Tue | Nov 30, 2021

Pontius Pilate governance at UWI?

Published:Sunday | June 1, 2014 | 12:00 AM

In fundamentalist Christian Jamaica, it's fair to assume that the story of Pontius Pilate is very well known. But for the benefit of those who have may have forgotten, here's a reminder.

It's from Matthew 27, King James Version: "22 Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. 23 And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified."

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it."

Pontius Pilate's washing of his hands has become a troubling symbol of moral cowardice: claiming innocence while failing to prevent evil. I kept on thinking of Pilate's dilemma as I tried to understand the problematic way in which administrators at the University of the West Indies have handled the complicated matter of what to do with Professor Brendan Bain.

The goodly professor is no crucified Christ. He gave a statement to a court of Belize that was likely to be used in support of retention of the country's outdated law that criminalises "carnal intercourse against the order of nature". Whether he knew it or not, it now seems that one of his duties as director of Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Initiative was to actively support repeal of that backward law across the Caribbean. So a conflict of interest arose that required his dismissal.

Well, that's what all the experts in law, ethics, management studies and so on appear to be saying. As a non-expert, I'm sceptical. I would very much like to see the terms of reference for Professor Bain's job as director of CHART. From what I know of him, I'm confident that Professor Bain is a man of integrity. I'm sure he would not have agreed to take any job that forced him to act against his conscience. I speculate that he did not know he was supposed to become a gay-rights activist.

WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE?

Men who have sex with men are not the only constituents served by CHART. The primary mission of the project is to provide medical care for people of all sexual persuasions. The success of Professor Bain's management of CHART should not be measured only by his apparent failure to support repeal of that unconscionably discriminatory law.

All the same, men who have sex with men, and, more broadly, human-rights activists across the region have vigorously asserted that they have absolutely no confidence in Professor Bain's capacity to direct CHART. Apparently, he's no longer qualified to manage the provision of high-quality health care to persons who are living with HIV/AIDS.

But where is the evidence to support this claim? Physicians routinely treat patients whose personal lives are a closed book. In good conscience, they do not allow their private prejudices to adversely affect the professional care they offer. So why is this different in Professor Bain's case? It seems as if those who called for Professor Bain's crucifixion wanted his head, not so much the professional medical care that CHART has been undoubtedly providing under his leadership.

Professor Bain made the damning court statement in September 2012, while he was still a tenured member of staff at the University of the West Indies in good and regular standing. Given the way in which scandalous rumour circulates in our region, I suspect that Professor Bain's statement soon became public knowledge. Presumably, the outcry against his continued leadership of CHART erupted almost immediately.

BAIN BANDWAGONISTS

If so, why was he offered a post-retirement contract in 2013 to continue as director of CHART? Was it because he was doing his job well? On Professor Bain's convenient retirement, UWI administrators could simply have appointed a new director who would better fit the profile required by CHART's powerful constituents and their advocates across the region.

Having failed to take that line of least resistance, UWI administrators found themselves mired in controversy. In order to belatedly appease the crowd of objectors to Professor Bain's extended appointment as director of CHART, they washed their hands of the matter. They asserted that Professor Bain was no longer an employee of the university and was expendable. He was on contract. But if not at UWI, then where? Not even Pontius Pilate would have gone so far with the hand-washing.

There is no easy moral to this story. It forces us to answer difficult questions about rights, responsibilities, entitlement and disenfranchisement. Human-rights activists must acknowledge how difficult it can be to surrender long-held convictions about 'natural' sexuality in conservative societies such as ours. Even for them! And fundamentalist Christians who have jumped on the Bain bandwaggon must examine their motives. Their own fiery God of the Old Testament has not empowered them to pass judgement. Queer people are here to stay. And we simply must find a way to live together. Or all hell will break loose.

Carolyn Cooper is a teacher of English language and literature. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.