate
goal. Because he was egalitarian in spirit and devoted to his nation
he could not spend as much time as he wanted on the emancipation of
the African man in this part of the world. We must remember that Dr.
Williams wrote The Negro in the Caribbean in 1942 and
Capitalism and Slavery in 1944. Both of these texts concerned
themselves with the position of the African in these Americas. This
is a man who realized that aspects of our oppression were internalized
deeply but who, because of his academic limitations, could not deal
with the psychological effects of our enslavement. Although Canon Douglas,
as early as 1887, alerted us to the psychological problems of our enslavement,
it took the important work of Franz Fanon to elaborate on this aspect
of the colonial encounter.
we must strive to develop our critical consciousness and deliberative
skills if we wish to move the country forward. In order to do so, our
people must be en-raged when the newspapers and the radio carry columnists
and commentators such as Sat Maharaj, Parusam Maharaj, Trevor Sudama,
Morgan Job, Raji Vi who invade our spaces each day and do further damage
to our psychological condition. I have heard Dr. Job bow down and worship
at the feet of Sat Maharaj and call him Mr. Maharaj on the radio. Yet,
he uses every opportunity to demean me. To me, no one in this country
is more destructive to the African psyche than Dr. Job. However, African
people must be enraged by the attacks against their psyche and demand
that columnists and commentators project the African people in a more
complex light. We are neither gods nor kings. We are simply people
trying to make it and both our strengths and weaknesses must be mirrored
in the media.
we think of those who would try to demean us, we must always speak about
where we have come from and what we have contributed to the Western
world. Dr. Williams speaks to us from beyond his grave. He said: "The
Western world is in danger of forgetting what the Negro has contributed
to Western civilization. The American continent would have had to pay
a high price for the luxury of remaining a white man’s country. No
sugar, no Negroes; but, equally true, no Negroes, no sugar. ‘Someone
had to pick the cotton.’" That was not why ‘darkies’ were born; but
it was certainly to cultivate the sugar cane and later pick the cotton
that they were transported from Africa.
was, in fact, sugar which raised these insignificant tropical islands
from the status of pirates’ nests to the dignity of the most precious
colonies known to the Western World up to the nineteenth century. It
was the Negro, without whom the islands would have remained uncultivated
and might as well have been at the bottom of the sea, who made these
islands into prizes of war coveted by the statesmen of all nations"
(The Negro in the Caribbean, pp. 11-2).
No one would ever know how
much wealth Africans produced for the islands of the Caribbean and the
people of Europe. Perhaps our opponents should reflect on this when
they try to demean us and argue about our genetic inferiority. They
should understand that we have an obligation to question systems that
we feel do not represent our interest or do not work for us. Theorists
of political science agree that "as a general rule, people can be expected
to pursue their own selfish interests. People who hold power can be
expected to act to hold on to it—and to increase it if the can" ("Ethics
and Politics.") This is as true at the University as it is in the political
arena. Public institutions alone cannot always be counted on to determine
what’s best for the national interest, which is one reason why organizations
such as NAEAP and the Maha Sabha exist. This why any institution that
is worth its salt "make people feel entitled and emboldened to speak
up and…make other people feel to listen." However, such discussion
must resonate in the public’s sphere and have what Professor Grant calls
When the various African ethnoi came to these shores they brought many
good gifts with them. We have beaten the pans and we have beaten the
books. We have played the drums and expressed our artistic creativity.
Throughout it all, we have remained a profoundly humane people, a quality
that we should never loose as we pursue our course on this earth. If
we can paraphrase the words of the founder of the greatest party that
ever existed in Trinidad and Tobago, Great is our people and we shall
prevail. As Mr. Manning advised in his post-Cabinet news conference:
"Let the debate continue."
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