Student rights and wrongs

Published: Sunday | May 6, 2012 Comments 0
Carolyn Coope
Carolyn Coope

Carolyn Cooper, Contributor

The unconscionable students at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, who disrupted exams last Monday are clearly suffering from a very bad case of entitlement. This is a common disease that makes victims lose their grip on reality. You become delusional. You begin to believe you deserve certain privileges based purely on your perception of your own importance.

Psychiatrists define delusion as a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason. Delusions are really mind games. You can persuade yourself to believe whatever you want. And you end up playing all sorts of fantastic roles. The English word 'delude' is a combination of the Latin preposition 'de' (down) and the verb 'ludere' (to play). The name of the popular board game, Ludo, comes from that same Latin verb. It means 'I play'.

'Play-play' students who can't afford to pay their school fees aren't letting that little fact stop them from enjoying delusions of grandeur. Downplaying their vulnerability, they become demanding. They insist on illusory rights. A sane person who hasn't been able to rustle up his or her school fees for a whole academic year would probably feel just a little bit embarrassed. By contrast, the victim of entitlement is a textbook case of 'poor show great'.

Delusional individuals are often very selfish. The world revolves around them. So those self-centred UWI students who 'mashed up the place' decided, quite irrationally, that if they couldn't take exams, nobody else should. It didn't matter that those students who had actually paid their fees were literally entitled to take exams. Too bad for them!

Regional disparities at UWI

The cure for entitlement isn't simply a healthy dose of reality. The disease is far too complicated for that. In fact, the more you expose victims to reality, the less willing they are to face it. Or the truth about themselves! It's a truly vicious cycle. Reality is so painful it's best to maintain the illusion that you are above it all.

I suspect that one of the reasons some students at Mona feel they are entitled to 'free' education is because they know that UWI students in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago do not pay tuition fees. But, as they say in T&T, 'Gopaul luck eh Seepaul luck'. The Jamaican equivalent is 'puss an dog no have di same luck' - no disrespect to Gopaul and Seepaul, who are neither feline nor canine. The parallel structure of the proverbs is purely accidental.

The Jamaican economy, at present, is very unlucky indeed. We have mismanaged our affairs and squandered our natural resources. Demand for bauxite has fallen on the world market. Sugar used to be king but is now definitely dethroned. And bananas no longer have special passports into Europe. Unlike Trinidad and Tobago, we have no vast stores of oil or natural gas. Most of our politicians are full of hot air, but that doesn't count.

On a recent visit to Trinidad, I had a most depressing conversation with the taxi driver who was taking me to the airport. He gleefully told me that he keeps on four 300-watt bulbs at his house all night, every night, one on each corner of the building. Living under the ruthless rule of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), I was dumbstruck at the thought of the cost of such extravagance. I keep on four 25-watt bulbs.

When I recovered my tongue, I asked the taxi driver if he couldn't use less wattage. He said, "Nah." He likes to see the bright lights. But, I persisted. "Is not expensive?" His response: "Nah. Electricity cheap-cheap." I pressed along: "What if all yuh run out of oil?" "Nah! Dat not happenin fa now." So what about the next generation? That was none of his concern.

For my blogpost last week on the degradation of Long Mountain, I found a beautiful proverb of Greek origin: 'A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.' I don't think that grand idea would move my Trini taxi driver to turn down the lights. He could not imagine a future without oil.

'One-one coco full basket'

The Mona campus of UWI can barely pay its electricity bills. It needs the tuition fees that students are required to contribute. True, these fees represent a relatively small percentage of the total campus budget. But 'one-one coco full basket' - it all adds up.

The university administration has bent over backwards to accommodate students in arrears, urging them to come up with a payment plan. Those who were debarred seem to have made no attempt to comply. They have spent the entire academic year living in a fool's paradise, expecting that there would be no consequences for their inaction.

Furthermore, many students don't seem to realise that tuition fees at Mona are actually subsidised. Most students automatically get a scholarship to the tune of 80 per cent of the full economic cost of tuition. The 20 per cent that students pay is a mere token fee. As I remember it, Sir Kenneth Hall, former campus principal, was the first to make this salient point. With his experience as a senior administrator at a major state university in the US, Professor Hall certainly understands the economics and politics of funding tertiary education.

University education is never 'free' - not even in Barbados or Trinidad and Tobago. Somebody is paying the price. Not the student directly; but all taxpayers are covering the cost. And they expect returns on their investment. Graduates of tertiary institutions must contribute to the development of their societies. Delusional students who think they are above paying tuition fees are not likely to accept the terms of this social contract - if they ever manage to graduate. Obviously, they are entitled to a free ride for life.

Carolyn Cooper is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com/. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.

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