ALL AH WE IS ONE: All things to all men
THE OCCASION of the 40th anniversary of the Faculty of the Social Sciences at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), and the resolve by its members to mark the occasion with opportunities for introspection have led to the anticipated public backlash of identifying the failures of the faculty.
So welcome are such criticisms that the organisers of a 40th anniversary special conference included among the panels a space for the university’s public to “Talk Back” to the faculty. Thus the private sector, labour, the media, the Public Service, past and existing students, were all invited to express their views on the faculty.
It is significant that the dominant negative feedback revolved around a narrative that whilst in the past the “old lecturers” used to engage with the public, the current crop is silent. As the narrative goes, the faculty’s public engagement has ended with persons like Frank Alleyne, Wendell McLean, Neville Duncan, Patrick Emmanuel, George Belle and Michael Howard. Significantly, this was the essence of an editorial in The NATION the very week of the launch of the anniversary celebrations.
It was also the gist of the media representative’s presentation on the “Talk Back” panel, who insisted that faculty members should cease the habit of “over-analysing” and intervene more quickly on public issues. There was also a suggestion that the media wanted to be assured that academics were not involved with politicians and with policy-making.
Clearly, there is an expectation that UWI academics should be all things to all men. While we are partially assessed internally on “public service”, this is not confined to media engagement. In addition, to respond to issues at the whim of the media would be the unmaking of any serious academic.
Finally, to the claim of the silence of the present crop of Cave Hill academics. It might have escaped notice that over 40 years, the oft-cited list of public intellectuals hardly exceeds five or six. Secondly, these “golden age” academics were “part-time” politicians, with some even leading and founding political parties. Measure this against the warning against political involvement.
Thirdly, those of us who engage the public often wonder about our deliberate erasure. Since 2010, I have written, without fail, a weekly column. Others like Brian Francis, Clyde Mascoll, Justin Robinson, Stacey Estwick, Dwayne Devonish, Cynthia Barrow-Giles, Jeremy Stephen, Winston Moore, Troy Lorde, Alana Griffith, Kristina Hinds Harrison, Wendy Grenade and others have never shied away from the media. In addition, we are publishing more profusely than at any other point in the history of the faculty, and are doing so while carrying far heavier loads of teaching and administration.
Those whose headlines read Social Sciences Should Do More might wish to consider whether they want us to be all things to all men.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email email@example.com.