Wed | May 24, 2017

Professor Brian Meeks moves on

Published:Sunday | May 31, 2015 | 5:00 AMGary Spaulding
Meeks (at left)

Professor Brian Meeks has etched an enviable brand for himself in Jamaica's academic arena, and after spending 32 years at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, the respected scholar is set to bring the curtains down on one phase of his illustrious career.

Meeks, who teaches political science at UWI, is set to open an intriguing new chapter at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in the United States.

He will be chairing its Africana Studies Department, described as one of the foremost bodies of its kind that studies African descent in relation to, among other things, the Caribbean and Latin America."It (Brown University) is a very well-known liberal institution in the North East," Meeks tells Outlook as he describes his transition.

 

'interesting' tenure

 

A director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at UWI, Meeks describes his tenure as "interesting".

"I came here as a very junior assistant lecturer and I am fortunate to end as a professor with my personal chair," he asserts.

He adds: "I think I have had a good run and not least of which have been my dabbling occasionally in Jamaica's political affairs such as the 2008 People's National Party (PNP) assessment of its loss in the 2007 elections."

Meeks recalls that since he went to the UWI in 1983, he has served in a range of capacities. "There have been different components. I have seen the UWI go through very difficult and turbulent times, and it is still going through turbulent times, but I have spent very interesting years of my life here."

Meeks notes that in the large scheme of things, he has managed to play what he calls a small role in training a generation of young Jamaican/Caribbean people, many of whom have become leaders in their own right.

Meeks characterised the period when he ventured into the region's premier tertiary institution as "turbulent." He says Jamaica was languishing in steep economic mire at the time.

"The purchasing power of salaries at the UWI had plummeted and there was a lot of demoralisation among the faculty," recalls Meeks. "That was what I met when I came here."

Meeks also recalls a period of recovery in the 1990s under the leadership of Sir Alister McIntyre. "Working conditions improved tremendously and the research out put of the university improved," he states.

He told Outlook that when he went to UWI, there was only one (known) academic (personality) in the Department of Government who was outstanding in his work. That was Carl Stone. Meeks recalls that Stone produced some seminal work on political themes in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

"When I left the Department of Government to go to the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies in 2009, the Department could proudly look at the work from a variety of scholars," he said.

Meeks cites the rising stars which included Anthony Harriott, Stephen Vasciannie, John Rapley, Rupert Lewis, and himself.

"We had produced a body of work analysing political history, the international and domestic politics of the Caribbean over a span of 10 years," he said.

He revealed that one of the hidden facts about the 1990s early 2000s is that the social sciences at the UWI, in terms of sheer publishing, increased significantly over that period. "A lot of people are not aware of that."

For Meeks, he was fortunate to be a part of the planning of the 50/50 Conference in 2012.

An event he describes as the largest of its kind to be held at the UWI, reflected on 50 years in the Caribbean and looking forward to the next 50.

"In that time, more than 30 seminars and conferences leading up to and after that, ranged across all the possible things that happened in the 50 years of independence," he recalls. "That was certainly one of my greatest accomplishment - leading that process."

He adds: "I would put very close, if not, ahead of that, the Organisation of the Centre for Caribbean Thought at UWI which held more than 15 conferences in the early and mid 2000 on various critical Caribbean thinkers including Stewart Hall; Richard Hart George Lamming and others."

For Meeks, his protracted foray into academia was interspersed with some enjoyable moments. "I enjoyed the various commentaries from time to time that I have been fortunate to do with people like yourself and others in the media," he declares. "That has been my pleasure as opposed to my hardcore work as a teacher and researcher at Mona."