Editorial | Chance for UTech revamp
Based on his resume, Fayval Williams, the education minister, could hardly have made a better choice than Lloyd Carney as chancellor of the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech). The big question, though, is what Mr Carney perceives his mandate to be, what has been asked of him, and what power he has to get things done.
If Minister Williams and Mr Carney are thinking like this newspaper, the chancellor’s priority will be to take UTech back to its core, to an institution whose output is more closely aligned with its name, and to guide the establishment of an income-generating endowment regime that places the university on a path to self-sustaining growth. The latter, if he is so inclined, ought to be well within Carney’s capabilities. With respect to the former, however, he will probably have a major challenge persuading entrenched interests to change tack. Or, he may have to employ an expansive interpretation of his powers.
Until last week’s announcement of his appointment, Lloyd Carney’s name was not widely known in Jamaica, except, perhaps, for boys who went to Wolmer’s High School with him in the 1970s. He is 60. Mr Carney, however, is widely known and highly respected in America’s world of digital technology and venture capital investment. He is Silicon Valley-connected.
He is the founder and chairman of Carney Technology Acquisition Corp II (CTAC II), a special-purpose company that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for technology investment. A previous interation of the company, CATC II, raised over US$200 million for the acquisition of the Nasdaq-listed digital engineering company Grid Dynamics.
Additionally, Lloyd Carney has held many leadership roles, including CEO posts, in top digital companies, among them Brocade Communications System, a storage network systems provider, until its US$5.5-billion acquisition by Broadcom Inc. His CATC ventures apart, Mr Carney has invested in several technology venture funds.
While Mr Carney’s global corporate successes have been profiled in major business publications, including Forbes, in a 2020 interview on LinkedIn, the networking site for professionals, he credited much of his outlook on life and his approach to business to the values he learnt in Jamaica from his parents and grandparents. He said of his grandfather, who owned a haberdashery and a hardware store, among other businesses: “Every Saturday, all the money came in and all of it was counted, and everybody had to take responsibility.
“We measured the things that were important to us in the business. And throughout my career, I’ve had this mantra that if it is valuable to you, and it is important to you, you should figure out a way to measure it.”
If, and how, Mr Carney seeks to apply those principles at UTech will be determined by his vision for the place, including if, like us, he wants to see it transformed into a world-class technology academy. Which is not to suggest that UTech – formerly the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST) – does not do good work. It is that, in our view – which is shared by many – it is in danger of permanently losing its way. It has long been meandering.
BASTION OF LIBERAL ARTS
UTech, it seems, wants to become a general university, focused as much on training students in the humanities and social sciences as it is in providing graduates with STEM-related and other technical degree – skills which are in short supply in the economy. Indeed, of the 12,463 students registered at the university in 2018-19, over 4,700 of them, 38 per cent, were in its School of Business and Management. Another three per cent were enrolled in humanities and social science courses, and two per cent were studying law. In other words, more than four in 10 students enrolled at UTech were studying subjects other than science or technology. It might soon also want to be a bastion of the liberal arts.
It may be that is the easiest way UTech’s management believes the university can attract students – providing the courses that are in high demand, which students believe are easy to get into, as they search for university education.
We, however, believe it to be the wrong approach. It leads to an inefficient use of the institution’s limited resources and a weakening of what, for more than half a century, starting with CAST, Jamaicans presumed to be the university’s core mandate: training globally competent people in technical areas. Unfortunately, the mandate is not spelled out in those specific terms either in the law establishing UTech, or in its charter. Perhaps the matter should be revisited.
Given Mr Carney’s background, we assume that he might be inclined to have UTech shift gears. However, the law is ambiguous on the chancellor’s powers to drive change and impose his will.
For example, while the university establishes a chancellor, “who shall be head of the university” and requires that he preside over at least one meeting of the governing council annually, the only definitive power it gives to that person is to grant degrees. The substantive chairman of the council is the pro-chancellor. Much of the administrative authority rests in the hands of the president and the academic board.
In the circumstances, it may well be that Mr Carney’s role is largely ceremonial. Unless he is determined to interpret it differently and become an activist chancellor.