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UTech rift widens

Views split on future of university as Morrison is about to be named head of National Council on Science and Technology

Sunday, April 27, 2014    

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Professor Errol Morrison is to be named the new head of the National Council on Science and Technology (NCST), the Jamaica Observer has learnt.

According to a highly-placed Government source, Morrison will be seconded from the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), where he now serves as president, to start his job as the country's science czar in June.

But his appointment has not only resulted in UTech administrators now engaged in a search for an acting president, it has created a rift among the university's management over who should be named to the post, as well as the academic status of the institution.

"Some people are in favour of bringing back Blossom O'Meally-Nelson while others believe that Franklin Johnston should get the job," our source said, adding that a third candidate -- a retired University of the West Indies (UWI) professor -- was also being considered.

O'Meally-Nelson served as UTech pro-chancellor but left before her three-year term ended in March 2009 at the height of a management conflict with Morrison.

She was replaced by former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who holds a chair at the UWI as distinguished fellow in the School of Graduate Studies.

Johnston is currently advisor to Education Minister Ronald Thwaites and writes a weekly column for the Daily Observer.

However, the issue that has the potential of mushrooming into a greater controversy is the future academic direction of UTech, our source said.

"Basically, there are now two camps, one which holds the view that the university should revert to a polytechnic, while the other feels it should remain as is," our source said.

But any move to change UTech's status back to a polytechnic, our source pointed out, will likely result in a number of the younger set of lecturers resigning.

"They are upset," the source said.

Founded in 1958 as the Jamaica Institute of Technology, UTech was accorded university status in September 1995 - 36 years after it had changed its name to the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST).

On its website, the university states that its "syllabuses are modelled on the English polytechnic system, with emphasis on flexibility of approach, work-based learning and professional linkages".

Morrison, on his arrival at UTech in February 2007, set about establishing research and graduate studies as major thrusts at the institution.

He also introduced new areas of study of the science that underpins sporting performance and nurtured the university's sports programme in some 15 modalities, among them track and field, cricket, football, and netball.

Yesterday, a source with knowledge of the developments at UTech said that its sport faculty conducts advanced-level training to internationally recognised professional standards for coaches in the various sports.

The source, who requested anonymity, also credited Morrison with forming alliances with the Institute of Law & Economics and other legal luminaries to flesh out UTech's law programmes into a bachelor's programme.

But in recent months Morrison and the university management have been at loggerheads with the staff association and its unions over a number issues relating to the running of UTech.

The conflict resulted in a special advisory committee appointed by the education minister last year to probe allegations of administrative faults.

On completion of its investigation in February this year, the committee made a number of recommendations to address tensions at the university. Among them was the replacement of the president, even before the expiration of his contract on February 2, 2015.

According to the committee, UTech "needs to take decisive action as to whether the incumbency is in the best interest of the university. We do not think so".

But a few weeks later, as the controversy over Morrison's tenure heightened, UTech's governing council met on March 17, assessed the committee's report and concluded that Morrison will stay until the end of his contract.

The council said that it was mindful of Morrison's contribution to the university's development and that it recognised "his desire not to have his contract renewed when it ends in February 2015".

The council also said it had "considered and carefully weighed the issues in the report and its recommendations", and decided that in accordance with the report it was recommending that all stakeholders "must come together for the betterment of the university".

On Friday, the Government source said that Morrison's appointment to head the NCST was a positive development, given that the council has been inactive for many years.

"Since PJ Patterson retired as prime minister nothing has happened," the source said of the council, which is chaired by the prime minister.

"He put a lot of thrust on science," the source said of Patterson, who stepped down in March 2006.

On March 8, 2012, Phillip Paulwell, the minister of science, technology, energy and mining, announced that the council was re-activated, saying that it would again be playing a lead role in promoting and advancing science and technology in the country.

He told a group of UWI scientists and technologists that the NCST, which was established in 1993, would have a secretariat established in his ministry.

However, on Friday, our source insisted that the NCST was dormant and expressed optimism that Morrison's appointment will "help to revive the drive for science and technology's role in the country's development".

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