WHAT IS ‘PATRIOTISM’ IN THE UTT CONTEXT?

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Left: University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) San Fernando campus. Right: Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA). San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago. Note how the building ensemble forms an actual clef. Photo taken as part of the Southern Trinidad Aerial Photo Project, a small project sponsored by WMDE. Drone used: DJI Phantom 4. Snapshot taken from video footage via VLC.

UNMASKING UTT By JACK WARNER UTT PhD Student

This question has been buzzing in our minds for some time now in connection with UTT. As we con­sider some of the choices we see and hear are being made by UTT’s administra­tion and staff, the changes reported in the content and quality of programmes offered, the nasty lamentable elements of the current work context, which are often pointed out to Sunshine Today, the priori­ties and the foci of those at the top rung of the institution’s hierarchy, the question of patriotism, as an inherent quality in those at this institution, nags at us.
We wonder about our own idea of pa­triotism. Have we made it too narrow, too unattainable by most? Is having patriotism something for which one should be praised or is it just a quiet quality, which only takes on importance by its absence? For example, you get no pips for NOT walking up to an enemy and slapping them silly, as much as you may want to feel your hands giving them a well-deserved ‘cut tail.’ But if you do give in to temptation and do pummel someone, regardless of how well-deserved, that act becomes very important to your freedom. Is that how it is with patriotism? One must have it, with no expectation of praise if one does, but signs of unwillingness to be patri­otic should earn condemnation? Today, we want to interrogate more deeply these views, as they pertain to the UTT context and hope that you, the readers will give us feedback over the weeks to come.

What is Patriotism in any context?

We start with a generic Wikipedia defini­tion of patriotism and then tailor it to ‘patrio­tism,’ as it pertains to UTT. We find that we forever have to put ordinary words in quotes when we apply them to UTT. That institution seems to be a law onto itself, unwilling to fol­low or to practice even the most pedestrian of logical dictates. According to Wikipedia, “Patriotism or national pride is the feeling of love, devotion and sense of attachment to a homeland and alliance with other citizens who share the same sentiment.” That is a little saccharine sweet, as a whole, even for us but certainly it should resonate with most people as a reasonable match to their own general view of patriotism.

Can a Non-national be a ‘Patriot’ of Trinidad and Tobago?

UTT has an international staff. What does patriotism mean in that context? To us, it should mean exactly the same. Anyone who comes to Trinidad and Tobago, elects to work here at our national University, should feel a certain loyalty to the country, especially since this country is paying their salaries. We expect the non-nationals on work permits here to feel, if not love, some loyalty to Trinidad and Tobago. We expect them not necessarily to have devotion but to have respect for the country. They do not have to have a sense of attachment but they need to at least curtail their numerous trips abroad, stay in Trinidad and Tobago and do the jobs for which they are paid while they are on contract here. So yes, some form of ‘patriotism’ can and should be exhibited by non-nationals who are on work permits. These then should be the ‘patriots.’ We are willing to settle for loyalty, respect, and a physical presence on the job as a patriotism alternative for non-nationals. Maybe if they had these qualities, there would be fewer reports to Sunshine Today of the pervasive bad-mouthing of Trinidad and Tobago and the condescension towards subordinates we hear is so common among some UTT senior staff.

