UWI 2012 Graduation Address – Humanities and Education


 

 INTRODUCTION

Chancellor, Sir George Alleyne; Vice-Chancellor Professor E. Nigel Harris; Fellow Honorary Graduand Dr Joy Spence; Principals: Sir Hilary Beckles (Cave Hill); Professor Hazel Simmons-McDonald (Open Campus); Professor Gordon Shirley (Mona) and Professor Brian Copeland (St Augustine); Pro Vice Chancellors: Professor Yvette Jackson and Professor Alvin Wint; University Librarian Ms Jennifer Joseph; other members of the Platform Party; Deans; Professor Emeritii; Retired Members of Staff, in particular Mrs Gloria Barrett-Sobers, Mrs Joy Pilgrim and Mr. Anthony Fallon; the Honourable Arnaldo Brown, Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mr. Justice Seymour Panton, President of the Court of Appeal; Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Family and friends of the Graduands; Graduating Class of 2012; Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen I am triply honoured this morning. First, to have been awarded Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa, from my alma mater. Second to say thanks to the University of the West Indies on behalf of fellow Honoree Dr. Joy Spence who is not only the first female master blender in the world but in 2012 has been awarded honorary doctorates from both universities from which she graduated. Third, is to be given the great opportunity to address the Graduating Class of 2012.

No one achieves anything without the support of others. That includes Dr Spence and me. We therefore acknowledge our parents, teachers, spouses, children, siblings, colleagues, mentors and friends who have contributed to the persons we have become and what we have achieved. In whatever spirit you take it Dr. Spence and I are blended in thanks to you and to the Almighty.

VISION OF UWI

For the last 30 years, following my return to the University having been Principal of the Mico and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, I have had a vision of the University of the West Indies as being comprised of Campuses, University Centres, national Colleges and University Colleges combined in a University System with a collective enrolment of over 100,000 students and ranked among the top 100 research universities in the world. While the national colleges and university colleges would be administratively autonomous, they would be articulated, affiliated and integrated within the UWI academic brand of degrees and its quality assurance mechanisms.

In my own field of education, the Schools of Education at Mona, Cave Hill and St Augustine would be the integrated Graduate School of Education producing the higher-level professional personnel needed in the education sector, generating through research knowledge needed to advance learning and teaching, and providing the developmental services in education required by our countries and people.

Public national higher education institutions and UWI are all heavily supported by the taxpayers of our countries. The articulation and affiliation of these public institutions into a single UWI system constitutes the most effective and efficient way to deploy our scarce resources. For Commonwealth Caribbean countries to configure their higher education system such that public national higher education institutions are small to medium size entities operating in relative isolation trying to cover as many disciplines as possible is a most ineffective and inefficient deployment of resources. Further, there are real limits to the physical expansion of the UWI campuses hence the areas in which expansion takes places is of great strategic importance in the international competitiveness of the region. Neither the public national institutions nor UWI can overlook the fact that they must compete internationally. An unarticulated fractured public system of higher education in the Commonwealth Caribbean is to the detriment of all.

To this point I have largely lost the argument for this vision of UWI. As important, I have come to recognize the structural and idiosyncratic factors that impede its realization. However, I am convinced that the imperatives of universal secondary education, improving quality of secondary school leavers, the increasing fees for international students in the US and UK, international competitiveness in the knowledge economy, issues of accreditation and validation of credentials as well as the fact that the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Net is now a reality will force a reconsideration of this conception of the future of UWI and public national colleges.

Chancellor I crave your forgiveness for this trespass. Yet, I could not forgive myself if I did not steal this last opportunity to express a view of with which UWI, Governments and national higher education institutions in the region must contend.

LIVING IN THE INTERSECTION OF LIFES CONTRADICTIONS

Members of the Graduating Class of 2012 in the 1960s as a young UWI graduate I well remember one of our popular pundits referring UWI graduates as semi-literates. Several people joined in the chorus. My private resolute was to show them what UWI can do. In today’s society I still here strains of criticism about young UWI graduates. My recommendation to you is to show then what UWI graduates can do.

I am acutely aware that you are graduating in difficult times locally, regionally and internationally. Characteristic of the times is the joke my daughter told me of a thief who broke into a woman’s house recently and was searching for money. The woman woke up, challenged the thief concerning what he was doing and after he told her she joined him in the search. However, life and education are not just about the short-term. Let me therefore share with you briefly what I have learned about life over the long term.

Life is lived in the intersection of three pairs of irreconcilable contradictions: equality and excellence, individuality and community; and reason and revelation. Once we are alive, we cannot escape the conundrum they present.

Equality and Excellence

Equality resides in that which we share in common with all other human beings. It is the sense in which we are all ordinary people, in ways in which we are the same as everybody else. The notion of equality embraces the idea of the common humanity of all human kind. Equality is inclusive. It is egalitarian. It is comforted by norms. Equality stands at the gate as a guard against arrogance. However, Equality is threatened by difference.

Excellence is rooted in ways in which we exceed others, in the extraordinary performance that surpasses all others, in prized differences in endowments compared to others. Excellence is exclusive. It is elitist. Excellence is intolerant of the ordinary and missive of norms. It thrives on difference.  Part of the motivation to excel is the inner urge to discover and develop the best in ourselves. Excellence guards against accepting excuses for mediocrity. Yet, to live one’s life always trying to exceed others in everything, to outstrip colleagues, friends and family and to emphasize and celebrate prized differences is to become an insufferable bore obsessed with being special and increasingly alienated from society.

