UWI officials to appear before Parliament
Officials from The University of the West Indies (UWI) are due to appear before the Jamaican Parliament next week amid news that Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles is investigating the chancellor, Robert Bermudez, the ceremonial head of the...
Officials from The University of the West Indies (UWI) are due to appear before the Jamaican Parliament next week amid news that Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles is investigating the chancellor, Robert Bermudez, the ceremonial head of the regional institution.
The university team is expected to face the Human Resources and Social Development Committee on January 12. A previous meeting was set for November 16.
Lawmakers invited The UWI to discuss the damning 2020 governance report commissioned by Chancellor Bermudez, and which Education Minister Fayval Williams tabled in the House of Representatives last June.
The report is viewed by some critics as an effort to discredit the stewardship of Beckles, a historian and leading global voice on reparation from European enslavement.
The UWI is facing financial ruin and maintains a “dysfunctional” corporate governance structure beset with conflicts of interest and weak accountability mechanisms, the report argued.
It has proposed a series of major changes, some of which would weaken the powers of the vice chancellor, who is the executive head of the regional university.
At a meeting last April, the University Council renewed Beckles’ contract for another six years despite objections from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago – the two most powerful contributing countries – that argued that the university needed new leadership to fix the financial and governance problems.
The council is the highest decision-making body and includes government representatives.
The Sunday Gleaner broke the news over the weekend that Beckles, a Barbadian, established a six-member committee, chaired by Jamaican lawyer Milton Samuda, to probe his contract renewal and then report to him.
It means Beckles’ committee is investigating not just Bermudez, but also the council, that is chaired by the chancellor.
Heroy Clarke, who chairs the parliamentary committee, said that issue was not on the agenda for next week’s meeting, but noted that members may raise their own “legitimate and legal” questions.
Human resource issues
The UWI issued a statement on Monday that did not specifically address the probe of the contract, although it confirmed that human resource issues that emerged over the 2020-2021 school year were being examined.
“Specific developments in the human resource culture produced a state of deep governance concern and anxiety within the community,” the statement said of what was deemed “worthy” of an investigation and the establishment of an “independent review committee”.
It said the committee was set up in accordance with the relevant regulations and a report will be submitted “shortly”.
The UWI said that at its last sitting in July 30, the University Council “was notified of this intention”.
Asked to clarify whether the council was specifically informed that the committee would investigate the renewal of Beckles’ contract, the university redirected The Gleaner to its unclear statement that triggered the query.
Precisely what the council and its chancellor-chairman knew in July could be of significance based on a letter the chancellor sent Beckles, in addition to his response to the review committee’s chairman, who gave him 72 hours to answer 15 questions.
Bermudez wrote to Beckles on December 15, saying, “it has come to my attention that you have established a committee to investigate … certain matters that engaged the attention of council”.
“This is a matter of grave concern,” he said, adding that he was sending his letter and the one from the chairman “of your purported committee to all members of council for their consideration and such action as they may consider appropriate”.
In acknowledging Samuda’s December 13 letter on the same date he wrote Beckles, Bermudez spoke of his “personal concern as chancellor about the establishment of your committee and its purported authority”.
There are concerns in UWI’s senior leadership ranks that the process of renewing of the vice chancellor’s contract may not have followed established protocols.
And the questions to the chancellor sought answers on those concerns in addition to whether Bermudez took advice from any regional government and if he held a meeting with Beckles who it appears is to retire after three years on the renewed contract.
The sole task of Beckles’ committee, based on its terms of reference, was to “enquire into, make findings, report on and make recommendations” on the issues arising from the circumstances under which the vice chancellor’s contract was renewed.
The committee was established in September and was given three months to do its work.
News of Beckles’ investigation has confounded several of his colleagues at the university, with most questioning the approach, rather than the subject matter.
“It is disturbing,” said an official. “How can you have a committee made up of employees sitting in judgement of the actions of council and the chancellor?”