The new Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) is urging an intellectual renaissance at home and a globalised reach beyond the region’s shores. Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, just the second UWI campus principal to make the leap from leading one campus to steering the entire multi-campus, multinational enterprise, took up office on May 1 and responded to questions from his staff at the UWI Regional HQ, home of the UWI Museum. He underscored the importance of internal coherence between the UWI’s many parts, as a prerequisite for success on the global stage. “The university needs to be globalised as a counter to the threat of becoming ghettoised”, he said.
A professor of history and an active participant in the current debate over reparations for slavery, Sir Hilary highlighted the “perfect mentoring” he received as a young academic at the university’s founding Mona campus. The Department of History then had seven professors; “an all-star cast” he said. He transferred to the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados, where he became the university’s youngest professor, active in teaching and publishing even after he became Campus Principal in 2002.
The new Vice-Chancellor takes the reins from Professor E. Nigel Harris who served from 2004. Professor Harris, under whose watch the UWI Museum was established, is a medical researcher best known as part of the team that confirmed the Anti-Phospholipid Syndrome and created treatment standards. Recently, speaking at a panel on the legacy of UWI’s first Vice-Chancellor Sir Arthur Lewis, Harris mused on the special challenges faced by administrators who are researchers/academics at heart. Lewis, who spent three crucial years at the regional university in the early 1960s and helped keep it afloat when the West Indies Federation was disintegrating around it, had bemoaned his inability to do his academic work due to administrative demands.
Professor Harris, who encouraged transformation of the university’s distance programmes into a fourth ‘Open’ campus and who spearheaded the development of the UWI Regional Headquarters as a nerve centre for the far-flung university, left office on a wave of encomiums for his strategic vision and inclusiveness. A cameo exhibition on his achievements is on view at the UWI Museum until the end of May.