The gift of reason

On the occasion of this 60th anniversary, I wish to reflect with you more generally on how well we have taken up that charge of using the gift of reason to the benefit and use of man, and more specifically, Caribbean man.

I would imagine Thomas Taylor (first principal) interpreting that gift of reason as the consequence of the creation of knowledge in those teachers and scholars who make this place their intellectual home for longer or shorter periods of time.

I could cite data on the very tangible contributions in every aspect of Caribbean life - the social and physical sciences, public service, and, of course, the arts. More and more we contribute to increasing the consciousness that all things in life are not subject to physical measure, or as Einstein noted, everything that is counted does not count and not everything that counts can be counted.

I know much better the seminal contributions in my own discipline of medicine - how children no longer die from diseases that made our infant mortalities reason for shame; of our current efforts in research to provide Caribbean responses to the growing pandemic of diseases like heart disease, stroke and diabetes; of our contributions to fashioning a response to the modern plague of HIV/AIDS. These are matters of record.

Caribbean oneness

But I believe that the clearest manifestation of benefit would be in the preservation or repair of the DNA of our Caribbean oneness that was perhaps one of the main motives for the establishment of the institution. The scientists among you will tell you that failure to correct DNA damage may induce unregulated cell growth, leading to cancer.

We all know of the failure of the West Indian Federation and history records the survival of the university through that difficult period. What is not so clearly articulated is the role of the university in the repair of the damaged DNA, its role in creating the phoenix of a different Caribbean arrangement that is now attempting to spread its wings. And let us not forget its role in fostering the notion and practice of intergovernmentalism and the demonstration that its production of human resources is a critical aspect of that functional cooperation which nurtures the ethos of community.

It is claimed, I believe with some justification, that it was the spirit of oneness that pervaded the single-campus university in the earlier days that has contributed to a new spirit in the Caribbean Community. I would hope that the bond goes much deeper. I would hope that there is an intellectualising of the regionalism that goes beyond the physical dwelling together in unity, important though that is. I wish to believe that the brand of the Pelican is strong enough to overcome that dispersion that has been part of the natural evolution of the university and continues to repair that DNA which, as happens in nature, is damaged from time to time.

It is that gift of reason that has led in the past year to one of the major changes in the university. Over the past decade, it became increasingly clear to us that one of the greatest threats to the preservation of the regional nature of the university as was established by the famous Grand Anse declaration was possible alienation by those 12 countries in which there was not a major campus. The challenge was to preserve and strengthen the image and presence of the university throughout the region.

The Chancellor's Task Force of 2006 recommended the creation of a new entity: another campus whose structure was eventually drawn by the fine hand of Pro Vice-Chancellor Lawrence Carrington. This is our fourth campus with its own campus council, principal and administration, and a different mode of operation, in that much of its offerings will be through blended learning -an appropriate mixture of distance and presencial instruction. I have every confidence that it will indeed strengthen our already visible presence throughout the Caribbean.

Benefit to Social mobility

And let us never belittle the reasoning which emphasised the benefit to the social mobility of Caribbean societies. In the first two decades, we were an institution of the privileged few. In the past two decades, we have become a major instrument for the upward social mobility in the Caribbean. Data from the Planning Unit show that the social profile of the student population at the UWI, Mona Campus, has undergone significant change in recent years, alongside the change in the geographic composition of the student body. The student profile has shifted from a predominantly upper-middle to high-income group to one where approximately three-quarters of the population originate from the poor- to lower-middle income segments of the society.

Trend set to continue

This trend is set to continue since an increasingly greater proportion of new students entering the Mona Campus are coming from the poor- to lower-middle income segments of the society. In 1983, the poor- to lower-middle income groups accounted for 61 per cent of total new student enrolment. By 2003, the proportion of new students coming from these groups had grown to 75 per cent. So, more and more of our students come from the lower middle and poorer classes, but this has not affected one jot the quality of the graduate. Ten years ago, 36 per cent of the graduates received first- or upper second-class degrees. The figure today is 40 per cent.

I have no doubt that we will continue to provide that benefit of which Taylor spoke. Our graduates will help to craft the appropriate Caribbean response to some of the major challenges that the region and the world face. The challenges of globalisation, the adjustment of our acceptance of the inevitability of the liberal democracy and the market as a framework for societal organisation that has forgotten Adam Smith's injunction as to the role of governments, the increasing pluralism in all walks of life and the grim realities of the plague of crime and violence.

I have an unbounded faith in the capacity of our new sons and daughters of the Pelican to overcome these challenges and more, and to continue in your various spheres to employ the gift of reason to the benefit and use of your fellowman and woman.

Let me end by thanking your teachers who helped you to get to this stage. Thanks also to your parents and loved ones who must have sacrificed to get you here. I hope they are satisfied with the product and continue to be members of an ever-widening University of the West Indies family.

George A. O. Alleyne