Book Review: An underdog's metamorphosis
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Dr Alfred Sangster makes the underdog status of the then College of Arts, Science and Technology's (CAST), relative to its Papine/Mona neighbour the University of the West Indies (UWI), clear from the get-go. For while his just over 400-page The Making of a University: From CAST to UTech is about the transformation in orientation of the institution in Papine, St Andrew, UWI looms large.
So in his introduction, Sangster makes his established position in UWI's Chemistry Department at the time when he was asked to become principal of CAST in 1969 clear. He also says "... it could be said that the staff of the UWI - and students too, for that matter - regarded CAST as a very inferior institution and many students who went there went because they could not get into UWI".
And the transformation which Sangster records in a straightforward manner and restraint in linguistic flair befitting his scien-tific background is key to addressing this underdog status.
While the actual declaration of the new UTech is inherently laden with drama, Sangster takes a pain-stakingly detailed approach, from the institution's inception to that moment which automatically deflects focus on the declaration itself. In fact, the text-heavy, coffee table-style hardcover book is more of a detailed history of UTech up to 1996.
And Sangster makes it clear that "in a sense, the story in this book is a personal journey, but also one that embraces many people and organisations both within and outside the institution who helped to make that possible".
Therefore, we are not surprised to see personal details such as the Sangster family's experience living at CAST, a picture of Mrs Sangster driving in their then new car, and Sangster's clarification that he retired in August 1996, and did not resign as some later UTech publications have suggested. To his credit, the opening of the Alfred Sangster Auditorium is given muted treatment.
Sangster spares no detail in telling the tale of 'The Making of a University', which actually begins before CAST. Sangster goes back to the history of technical education in Jamaica, first centred on the Kingston Technical High School (KTHS), and then the Jamaica Institute of Technology (JIT), which would, in turn, become CAST. In doing so, he addresses one of the most commented on physical features of UTech, the trio of silos which go back to the farm school being located on the Hope property which JIT was eventually sited on. The silos were used to make tick-free feed stock for cattle.
To his credit, in writing the book, Sangster records the contribution of some who others would overlook. So, in recording the first two years of CAST, he notes the contribution of its first principal, Alistair Thomson, as well as Frank Needham, who effectively served as both acting principal and registrar when Thomson left.
But he also pays homage to Patrick Packeel and Agustus Allen, former head gardener and plumber, respectively, the former saying that before the campus was established, "Old Hope Road could not be seen from the campus and there were 25-foot trees that had to be cleared".
The detailing of not only the physical but also the human infrastructure that have made UTech continues throughout The Making of a University. Sangster includes diagrams and photographs of the campus, but he also includes notable staff members and alumni.
The institution's stellar sporting history is given excellent treatment, including its outstanding Inter-Collegiate Games record and the association with the International University Sports Federation. The 1988 hurricane Gilbert devastation of the campus is given the heaviest pictoral treatment in the book.
By the time we get to the pivotal moment when, "on September 1, 1995, the College of Arts, Science and Technology formally became the University of Technology, Jamaica", Sangster gives an extremely detailed treatise on the institution he played a pivotal role in shaping. However, he does not stop there. Sangster goes on to look towards the future, from the completion of unfinished halls of residence to the construction of a Student Union building.
He also notes some concerns for the future, among them "a potential loss of the 'technical' edge in competition with the 'academic' dimension". Also, he notes the potential for "the loss of a student-centred approach in the university management system. There are rumblings of an incipient bureaucracy which is not student friendly".
There are many students currently facing deregistration at UTech who might agree with that.