By JACK WARNER UTT PhD Student
As UTT celebrated another graduation day, we thought we would reflect on the past year from Graduation 2018 on November 14th and 15th to this 2019 Graduation on November 13th and 14th. It is worthwhile to recap the changes in UTT over this last year. There have been many developments, some more striking and astonishing than others, few of them, if any, we feel we can point to and say ‘Ah, there was progress!’
Why do we feel this is important? Why review these particular 12 months? Because this period started off with some events of discourtesy and disrespect which should never have happened and which set up a domino effect, with numerous repercussions, some of which are only now being revealed. The unfortunate consequences of these do not just have the potential but, from what Sunshine Today has learned, they will almost assuredly result eventually in embarrassing exposure of many aspects of UTT’s industrial climate, including its staff appointments. When that time comes, we hope that people will remember the triggers, Graduation 2018, being a big one but not the only one because many followed in the year since. We hope that people will take careful note of what went wrong and understand, that some behaviours doom a process to failure, regardless of what that process is. Among these behaviours, we could name the aforementioned ‘disrespect’ and ‘discourtesy’ but add to that dishonesty, lack of integrity and ethics, self-aggrandizement, laziness, incompetence, and facilitation of all of those traits mentioned.
Graduation 2018 and the Chancellor
We can start with the positive. We had the first female President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and because of the UTT’s tradition of making the Republic’s President its Chancellor, President Paula Mae Weekes also became the University’s first female Chancellor, following Maxwell Richards and Anthony Carmona, former Presidents of the Republic, who had both served admirably in this position. From what we understand, there was boastful exceitement among both female students and staff at the thought of graduation with the first female UTT Chancellor.
Many thought that UTT would have rolled out the red carpet, conveyed its appreciation and respect by setting up good facilities and ensuring that all protocols were observed. In fact, they did just the opposite. In the midst of constant daily November showers, UTT chose to put no covering between the main academic building from which students and staff, followed by the Chancellor’s party, would normally process.
They attributed this lack of proper facilities to budget cuts, even though they knew they had devoted tens of thousands of dollars just the week before to fund a staff member’s Paris sojourn. It was the first sign of where UTT’s priorities lay at that point in time- one staff member was valued more highly, it appears, than guests and more than a thousand graduates, who had to be bussed from the main building to the tent. There was no procession. Staff, students, and their guests all had to scramble from the main building and from their cars over water-soaked lawns since there was no pathway.
They landed in the main building wet and uncomfortable. Got knows how many got sick from sitting, soaking wet, for hours in an air-conditioned environment.
Then there were the protocol issues. President Paula Mae Weekes is first and foremost the President of the Republic and, after that, the Chancellor of the University. On the first day, it was clear that her protocol people had not been properly briefed.
They were obviously not told of what would be expected of her – if and where she should stand, how she should greet the graduates, among other aspects of her role on that stage. It was a gross oversight on the part of UTT’s Corporate Communications Unit, probably because their attention was elsewhere, on another female. It was also grossly disrespectful. Male Presidents have the male privilege to wing it.
Her Excellency is NOT one of the boys. If she ever starts shirking protocols, she runs the risk of introducing familiarity (and then condescension) in the people, especially men, with whom she interacts and she would open herself to criticisms of all
Desperation to fit in is the mark of the weak. Her Excellency obviously knows her protocols and her best bet is to stick to those guidelines. UTT then must learn the correct protocols. We really hope they have by now because her second day last year wasn’t much better than the first.
Why? What were they thinking? Were they thinking at all? Why such casual, sloppy treatment? Did they think she should have been grateful to be named Chancellor? We would hate to think that UTT does not respect women, especially women in authority but there are too many clues that such a possibility exists. Consider the next big event of Graduation 2018.
Graduation 2018 and Professor Valerie Stoute
The other history-making event of Graduation 2018 was the blocking of a senior academic at the outer gate of the O’Meara campus. Professor Valerie Stoute, a national of this country with impeccable internationally respected qualifications of the highest level, was literally treated like a common criminal.
