Tue | Jul 17, 2018

'Intellectual ghetto' redeemed - Motty’s label hurt and motivated UWI

Published:Monday | January 30, 2017 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Professor Archibald McDonald, principal and pro vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies.
Professor Mona Webber

Addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week, University of the West Indies principal, Professor Archibald McDonald, said while the label, "intellectual ghetto" hurt badly, it also served as a motivator to the faculty at the Mona campus.

"It hurt our feelings, but it didn't really damage us. What it really did was stimulated us to reflect and look at the work of the university, and we responded," said McDonald of the term coined by one of Jamaica's leading journalists, Wilmot 'Motty' Perkins, who died five years ago.

"We responded in more ways than one, and if you look at it today, the university is now closer to the Jamaican society than it ever was," added McDonald.

He accepted that there was need for revival in some areas, telling Gleaner editors and reporters that there were criticisms about the relevance or irrelevance of some courses offered.

According to McDonald, a concerted effort has since been placed on renewal.

"We responded to the criticisms, including that of Mr Perkins. We have been criticised for other things, including that our programmes are irrelevant. And the response is to introduce programmes that are beneficial to the Jamaican society.

"Programmes such as dentistry were introduced, because although there is a dental school in Trinidad, it can't supply the number of dentists that a country like Jamaica needs."




Citing a transformation of the science and technology programmes, McDonald said engineering studies has not only been a response to criticism about relevance, but a desire by the university to attract more male students.

As a result, a noticeable increase in the number of males has been recorded in some programmes.

"At one time, we had less than 25 per cent males enrolled in the university. By transforming the programmes, rather than just pure physics or pure chemistry, we have engineering, computing which attract more males, which is still not where we want it to be, but it has now increased to 33 per cent.

"So criticisms like that from Mr Perkins, if you take an open-minded approach, you use it to improve on it and we did. We welcome constructive criticisms, because what that does for us is to put things in perspective and, rather than us looking from inside, it may be a view that will help us to improve," said the university principal.

McDonald was supported by senior lecturer in the Department of Life Sciences, Professor Mona Webber, who believed that much of the criticism from Perkins was because the university did not do a good job of promoting itself.

"We don't let people know about what we are doing. So we have redesigned and reconfigured and restructured. But this expansion of our Research Day shows the importance of engagement and gives us an opportunity to showcase to the Jamaican society what we are doing.

"So we are not seen as this elitist institution, which is really because of a lack of knowledge by the wider society about what we are doing," said Webber.