We are strongly of the view that without the regional The University of the West Indies (The UWI), the Caribbean would have been a pale shadow of its current self, spending an inestimable amount of money to educate its sons and daughters outside the region.
For that matter, we are looking to next month's half-yearly meeting of the heads of government of Caricom to take serious action to sort out the imbroglio that is threatening the proper running of the institution. Their action is made necessary by the following facts.
First, faced with the inability or failure of Caricom governments to adequately fund it, The UWI has been lazy about taking the necessary steps to survive — economise, be more efficient in financial management, earn revenue, and solicit private sector donations. It's been too easy to burden students with higher fees.
Second, The UWI — unlike the majority of governments and the private sector across the world — has not reduced staff and unnecessary expenditure, notably flying around the region for ceremonies and meetings which could be done electronically, as is now done for most of the teaching.
Third, while the rest of the world was conserving on capital expenditures and staff complements during the pandemic, and in the midst of an existential financial crisis, The UWI ignored the expressed reservations of Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad about creating a new campus in Antigua, when the Cave Hill Campus was intended to serve Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. With less than 500 students, the question of its financial viability is a valid concern. What then is the purpose of the online learning of The UWI's Open Campus?
Fourth, the public quarrel between the vice-chancellor and the chancellor over their approach to governance is entirely inappropriate, by any principle, not to mention the clear conflict of interest for the vice-chancellor (manager) to establish a committee of middle-level staff to investigate the conduct of the chancellor (chairman of the board) over their differences.
Fifth, the leadership of The UWI has delayed implementation of the recommendations of the Byron Commission which were essentially meant to provide closer scrutiny of the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, but which has apparently been taken as an attempt by the chancellor to limit the executive power of the vice-chancellor. Such reports are conducted every 10 years, so what's the deal?
Sixth, this newspaper had restrained from adding to the debate on The UWI's self-inflicted reputational damage. However, we remain unclear as to why the West Indies Group of University Teachers (WIGUT) has taken industrial action in pursuance of its wage dispute with The UWI.
In an unprecedented financial crisis threatening the very existence of the university, WIGUT, which we know is committed to The UWI and its students, should be more understanding.
WIGUT might wish to contribute to the recovery of The UWI by foregoing certain benefits like housing, book grants, sabbaticals, study and travel funding, in exchange for higher salaries.
The UWI is in the top five per cent of the universities in the world and too important to be allowed to suffer any further damage to its well-earned reputation.