Sun | Jun 20, 2021

Update: Beckles' contract renewed as UWI VC despite Jamaica, T&T opposition

Published:Friday | April 30, 2021 | 3:58 PM
The approval was granted this afternoon during the ongoing meeting of the University Council, the highest decision-making body of the financially-struggling regional institution.

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles' contract as vice-chancellor of The University of the West Indies (UWI) has been renewed for another five years despite opposition from the governments of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

The approval was granted this afternoon during the ongoing meeting of the University Council, the highest decision-making body of the financially-struggling regional institution. 

The matter did not go to a vote and Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago reportedly said despite their positions, they would accept the council's decision. 

It's not yet clear whether another contentious issue involving Trinidad's push for Professor Brian Copeland to be given a post-retirement contract to continue as principal of the St Augustine Campus has been resolved.   

There was a fierce, racially tinged debate throughout the region over whether Beckles, 65, should continue as the executive head of the UWI.  

More than 140 academics, mainly from universities in North America and the United Kingdom, signed a petition to the council supporting Beckles amid claims that the chancellor, Robert Bermudez, wanted him out.  

The chancellor, The UWI's ceremonial head who is presiding over the council meeting, has not addressed the allegations.

Critics claim a 2020 governance report commissioned by Bermudez and which lamented, among other things, unchecked power wielded by UWI executives and hovering financial ruin were being used against Beckles.

Jamaica, sources say, seized on some of those concerns in refusing to back Beckles for another term.  

“Jamaica feels there's been too much extravagance at the university and fixing the financial situation needs new vision,” said a government official who did not want to be named because they were not authorised to speak on the issue.  

Jamaica's concerns were reportedly clear from as early as January and a subsequent guessing game ensued over whom the Andrew Holness administration prefers for the top job.

Attempts by The Gleaner to get a response from Jamaica's Education Minister Fayval Williams, who led the country's delegation at today's meeting, have been unsuccessful.

The university's leadership has reportedly pushed back at Trinidad on the Copeland issue, arguing that in light of the financial problems facing the institution, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19, it was curtailing all post-retirement contracts. 

Copeland is due to retire on July 31. 

Officials of the Dr Keith Rowley administration have reportedly said they will not back down.

- Jovan Johnson

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