Patriots and Heroes

We have been hearing a lot about heroes recently. Some people are ‘heroes’ just for doing national service, some for just doing the jobs for which they are paid handsomely, some for being a good entertainer, others for winning even one Olympic gold medal, and so it goes. A ‘Hero’ has become anyone who stands out, anyone who achieves more than usual success. It doesn’t matter if they gain enormous advantage themselves while do­ing so. The word has become so hackneyed and is conflated with so many characteristics that it is almost impossible to get a unique definition. We found one on Wikipedia which seemed to capture what we ourselves believe: A hero is someone who does good and courageous things for other people with­out being asked to do them (and for no per­sonal gain).
That definition, if country is substituted for ‘other people’ is actually a good descrip­tion of a Patriot. One reason why the two, Patriots and Heroes, are not often conflated is because modern day “Heroes” expect ac­claim. They expect to be lionized and cel­ebrated as Heroes. A Patriot on the other hand is often just an ordinary person, out of a war context. He or she is simply someone vested in the development and improvement of country, someone who protects the envi­ronment, someone with a social conscience, someone who would never dream of selling out country for personal profit. Fill a coun­try with patriots and it will develop and im­prove. Fill it with too many ‘Heroes’ and individual and country agendas will almost certainly clash, with the country agenda tak­ing second place.
One thing we believe is that no Patriot, ‘Patriot,’ or Hero would ever be casually disrespectful to a subordinate. Deliberate discourtesy is more understandable and tol­erable that careless disrespect. At least when it is deliberate you know the discourteous person has given thought to you and respects you enough to be deliberate. Casual discour­tesy is far more galling. You are then not even worthy of being thought about and the discourteous person moves on with a clear conscience, if he or she needs one, neither knowing nor caring enough about you to even recognize that they have been discour­teous. If we believe that discourtesy is not part of the make-up of Patriot or Hero, then it is conceivable that UTT may very well have neither. So, let us check some areas in which we have questioned the actions of those at UTT and see, whether they do have Patriots and ‘Patriots’ there.

Patriotism and the Work Permit

We have noted in past articles that the work permit can be a gateway for the inap­propriate if there is not enough vigilance. Now we ask this. Would a Patriot abuse the work permit system? Would a Patriot jigger that system, exploiting favours, so as to let in anyone who could then harm the country or, specifically for UTT, the University? Or would he/she look for the best and brightest to invite and even then, wanting to protect the country, would a Patriot not do thorough credential and work history checks? And, if there is an error in judgment, what would a Patriot do then – cover it up to protect his/her own reputation and leave the bad apple in place or correct the error, cut losses, and start again? Which action fits the definition for patriotism, which we have taken pains to outline in the previous paragraphs? You, the reader, be the judge.

Patriotism and Cronyism

Cronyism in an academic institution oc­curs when someone in authority deliberately circumvents the proper channels and ap­points or promotes a friend/crony, a signifi­cant other, and/or a family member, who is not qualified and would not have earned that position on merit. Obviously crony appoint­ments weaken the quality of the academic (and corporate staff) and so the teaching/learning environment. So reader, here is the question, knowing that the institution would suffer, what kind of person would practice cronyism and what kind of person would turn a blind eye to it?
When that institution is the National Uni­versity, then the stakes get even higher. This institution is supported by Public funds. It is mandated to serve the public and the coun­try. When it is weakened, then the country is ill-served. So, again, would a Patriot or a ‘Patriot’ engage in cronyism or support it? Would a non-national, who is a ‘Patriot,’ from whom we expect loyalty and respect, so abuse the hospitality of the host country? Would a national Patriot support cronyism, facilitate the bringing in of someone so de­ficient in skills that the individual may not be able to even teach a course? We offer this question to the reader as well.

Patriotism and UTT’s Programme Content

UTT is only as strong as its programme content. Although, the institution needs to be mindful about competing with UWI, it must also ensure that it is serving the needs of the nation. There are few people in the world, other than Donald Trump, who refuse to rec­ognize the importance of the Environment. More importantly, Trinidad and Tobago’s Vi­sion 2030 puts it at high value. The Paris ac­cord, which we signed on to as a nation, con­siders it paramount. Yet, someone at UTT set in motion an action to close the big, produc­tive, and high quality Environmental Stud­ies programme, rich in applied research and servicing several Ministries, State agencies, and NGOs with its graduates and its techni­cal support. This programme was duplicated nowhere else, internally or externally. The institution and the country will be the poorer for its loss. So, was the individual who initi­ated this a Patriot or a ‘Patriot?’ We don’t need the reader’s opinion. What else could it be but absolutely NOT? Forget Patriot, that person was not even a good employee, considering the damage to the UTT learning environment and research culture that action caused. Still, it’s good to know, as we have seen reported in the Newsday, that one true Hero, no quotes necessary, decided to bring suit against UTT and hold them accountable for this travesty

