Vice Chancellor’s Fourth Renaissance Lecture
September 7th, 2017
By George A. O. Alleyne, Director Emeritus Pan American Health Organization September 7, 2017
First, I wish to thank Dr. Griffith and Dr. Reynolds for the invitation to give the Vice Chancellor’s Fourth Renaissance lecture. I was very pleased to accept. Even although my first of many visits to Guyana was in 1968, and over the years have had close ties with many of your faculty and students, this is actually my first lecture in the University of Guyana. My academic contacts with Guyana and Guyanese stretch back through many decades. As an undergraduate, I was always impressed by the brilliance of the students who came to the University College of the West Indies from then British Guiana. Not only were they exceptional academically, but they expressed themselves with a clarity and a precision that were to be envied and emulated. The late Robert Moore was one of the finest orators I have ever heard……….. and I have heard many. The term Renaissance has always conjured up for me an image of Europe in the 15th and16th centuries. This was a period that marked the end of the middle ages with its feudal system and opened an era of rebirth of interest in classical forms and literature. But most importantly, it marked the growth of humanism. The Renaissance humanism enhanced civic engagement and the development of what we now refer to as the humanities. It saw the appearance and appreciation of materials which still influence our lives profoundly such as paper, printing and gunpowder, although there are other claimants to those inventions. But your Vice Chancellor has emphasized a more literal definition of Renaissance and projects it to
mean the rebirth of the University of Guyana to bring it into a zone of modernity so that it might fulfill its pristine purpose through discovery, generation, dissemination and application of knowledge. I am sure all Caribbean citizens of good will, especially those with a specific interest in higher education wish him well and watch with interest the development of the project. And here let me congratulate you on the recent accreditation of your medical school. There is another reason, apart from my wish to visit Guyana again, why I accepted with alacrity the invitation to give this lecture. It is because I was stimulated and intrigued by a comment made by your President Granger at the recently concluded meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government in Grenada. In a discussion on the state of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) which many judge to be the centerpiece of CARICOM, he referred to fear and a lack of trust as being the two critical factors which are impeding progress. I have been attending
these meetings for many years and have heard many of the discussions about the state of Caribbean integration, but this was the first time I had heard it put so sharply that it was fear and a lack of trust that was preventing the Caribbean countries from putting in place many of the very laudable plans they had developed, but which required joint action. On reflection, I tend to agree with your President. I submit that if we are to progress in all of the areas set out in the Treaty of Chaguaramas and subsequent accords, it behooves all Caribbean citizens – all humanists to reflect on the causes and the means of eliminating fear of taking action and building trust in ourselves and one another. I say citizens because I do not believe this task should be left to our leaders alone. I believe that your President’s affirmation is worth exploring in a university context. Fear is good. It is what has kept Homo sapiens from those dangerous situations that might spell destruction. We have developed a nervous system – the sympathetic nervous system that allows us to react to situations of danger – to situations that engender fright or flight. But fear can also be a liability, as it prevents us taking steps into the unknown and perhaps makes us impotent to realize our full potential. This fear in the individual is translated into institutional or national fear and leaders often only interpret the fear of their constituents and act accordingly, binding undue caution with the negative aspect of confirmation bias, leading to inaction or very cautious action. This combination often causes us to pride ourselves as acting with deliberates peed. This is not the time or place to enter into the details of the CSME as I believe that there has indeed been progress, but it has been fear and a lack of trust that has made for the deliberate speed of implementation of some of its components. Parenthetically, I have no doubt about the value of the CSME, although I am concerned that a unifocal attention to it may have or indeed has overshadowed other important pieces in the puzzle of Caribbean integration. I am an unrepentant advocate of the thesis that not enough attention has been paid to that functional cooperation which should be the glue of any multinational enterprise. And of course, education is one of the areas in which functional cooperation can find full expression. Fear may be countered by trust. When a batsman calls for a sharp single and his partner responds without fear of being runout, it is because of trust in the other’s judgment. Trust has been debated by philosophers for ages and there are various taxonomic approaches, but in the case of the Caribbean, I propose that it is practical trust that is important. I mean by this one individual or institution trusting another to act in the manner that will not be seen as a betrayal or be seen as inimical to the other’s interest. That is the case of the cricket example I cited above. It is the lack of trust that often engenders the fear of taking risky decisions. In the case of countries in a regional arrangement and not only such, it is the fear of loss and not only the fear of the consequences of action and indeed the former is more powerful than the latter. There is the fear of losing what one has, without the assurance that what comes will be advantageous. This fear of loss is a normal and powerful human attribute and Daniel Kahneman the Nobel prizewinner in behavioral economics has shown convincingly that we strive harder to avoid loses that to achieve gains. The challenge is how to address this fear of loss – this loss aversion that is responsible for much of the xenophobia that is so obvious in the world as a whole and is not absent from the Caribbean. It is the fear of loss of sovereignty or local agency that may be at the root of many of the problems that beset the regional integration project. It is loss aversion at a national level. It is fear and loss aversion that strengthen the fissiparous tendencies that are inherent in any group or network which naturally tends to a state of entropy. The world has seen this play out through Brexit. But I believe