In early February, cultural icon Rex Nettleford died suddenly. An intellectual and brilliant dancer, Professor Nettleford was still serving as a lecturer and vice chancellor emeritus of UWI when he passed away at 77.
These men were not singularly administrators. They were also academics whose visionary voices resonated in the academy and beyond. Both men produced exuberant bodies of work, including a number of books. Both proved to be beautiful thinkers, beautiful writers and beautiful citizens of the Caribbean.
Professors Nettleford and Beckles appreciated that the life of the community, both national and pan-Caribbean, requires a cultivation of the life of the mind, of the imagination and of the human spirit -- with a Caribbean flavour. They dedicated themselves to these tasks through a fierce commitment to rigorous critical inquiry.
Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s 28th and first female president, oversees a complex university system and a multibillion dollar endowment. She is also an accomplished historian, having written six books. As is expected of many university heads, she holds an academic post, that of Lincoln Professor of History.
Her presidential website inspires with provocative and considered speeches, letters and thoughts on a plethora of issues in the public square. As Harvard’s president, she has at her command, and brings to contemporary debates in that square, cutting-edge thinking and centuries of wisdom.
Sadly, some who regularly comment on public affairs are ignorant of the historic and classic mission of the university, including the essential attributes and role of a university head. One such commentator writes under the nom de plume of Illuminati.ILLUMINATING
As Illuminati refers to him or herself in the first person, it appears that he or she is an individual, not a group of writers. This is curious, because illuminati is plural, defined as a group “claiming to be unusually enlightened with regard to a subject or having special religious enlightenment”. The singular form is illuminatus.
Someone who stylizes himself or herself as having specialized knowledge really should adopt a more precise appellation. Still, the identity of the writer is less important than the content of their commentary.
Illuminati took issue with an earlier Front Porch column which offered that the president of COB should have a doctorate: “The president of the College should be an administrator, not necessarily an educator. If the president needs a doctorate, it should be in business administration.”
There goes centuries of cross-civilizational wisdom and experience, blown up and discarded by happy ignorance and intellectual torpor. Underlying this narrow understanding of the role of the university and its head is a limited worldview that sees just about every societal function and national institution primarily through the lens of running a business.
Here, efficiency is the master virtue at the expense of other necessary virtues. Perhaps, if Illuminati read more of the classics he or she would know that every constellation of virtues should be tempered by prudence, the virtue that balances other virtues. University heads must juggle their responsibilities as administrator, public intellectual, fundraiser, and other essential roles inherent to their office.
A university must be efficiently run. But, it is not primarily a business. The new president of an emerging University of the Bahamas should also be a scholar and a thinker like Sir Hilary, who holds a doctorate, or Professor Nettleford, who did not. The president should not solely or primarily be a numbers cruncher.
Illuminati also attempts a shopworn and sophomoric trick: “Simon also thinks the appointment of a fellow West Indian should be an interim measure, with an accelerated programme to identity possible Bahamian candidates. Demanding a West Indian is racist and discriminatory. Rather, the appointment should go to the most qualified person, no matter their nationality.”Illuminati’s ignorance on race is illuminating. West Indian is not synonymous with black, though that is obviously what he or she seems to think. This type of thinking is racist, similar to another insidious meme that interprets the word black as failure and white as success. Front Porch argued for a Caribbean president. At last check, West Indians are white, black, Asian, Indian, mixed race, et al.
Besides availing him or herself of an anthropology class at COB, Illuminati may also wish to enroll in Introductory Logic. One of the false arguments Illuminati might study is that of reductio ad absurdum, Latin for “reduction to the absurd”. This “is a form of argument in which a proposition is dis-proven by following its implications to a logical but absurd consequence”.
In Illuminati’s carnival of the absurd an insistence on all of the following would be considered “racist and discriminatory”: A Bahamian as chairman of the National Trust; a Canadian to lead the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; an Israeli to head its defence force; an Egyptian to head its national museum system; a French citizen to head the Louvre; and a Brazilian to lead Brazil’s public university system.
While we are at it, why don’t we contract out the running of the Bahamas to a multinational, say Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley, the gold standards in efficiency, if one is willing to forget the little matter of massive government bailouts. Perhaps a generally economically well-run Bahamas can offer to those “too big to fail” some genuinely fiscally conservative advice.
Insistence on a national of a country leading core institutions is not primarily about administrative competence and “business administration”. It is about identity and history. Unless, of course, Illuminati believes that culture and heritage are irrelevant. In this case, the Vatican can as equally be managed by a competent Muslim imam with a doctorate in business administration.
Illuminati concludes that because the Bahamas has less than 100,000 literate adults: “It would be extremely short-sighted to demand that the president of the College come from this limited talent pool.” The reason this must appear short-sighted, is because Illuminati’s vision does not extend beyond his or her own circular reasoning, ideological rigidity and intellectual vacuity.
St. Lucia, which had many fewer than 100,000 literate adults at the time, produced two Nobel Laureates: Sir Arthur Lewis in Economics and Derek Walcott in Literature.
If the Bahamas were as short-sighted as Illuminati, rather than taking the long-view, we would never have made the strides we have. A talent pool of much less than 100,000 literate adults produced Stafford Sands and Milo Butler. It produced Paul Meeres, Max Taylor and Brent Malone, as well as Durward Knowles and Tommy Robinson, Arthur Hanna and Arthur Foulkes.
It produced Drs. Keva Bethel and Gail Saunders. It produced Randolph Symonette and now Franz Hepburn. And, in one family it produced Eugene and Etienne Dupuch and Eileen Carron.
An expanding talent pool produced Drs. Perry Gomez and Duane Sands, both highly accomplished doctors, as well as financial wiz Mark Holowesko and noted architect and artist Jackson Burnside. It has produced Olympic champions and Rhodes scholars. These are not flukes. They are but some examples of Bahamian success stories.
Contrary to Illuminati’s ill-informed and a-historic arguments, the talent pool a nation produces is not solely a result of the size of its population and its geographic assets. After all, Singapore with a small population of approximately five million, and limited real estate, has turned itself into an economic powerhouse despite these comparative disadvantages.
That in many areas it has outstripped its neighbour Malaysia, with a population of around 28 million, is a testament to its vigorous educational and training programmes. Singapore’s comparative advantage was the quality of its vision and the quality of the preparation of its people to realize this vision.
While Singapore continues to utilize foreign investment and international talent, it does not outsource its national vision and the leadership of its core national institutions to non-Singaporeans. Likewise, we cannot outsource our Bahamian Imagination, critical to which is the emergence of the University of the Bahamas led by an outstanding scholar-administrator.
In light of the ignorance which passes for thinking, such as Illuminati’s stunningly limited mindset and Swiss-cheese like analysis, the need for such a university is more urgent than ever.
•Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.