Wed | Sep 18, 2019

UWI U-TURN - Lecturer fired before getting chance to donate $3m salary to needy students

Published:Wednesday | August 21, 2019 | 12:20 AMCarlene Davis/Gleaner Writer
Williamson
Williamson

The university lecturer who had promised to give needy students his approximately $3 million in basic salary annually had his contract terminated by The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, amid questions about his mental state.

Dr René Williamson, who is trained as a chemical and biomedical engineer, was expected to take up his appointment as lecturer at the Mona campus on August 1 in the Faculty of Engineering on a three-year contract. However, it appears The UWI cut ties as the lecturer made his way on a flight to Jamaica from the United States where he was living.

Williamson, who is from Trench Town and attended Kingston College, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from Cambridge University. He also has a doctorate from Yale University in biomedical engineering and has done post-doctoral studies in biomolecular imaging at New York University (NYU).

He states that he has taught at NYU and Yale, as well as Johns Hopkins University and the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

“I reported to work on Monday morning (August 5), and while I was waiting to meet with the head of the department, I saw an email from the registrar’s office. The email was sent on the 4th, but the attachment was dated the 2nd of August. By that time, I was on a flight to Jamaica. I didn’t see the email until I showed up to work,” said Williamson.

Williamson had received a May 8, 2019 letter offering employment as a lecturer. However, earlier this month, he was notified that “on the basis that the documents you have presented are inadequate for an assessment of your present medical status, please be advised that The University of the West Indies hereby rescinds its offer of employment with immediate effect”.

MEDICAL RECORDS LEAKED

Williamson said that while The UWI has a right to hire and fire as it sees fit, his greatest concern is how his private medical information was handled. It was revealed on social-media platforms that he suffers from bipolar disorder and is dubbed the “mad professor who them fire after one day”.

“They didn’t follow a normal process in handling of those medical records because my medical information is now the subject of gossip in Jamaica and ridicule on different social-media platforms, and they didn’t follow normal process in making sure that my medical records were handled appropriately and confidentially. I think UWI needs to follow standard process. They need to be professional and they need to be respectful of a person’s reputation. I can’t speculate that the university has disclosed my diagnosis, but chances are that’s where it came from,” said Williamson.

He added that the university was negligent and took value from his brand.

The lecturer contends that while the email stated that he didn’t present sufficient evidence, he had sent all his medical records, totalling 500 pages, as he had even included records from the places that he had previously worked.

“All my medicals, according to the forms, were within the normal limits. In fact, it stated that I’m a healthy human being of 43 years old. I am a male at birth and I do not present as having any challenges at the time of my medical diagnosis. It includes the fact that I have a medical condition that is ongoing and chronic, so it does require me to work with my doctors privately to manage that, and in so far as I don’t represent a threat to myself or any other person and it doesn’t impede on my ability to do my job as a lecturer, then I believe and I hope that we would have continued along the normal process,” he said.

Williamson told The Gleaner that he had made all the preparations to relocate to Jamaica and had gone as far as to contact the schools of which he is an alumnus to start the process of collaboration to use their facilities.

“Any relocation of this sort is a significant expense. It was supposed to be covered by the university, by the way, according to the terms of the contract, but according to the advice of the dean, I would pay it upfront and then they would reimburse me. To date. I haven’t been reimbursed and I’m 16 days in Jamaica,” he told The Gleaner last Friday.

Asked to respond to the allegations of leaking the lecturer’s medical report and whether Williamson would be reimbursed for his expenses, The UWI sent The Gleaner a one-line response.

“The University of the West Indies, Mona campus, does not disclose information concerning terms of engagement with prospective employees or employees,” was all it said.

Williamson told The Gleaner his offer to donate his salary wasn’t done for fame but out of concern for students who are being deregistered because they cannot pay their tuition, a matter brought to his attention by Guild President Christina Williams. He said he had identified two medical students, a law student and another pursuing actuarial studies who would have benefited from this gesture.

Williamson is the executive chairman of the Shashamane Sunrise Foundation, a volunteer organisation that supports education in the developing world. He is also a senior partner in a company called Broad Haven Associates in the States.

“I live in the United States, as you know, and so I’m going home. It is my intention, though, to still try to contribute to life in Jamaica. One of the things I’m exploring is going into representational politics,” he said.

carlene.davis@gleanerjm.com