that it is possible to address and diminish it through the collective thinking of informed citizens and that the universities of the region can make a substantial and significant contribution. We must appreciate that the Caribbean polity is an imagined reality. Humans throughout the ages have rallied around imagined realities. CARICOM is in the nature of an image and an idealized image of a collective entity. Buildings, structures and land are physical realities but the image of a collective Caribbean entity which informed much or all of the enthusiasm of my generation is an imagined reality which to us was and continues to be as powerful and worthy of preservation and enhancing as a physical reality. Imagined realities have tremendous power, perhaps more power that physical ones. They evoke stronger emotional reactions. I have been taken by Yuval Noah Harari’s brilliant book “Homo Sapiens” in which he elaborates on imagined realities. As long as the communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts a powerful force in the world. As he writes; “Ever since the cognitive revolution, Sapiens have thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers trees and lions; on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations” And he goes on to say that over time the imagined realities became much more powerful to the extent that the objective realities may themselves come to depend on the imagined ones. But let me be clear. I am not advocating a return to the idea of political integration. I am however a firm adherent to regional integration as set out in the terms of the historic treaty of Chaguaramas which saw the Caribbean moving forward in a turbulent world through cooperative action in critical areas. The basic question I wish to explore is the role of the Caribbean universities in generating that trust and assuaging the fear that is necessary for the maintenance and prospering of the regional integration project. But our universities are not static. The University College which I entered 66 years ago is not the same as the University of the West Indies today and it is a truism that these institutions change and adapt to the social environment in which they find themselves. When Vice Chancellor Griffith moves the University of Guyana into the zone of modernity as promised, it will be significantly different from the institution that began teaching 168 students in Queens College in 1968 and the change will not only be a physical one. When I entered the University College of the West it was indeed literally a company of masters and scholars, almost in the tradition of the universities that existed during the Renaissance. I had intuitively bought into the concept of the University producing knowledge to be used more as envisaged by Bacon who believed that it was essentially autilitarian commodity or as he put it should “not be as a courtesan, for pleasure and vanity only, or as a bondwoman, to acquire and gain to her master’s use; but as a spouse, for generation, fruit and comfort.“ I was and am less enthusiastic with the concept of Newman that knowledge was an end in and of itself. I saw us graduates putting our acquired knowledge to work for Caribbean change.
But in the space of 69 years my University has taken the shape of what the famous Chancellor of the University of California, Clark Kerr, called a multiversity. His focus was on the modern American University, but the thinking behind his concept has found expression in universities all over the world. Universities in this form are seen as being critical for human development and serving the many communities and interests that make up the modern state. My University is offering courses and areas of teaching that were never dreamt of 50 years ago. It is no longer a cloistered community of masters and scholars. It has spread geographically over most of the Caribbean with now some 50,000 students and sees itself going beyond the Caribbean and having an international projection. From what I read of the University of Guyana and to lesser extent the University of Surinam, the same is occurring. There is an extension to physical locations beyond a single campus and there is an increasing richness of academic offerings. There is a commitment to civic engagement and a keen awareness of the political environment in which it must function. A former Vice Chancellor of the University West Indies said that he would rue the day when the University was a topic on the agenda of a meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government. He saw the relationship of academia to politics like that of oil to water. How that has changed! These multiversities which, while accepting the basic three activities, see themselves as performing many other roles, first among which is community involvement. They must accept the interdigitation of several different communities. There is the community of the graduate and that of the postgraduate; that of the alumni and the students who are the alumni of tomorrow, the communities of the humanists, the social scientists, the life scientists, the community with its theoretical walls and those without. It must accept the multiple divergent interests which seek to pull it in different directions. It must accept the inevitabilities of blended teaching and lifelong learning. It must still accept the responsibility of encouraging and facilitating new cultural values while educating members of the new social elites to play their roles in changing societies. It must retain its institutional character and reputation as this is important for its credentialing function. The proper exercise of this function assures the public that society is receiving men and women who are critical thinkers, are job prepared, conscious of the need to be innovators and ready to fulfill the functions necessary for societal human development. And it must do this while still exercising those basic activities of teaching, service community outreach and research. One of the attributes of this multiversity is to transmute knowledge into products and services needed for human development in any society. I am a firm believer in the notion of the triple helix of innovation. This involves the intimate interaction among the university, business and government. The University provides the knowledge-the ideas from its research which can be commercialized by business and government provides the appropriate regulatory environment. This is not a function exclusive to universities in Silicon Valley or Triangle Park in the USA. This is a function that is of equal or greater importance to our universities. I am not so arrogant as to suggest that that the responsibility for human development in Guyana or any of the Caribbean countries rest solely with the universities. What I am contending is that they have a deep and abiding responsibility to contribute to it.