The car in which she was travelling to attend Graduation 2018 was blocked by a van and the Head of Security was overheard threatening that he had been ‘given powers of arrest’ and would arrest and jail her if the car in which she was travelling did not turn back. He also did state that UTT would accept the consequences if that happened. We suspect those consequences are coming just for that threat and UTT will indeed have to accept them.
After all, if an academic institution is bold enough to grant someone, ANY ONE, the ‘powers of arrest,’ particularly to arrest a member of the public, who committed no crime, just for trying to enter a public space with a legitimate invitation, then they had better be bold enough to justify their temerity.
It was a travesty of enormous proportions, disrespectful in the extreme and justifiable in no way whatsoever. Corporate Communications, the same unit which couldn’t be bothered to ensure protocols were observed for the Chancellor, issued a statement, branded as false then and now by Professor Stoute, that she had applied for permission and been refused and that her letter of administrative leave specified that she could not participate in any UTT related activities.
UTT blocked this exceptional female academic, while giving entrée to a set of junior academics, some of whom reportedly abused that privilege by acting like grinning male hyenas, mocking and jeering at someone who is obviously their superior in more ways than one. And why should they not have done this? They simply followed the example of more senior people. I personally complained to the Minister of Education under whose portfolio UTT falls. He was flabbergasted and incensed. But, as expected, nothing happened especially with his breakfast colleagues, de facto UTT Chairman Professor Clem Imbert.
At the time this newspaper reached Professor Stoute for comment and she clarified some of the above details for us. This year she called them vivid in her memory. We asked her if she would be attending this year’s graduation.
She responded in this way “I was offered invitations for both days by graduands, just as I was last year. At first, I thought I would go. I wanted to see the last M.Sc. Environmental Science and Management cohort graduate and, of course, I always want to see the Research candidates get their degrees. I know them all. I taught them all. Every year, from 2008, I attended both days of graduation, until 2018, when I was blocked on the second day. Attending graduation is a sacrifice. The ceremonies are long and boring. I attended to support the students from the Certificate level all the way up to the Doctorate. I don’t know that I can make that sacrifice for UTT anymore. I want to make it for the students but I have to preserve my peace of mind. I don’t want to get aggravated or angry. Frankly, I don’t see how I could be anything else. I have not yet reached that Zen state where I can suffer fools and liars gladly. So I think I will have to pass. Last year, UTT managed to disrespect two women by blocking me from the ceremony and failing in their observance of proper protocols for their new Chancellor. This year the Chancellor is on her own. I really hope they are more appreciative of her than what I saw last year. Otherwise, this may very well be her last year as Chancellor!”
Since I too had an invitation to attend I urged the Professor to come together with me and let UTT put out both of us but she refused to budge from her position.
November/December 2018:‘Blonde’ Ambition
Post-graduation saw some people riding high in November and December 2018. Flushed with success from what they thought was their victory over Valerie Stoute, they continued to ‘feed their fat.’ We understand Conference papers were published to pump up resumes.
It seems that there was a push to fill, strategically, the three new top academic posts – one Vice President and two Assistant Vice President posts. The favorites were all nicely positioned and there was even an applicant from that Military Technological College in Oman, which seems to want to be a feed-stock for new UTT staff appointments. Unconfirmed rumours report that a front runner had emerged for the top post, at
We have no confirmation that this is true but what we have heard is that none of the people interviewed was finally appointed to any of these posts when they were filled in September 2019. We have our suspicions as to why but we will wait for when all is revealed soon –most likely in court proceedings.
January 2019 – Present: An Unprecedented Path
As we indicated in an article last month, January 2019 began a phase for UTT, which is unprecedented for Tertiary Education institutions anywhere in Trinidad and Tobago, and probably rare anywhere else. In January 2019 the first of seven UTT related lawsuits, all attached directly or indirectly to one individual, was launched. Now the rest are out there – against then current staff, former staff, and outside institutions.
