WHENEVER I sang along when the song ‘Silence is Golden’ played on our radio at home while growing-up in Faux-a-Chaux, the ancient mariner and survivor of two world wars in my father would tell me, ‘Silence is golden in peace time, but not in war!’
I remembered that sort of eerie (and suspenseful) silence when I sat Thursday morning to pen this column for this holiday weekend.
It appears dated for the day after The UWI Council (would have) met in what had earlier been touted as a virtual Final Showdown, a veritable High Noon, Last Draw between The UWI’s two top gunmen (Chancellor and Vice Chancellor), the winner to wear the Sheriff’s Badge for UWIville.
The Report of the Chancellor’s appointed Commission’s Recommendations for The UWI’s future, released earlier this year, was followed by a regional media blitzkrieg that sold the debate as one between the two men who each feel they have the right key to a bright future for the institution.
The debates, exchanges, quarrels and fall-outs at different levels ranged from difficult efforts at seemingly middle-of-the-road and impartial analyses ‘not supporting either side’ to direct allegations, accusations, charges, claims and counter-claims over ‘cloak and dagger’ efforts to rid the university of the ‘activism’ of the current Vice Chancellor and his ‘Old Boys Club’ and replace them with regional private sector Smart Alecs like the current Chancellor, who don’t boast university degrees but do know how to Make the Top Dollar the Bottom Line.
The charges were so thick that the Commissioners came to the Chancellor’s public defense against what they claimed were race-based attacks by those who claimed the (white-skinned) heir to a Trinidad & Tobago family fortune and lists among the wealthiest in the region, was simply out to out the Vice Chancellor for his Reparations advocacy and the involvement of The UWI under his stewardship.
Both ‘sides’ agree the university needs to ensure its biscuits are well-buttered, only disagreeing on which brand of butter.
During the first week of April, the loud silence was broken with the Vice Chancellor unveiling a long string of achievements that included a US $25 million donation from a Silicon Valley outfit – the biggest in The UWI’s history.
Then came the La Soufriere volcano, which not only disturbed the silence but also provided another platform to highlight the positive role of the UWI’s Seismology Research Center and the way the entire university became engaged in offering assistance and solidarity to the multi-island state after 30% of its population was displaced.
The UWI and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have been at the forefront of the Caribbean’s response to the emergency created by the volcano eruption, with Saint Lucia as the hub, the closest neighbour to La Soufriere providing a humanitarian bridge to ship and channel aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, from where Cuban, Venezuelan and a tremendous amount of regional private sector emergency supplies, equipment and personnel have been transmitted in the three weeks since the eruption next door.
And then came the George Floyd Trial and the finding of the killer-cop guilty on all three counts of murder and manslaughter.
And then came this final week in April and the Vice Chancellor’s virtual press conference celebrating The UWI’s continuing success in climbing the ladder among the highest top-ranking universities in the world for yet another year.
And then, the return of the silence of suspense…
As you read this Saturday column, the UWI Council will have met the day before (Friday the 30th) at the end of a week during which neither of the contending forces made any public statement about intentions or expectations.
Not a word about the demand by the commissioners that the Vice Chancellery be reshaped outside the image and likeness of the Vice Chancellor, not a word about the future of the Vice Chancellor’s contract.
This is a different silence that does not bode well for reporters sniffing for scoops, but does well for the ability of the main players to finally keep their cards – and the game — on the table.
Sir Hilary has been the most flamboyant, far-reaching, visionary and activist Vice Chancellor, incomparable to any other in the unique way he’s led the institution in the past six years up to yesterday.
Not everyone likes or supports his style, but he’s shown the physical, material and practical results of his activist international outreach, which no one can say has been at all injurious to The UWI’s health.
The commission’s entire assessments and findings were made, looking ahead based on past performances and making forward projections and anticipations, considering likely scenarios within the context of distinct and identified possibilities and making recommendations based on worst case scenarios that can happen, but have not.
The Vice Chancellor’s supporters argue, however, that in order to paint the possibility of a dull future the Commissioners may have too-hurriedly overlooked the university’s long string of positive achievements under Sir Hilary’s watch.
But that eerie silence has ended and whether it will be followed by loud applause or more dead silence, will be known by tomorrow when we’ll all know for whom the bells tolled!
The results of yesterday’s meeting will be known across the region later today (Friday), but given the importance of the conclusions to its very future, I have no doubt at all that irrespective of whatever it is, The UWI will be there tomorrow (May Day 2021) – and next year.
Because The UWI’s survived everything thrown at it from the break-up of the Federation to now, for all of over seven decades, mainly, if not only because of the sterling leadership it has enjoyed from then to now — from Sir Arthur Lewis to Sir Hilary Beckles.
And of course, the likes of Saint Lucia’s Professor Sir Roy Augier!
Meanwhile, I dare say: Happy Holiday, UWI!