Of course, they are some who dislike the term and the idea of a multiversity and its connotation and would prefer the comfort of the cloistered enclave that supported a small band of respected scholars and masters dedicated to knowledge without thought of its utility. They look with some disdain on the growth of sections such as Institutional Advancement when it focuses on raising funds for the multiple tasks of the institution and including alumni in the quest. They would diminish the aggressive search for research funding and the commercialization of knowledge output through interaction with business. They would see the institution divorced from public policy because of the often fine distinction between policy and politics. But these are dreams that have no relevance for the multiversities of the Caribbean. There is a rich literature on universities related to their roles in human development. You will note that I use the expression “human development” and I hope that it will become the norm in the University of Guyana never to use the term development without qualification. The concept of development as being coterminous with economic growth which was once the darling of the economists, no longer has credibility. It is human development that must be the aim of our societies and their institutions. That human development has three domains-the economic, the social and the environmental and it is the intertwining of these as a helix -an imagery which I first heard espoused by the late Angela Cropper, that makes for the sustainability of human development. The multiversities by their very nature and the interconnectedness and interaction of their various communities are uniquely placed to advance that human development. But I wish to add another responsibility that may be peculiar to these multiversities in regional groupings and one that is central to the concern of your President. There is a dearth of literature on the role of universities in cementing regional groupings, but one fascinating report on the role of universities in the regional integration of Southern Africa argued that state led regional integration has had limited impact and regional identity and citizenship, which are critical ingredients need to develop from the bottom up. It is universities and other parts of civil society that have the critical role in developing and fomenting that regional identity and citizenship. I see them wedded to the proposition that they should seek to strengthen the image and power of the imagined reality of the Caribbean integration project. It might be said that this is a function of all levels of the education system but I would contend that the major responsibility lies at the higher level. It is predominately at this level that the young become convinced of the dignity and worth of the other because of interaction with the other. It is only at this level that there is or ought to be the degree of diversity which would allow for a reduction of that fear and the establishment of trust to which I referred originally. It could be argued that espousing this view is a function of the political leaders, but I am not sanguine about their undertaking it consciously and deliberately. On occasion when I have raised it with some of them, the answer has been that the constraints of the local, national struggles for political survival make it difficult to divert energy in this direction. On occasion I have got ready acceptance of the idea, but the matter rested at the level of acceptance. I have empirical evidence of the feasibility of my proposition. As Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, I have presided over many graduation ceremonies and one of the5
features memorable to me has been the performance of the valedictorians who for the most part are eloquent about their appreciation of the integration ideal. So many of them speak with passion of appreciating the diversity of culture, idiom, food and even dance. All of this makes them advocates for the Caribbean and they indirectly indicate to me that they have much less of the fear and the loss aversion which are such key factors in individual and national xenophobia. They are less fearful of the other Caribbean brothers and sisters and therefore more likely to trust them. I would not doubt that there have been deliberate attempts to inculcate this feeling of Caribbeanness, but I am proposing that there may be approaches our Caribbean multiversities might take to promote it deliberately and intentionally and not leave it to chance interactions. The obvious approaches would be through courses of instruction that speak to the Caribbean of which I am sure there are many. It can be through exchange of students and faculty and through joint ventures either pedagogical or business. There should be closer interaction among them. And here I wish to revert to a proposal your Chancellor made formally several years ago which to me still remains valid. He is the first to admit that his is not an original proposition and there have been many who have previously championed the establishment of a Caribbean tertiary education system. His was one of several efforts to stimulate action in this direction well knowing that there was general agreement about the desirability of such a system but little progress had been made. While acknowledging the differentiation in size, mission and expectations of tertiary institutions in the Caribbean he argued for “creation of a web of institutions held together by formal and informal rules and that is overseen by a body that offers policy guidance and assures accountability.” The logic of this proposition is impeccable and we must ask why there has not been progress. I submit that it is the same fear and lack of trust-this time at the institutional level that has made the theme peak and break as yet another wave on the beaches of CARICOM. It is the fear that seeks the comfort of exclusivity of identity and dims the light of the benefit of cooperation and collaboration across communities-the cross community linkages which at another level are the hallmark of the multiversity.
Ladies and gentlemen…………to those of you involved in Project Renaissance, from the professors to the porters, I say good luck and I wish for you that constancy of purpose and a fixation on the vision which will make the luck good. I look forward to the university of Guyana playing its role as one of the great mutiversities of the Caribbean in making a better life for all our people, assuaging the fear and fostering the trust which your President believes are critical for Caribbean progres
Professor Alleyne is the holder of the Order of the Caribbean Community, the highest regional award.