The only parts of the ecosystem not touched by litigation from this individual are the institution itself, Board members, and students, but it’s early days yet and those may be coming soon. What has come or will be coming, though, may be suits against UTT, which are related, again directly or indirectly, to that same individual. So, this begs the question. Can someone involved in this much litigation be doing ANY constructive work? Should we the public, as UTT’s owners, demand an accounting and an explanation from the institution?
This may have begun in January 2019 but it has dominated the UTT landscape for 2019 and promises to do so in 2020, introducing a distracting and embarrassing component to the learning environment. Anyone who thinks all of this will be settled secretly and quietly in default judgments in judges’ chambers should have another think coming. The stage is set for vigorous defenses and/or counter suits in open court – PUBLIC hearings. So, when the House of Cards comes down, it will do so publicly. Anyone with ‘cocoa in the sun’ should never initiate a law suit. Only the stupid guilty risk exposure in a court. Only the weak frightened are afraid of the guilty
February- July 2019 – Amazing
FOIA applications hit UTT like an avalanche and the responses and non-responses to them yielded important clarifying information about a lot of acts, which it is clear the perpetrators thought would be kept secret forever. Some of these apparently included specious cowardly and unsubstantiated complaints, which made claims that could easily be challenged if ever exposed. Now they have been exposed. From what we understand, they will be challenged and, according to our source, “those people, so lacking in integrity that they were willing to write and twist incidents, to sully the reputations of staff and graduates alike, just to advance themselves, will now be shown to be what they are, namely ambitious self-serving liars, who could not make it as quality academics on their own
August 2019 to Present– Chaos Reigns!
The rumoured retrenchment, the result of ‘restructuring,’ was finally realized in August-September 2019 and all hell broke loose. The lay-offs, intended to be 199 corporate, academic support, housekeeping staff hit several key areas hard. The so-called entrepreneurial University decimated its Business Development Unit. As the new term began, the ‘University’ eviscerated the Registry and the Examinations Unit, leaving new and returning students in the lurch. We are told that there are students in nearly all programmes, who are attending classes without being registered or registered elsewhere. Given that the Examinations Unit is also badly depleted, how will that unit handle grades for students not in their system when examinations roll around in
The loss of staff may have been larger than expected or wanted. Some people were not retrenched outright but they were deployed and/or demoted. Some found their new circumstances intolerable and opted to take a severance package and leave. Among these was the former Registrar, who departed when his position was removed from the new Organizational Structure. Perhaps, he felt that any University, which abolishes the position of Registrar, shouldn’t be taken seriously and wasn’t worth his time or commitment.
The important gaps left by the retrenchments and resignations are now being filled by an odd procedure, in which people are being shifted because of a salary rather than a competency match. This doesn’t seem to be working and problems remain throughout the institution. There is no indication this will change any time soon. The filling of the three top academic positions ( one Vice and two Assistant Vice Presidents) meant to put some balance into the system, has not paid dividends so far – maybe because their roles are not clear to them or
Graduation 2019 – Full Circle
So now we come to Graduation in 2019. UTT outdid itself. In a year when, according to our experts, the University committed two major Quality errors by graduating the only doctorate in the world in a particular area (not a plus) and passing off what could only be described as a ‘Dis-honoris’ Causa award as an earned Doctorate, the UTT administration is up in arms, angry because they believe they were dissed by their Chancellor. Ironic! (Do so doh eh like so, apparently!)
She has refused to lower her standards to theirs and they find that upsetting. Her Excellency made her requirements known to UTT early. We know because someone at UTT leaked them to social media and some nasty comments have been floating around.
All students should have been alerted to what would obtain at the ceremonies. Why then be angry when this punctilious lady did what she specified?
What President Paula Mae Weekes wants is to be the Chancellor of a University whose standards match her own. Previous Presidents and Chancellors, Maxwell Richards and Anthony Carmona, for most of their terms, presided over a much better UTT than this Chancellor has been handed. UTT needs to raise its standards not ask the President of our Republic to dumb hers down to theirs. If they continue, they may need to find another Chancellor.