The appointment of Dr Jessica Byron Reid to Professor at the University of the West Indies speaks to the best in us and the worst in our Institutions of higher learning. Let us hasten to add our congratulations to Jessica, from Hermitage, Nevis. Those who know her are not surprised at her elevation; she was always brilliant.
If you read the article carefully, you will notice how much excellent work Dr Byron Reid has done, and you can imagine the number of minds that she has moulded and nurtured while at UWI. You may also notice that the article repeats her resume, as if saying it once is not enough, and indeed it isn’t because it is certainly quite remarkable. But Dr Byron-Reid is not a newcomer to UWI; rather she has worked there for more than 25 years. Yet that was not mentioned, not once. Ironical!
This brings us to the worst in our institutions. Why has it taken UWI so long to recognise and appreciate genius, especially from amongst its own? We have known of persons, academics – whose resume is far less impressive in internationally recognised institutions of the highest learning – who have attained professorship a long time ago. How many times was Dr Byron Reid required to prove herself before the appointment was made? We argue that Dr Byron Reid wasn’t really promoted; the title of Professor has merely caught up with her!
Does the University of the West Indies conduct enough research in its own backyard? Why is it that many of our issues, which require attention from our greatest minds, are not getting any attention from UWI. How best to control monkeys? How best to control marauding donkeys? What is the best approach to crime prevention? Why are our societies so toxic to black young males? Where is the research? Where are the recommendations? And the list goes on.
A colleague of ours has described UWI as not being student friendly. He said that students are considered as failures before they pass their exams, rather than as successes unless they fail. It is an important philosophical distinction; one that manifests itself in a steady flood of students to Universities in the United States (in particular) and a mere trickle to UWI. That, too, needs to be addressed by UWI.
So even as we congratulate Jessica for her achievement and UWI for acknowledging what many of us already knew, we challenge this venerable institution to…be more Caribbean!