It is impossible for everybody to be equally excellent at anything.  Neither is it possible for anyone to be equally excellent at everything. It is in the intersection of equality and excellence that we find space to be truly human. That is, to be able to share fellowship with others based on our common humanity, deserving and requiring mutual respect while at the same time exploring, discovering, and developing to their zenith the best that we can be in at least some things.

Like Whitney Houston we all yearn for at least one moment in time when we are more that we thought we could be, when we are racing with destiny and answers were all up to us. At the same time the challenge is living with all those other moments in time when we are no different from anybody else, when own destiny is in doubt and the answers are outside of our control.

Individuality and Community

Individuality is defined by uniqueness. It is the source of personality. Individuality is the fountain head of initiative, innovation, invention and imagination in society. Yet, individuality tends to run to individualism which left unfettered and unrestrained to runs to selfishness, greed, anarchy, barbarity, and amorality where the strong devours and destroys the weak.

Community is one of the necessary pre-conditions for civilised living. It is community that establishes the common good of its members. It is community that ensures the continuity and conservation of a people across generations though identity and bonds of solidarity. It is community that fetters and restrains individuality through codes and conventions idealising conformity to some norms and values. Yet the conformity and uniformity demanded by community can stifle individuality and promote robotic and humanoid behaviours without soul.

Individuality divides. Community unifies. Rev Dr Burchell Taylor in a sermon pointed out that these two contradictory but vital attributes that cannot be resolved. They must be held in constructive tension. It is the intersection of individuality and community that provides opportunities to discover how individual initiative, innovation, invention, energy, enterprise and effort can serve the highest ideals and conventions of community. It is in the intersection of individuality and community that diversity is revealed as an agent of the common good, and conformity is understood as the border and boundary of freedom.

Reason and Revelation

Reason is nailed to current reality. It relies on empirical data derived from the five senses, confirmed by measurement and the application of either deductive or inductive logic. Reason revels in facts. To use current jargon, it is evidence based. But reason is highly sympathetic to the status quo.

Revelation is stubbornly resistant to facts. Its penchant is to ignore current reality. Its starting point is to assert what ought to be. It seeks to provide meaning and purpose and is openly optimistic. It modus operandi is faith: Reaching for what is not and hoping and striving until it is. Revelation seeks always to transcend reality, often calls upon the divine and is challenged by proof.

In the final analysis, reason and revelation cannot be reconciled, although some may entertain the idea of reasonable faith or revelation that is subject to logic. Also, there can be little dispute that reason and logic have led to major achievements and advancement in the human conditions, especially in the domain of science and technology. But even in this domain many advancements have come through transcendence as intuition, insight and refusal to accept conventional explanations led to new scientific theories which thereafter garnered empirical support.

It is also indisputable that both reason and revelation have led to some of the most abominable atrocities in human history by some who claim irrefutable evidence or impeccable logic or direct instruction from God. Whether by reason or revelation, they have acted with finality and great brutality in many situations. At the same time, it is in the intersection of reason and revelation that there is scope to address some of the most pressing issues facing us personally and collectively.

The Intersection Forces Choices and Coping with Inconsistencies

The intersection between individuality and community becomes compounded when it is also crossed by the intersection of equality and excellence. For example, First and Upper Second Class Honours take on a general aura of superiority, especially at graduations. The geography of birth becomes a prized difference and become the basis for either inclusion or exclusion, as citizens or aliens. Equality becomes the writ by which to prosecute injustice and to identify unethical and immoral practices.

When reason and revelation are added to the intersections of equality and excellence, individuality and community the situation is confounded as the later provide no definitive and absolute bases on which to resolve six-fold interacting contradictions.

One consequence of living in the intersection of life’s major contradictions is that choices have to be made. Choice is the fundamental consequence of these contradictions. Another consequence, over time, is inconsistency in us and in others. It is impossible to make choices with respect to these three pairs of irreconcilable contradictions that are entirely consistent over time. On some issues the choice will be based on the claims of equality, on others on the imperatives of excellence, on others on the needs for individuality, on others on the demands of community, on still other by applying reason and yet on others by exercising faith. Making choices and coping with inconsistence are the existential conditions of all of us. This brings us face to face with the limitations of the nature of our humanity and its mortality.

 Love as the Source of Wholeness

What then allows us to become and remain whole persons, living constructive lives in community, having inner personal peace and experiencing moments of true joy? Members of the Graduating Class, my best answer is love. By love I mean

  • Maintaining goodwill and good intentions to all. In the negative this means not working for anybody’s down fall although a few may wish or work for yours.
  • Using the exceptional talents we possess to undertake sacrificial deeds on behalf of others particularly the voiceless, the ‘voteless’, the vulnerable and the victimized in society
  • Acting justly and showing mercy in relationships,
  • Holding firmly to our convictions, whether based upon reason or revelation, while respecting others of opposing convictions
  •  Walking humbly among family, friends, colleagues and strangers understanding that we are no different from them.

CONCLUDING COMMENT

Members of the Graduating Class, the concept of living in the intersections of these three pairs of irreconcilable but fundamental contradictions is neither abstract nor academic. Recognise it or not, these intersections constitute the context and content of our daily existence. The choices we make in confronting these contradictions, how we cope with inconsistences in ourselves, others and society, shape our being and becoming, our relationships, our work and achievements, our peace, our joy and our happiness.

So, look within and be kind to yourself. Look around and care for and about others.  Look up and find the faith and inspiration to persevere whatever the circumstances.  God bless you.

Errol Miller November 2, 2012


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