Patriotism and Self aggrandizement

This follows on naturally from the above. Is it possible to serve oneself and the country or the national university at the same time? Yes, but only if one is vested in UTT’s fu­ture. In that case, whatever one does to help the University is at the same time gratifying. That said, self-aggrandizement transcends the mild emotion of quiet gratification for a job well done. It is that burning, hungry emotion which wants one thing only – to fill the irresistible craving for the limelight, for authority, for control, and yes, for money. It doesn’t matter what collateral damage there is to others, to colleagues or to students or even to the institution itself, that craving is constant. So, every act of self-aggrandize­ment is an unpatriotic act.

Patriotism and Malice

Anyone can practice malice and anyone can be the victim of it. Malice is often de­fined as ill will towards or the desire to hurt someone. At some time in nearly every per­son’s life, they may feel that desire to hurt someone but malice is reserved for the un­provoked feeling, when you essentially want to hurt someone who has not done you or anyone else harm. We will not pussy foot around and deal with hypotheticals. Sun­shine Today has featured too many articles on the appearance of rampant malice at UTT at many levels, often aimed at one or two special targets. If you read this newspaper regularly, then we need not elaborate. We need only ask and answer the pertinent ques­tion. Can patriotism and malice exist in the same person or even flower at the same in­stitution? Malice, like self-aggrandizement which often accompanies or foreshadows it, consumes those who bear it with a con­stant craving. They have one thought – to get that target – night and day. The likelihood is that they are distracted from their purpose by nothing, including the responsibilities of their jobs.
Malicious people are never productive. They are too busy being malicious, too busy filing frivolous and vexatious suits. Possi­bly, they are more often in the courts and at lawyers than in their offices. Again, to them, collateral damage to individuals or institu­tion is irrelevant. How then can they be ‘Pa­triots?’ Their single-mindedness makes them useless to institution and country. Improve­ment and productive agendas could not pos­sibly lie through such individuals. It would be like expecting oil to give off snowflakes.

Patriotism and Quality

Quality, sometimes defined as having a ‘degree of excellence,’ is expected to be mandatory for patriotism. It can’t be other­wise. By the same token, if the quality of the work environment in an institution is di­minished by self-aggrandizement, cronyism, malice, and poor programme content, among other negative elements, then we should not expect that patriotism would thrive. To a cer­tain extent, the reverse is true. If patriotism is missing. If staff in the institution are not willing to put UTT’s welfare first, if they are not gratified by just performing a service for UTT or for the communities it should be serving, then it would be almost impossible to find Quality there.

Patriotism and Honour

Honour is like Kryptonite to all of those things which negatively impact Quality. If there is honour, malice could not exist. If there is honour, cronyism would have no ap­peal because it would be too distasteful to bear. If there is honour, there would be no stepping on the backs of colleagues, no clos­ing of important programmes in order to get a career boost down the road, and no writ­ing of specious complaints in order to curry favour. In short, self-aggrandizement would be non-existent. Honour is what UTT needs to build Quality in the work environment, to have national staff who operate for love of institution and country, to have non-nation­als who bring loyalty to the institution and respect to their interactions with their col­leagues.
Most people would get angry if you ac­cused them of being unpatriotic. Many equate unpatriotic acts with terrorism, bombs, and. bombers, even though many terrorists consider themselves Patriots and harm other people’s countries more often than their own. If we ever feel inclined to be so narrow in our view, then we should re­member this.
When you slowly erode the foundations of your country, when you hinder development, when you greedily deplete its treasury by scooping every dollar you could from your government- sponsored workplace, then you might as well be a terrorist because you are definitely not a Patriot or a ‘Patriot.’