The University of the West Indies and me
Published: Jul 26, 2013
I graduated from the University of the West Indies (UWI) with an honors degree in history and government. It was one of those intellectual and inspirational experiences that influenced my entire professional career. The point is that the UWI thoroughly prepared me for the objectives I had set for myself. When I pursued post-graduate work at other international institutions, it was my time at the UWI that provided me with the knowledge, skills and critical approaches that got me through. At no point at these institutions did I feel overwhelmed, and I always had to use my experiences from the subjects I studied at the UWI to take me around the corners.
I found the History Department fascinating. People like Goveia, Braithwaite, Campbell, Augier, and Hall were predominant influences. I remember Professor Douglas Hall lecturing without notes, Professor Goveia as highly organized, knowledgeable, and meticulous, and Professor Carl Campbell as highly prepared, soft spoken and cultured. Professor Augier had a breadth of knowledge that was unmatched, and was highly philosophical. And Dr. Braithwaite, poetic, open minded, and highly creative.
The History Department provided the kind of knowledge, understanding and shaping, that every Caribbean person needed to have a deep knowledge of himself or herself. I remember a conversation with Professor Hall in the UWI Bookshop, when he told me that history covered everything. For me this was very true, since my engagements afterwards proved this. You have to have a sense of history in order to situate yourself in your community, region and the world. Caribbean history gave me a sense of self, a wider connection to the Caribbean, and a clear life purpose. I always have to resort to it, no matter what I am doing.
The Department of Government was something else. There were professionals such as Trevor Munroe, Edwin Jones, Carl Stone, Ann Spackman and, of course, Professor Gladstone Mills, who was the head of the department. Dr. Trevor Munroe was inspirational, highly intellectual, and very humble. I especially enjoyed his book, “The Politics of Constitutional Decolonization”. Dr. Munroe also wrote prolifically. He gave an incisive insight into the area of Caribbean politics and governance, and I particularly liked when he described the strategies used by Jamaica in its quest for independence. I did comparative politics of the developing world and the developed world, modern political thought and a history of political thought. All of these courses helped to orient me politically, by providing a balanced and sound political perspective.
Professor Mills was a gentleman, scholar, highly ethical and professional. I n fact he was instrumental in establishing the Department of Government. Every Caribbean public service official and every student of public administration knows of his work in this area. He was highly talented, and sophisticated, and provided advice to every government in the Caribbean region. What Professor Mills wrote about public administration in the Commonwealth Caribbean rings true today, since many Caribbean governments are still influenced by the administrative and managerial culture they inherited from the metropole.
The University of the West Indies has undergone tremendous changes since I was an undergraduate there. Its subject offerings have expanded, and so has its infrastructure. It has also reached out further to assist other Caribbean countries, and is indeed a center of excellence and learning. When you are on the Mona Campus, you immediately get the feeling you are somewhere special. And indeed you are. Many of the university’s courses have been franchised to other institutions, and its reach is global.
For me, the University of the West Indies is one of the premier world institutions. It provides its students with intellectual heft, and emotional and psychological stability. It shapes character positively, and is highly professional, ethical and fair in its functions. Everyone wants to work there, and to go there to study. It serves the entire Caribbean in a variety of ways, through its programs, technological outreach, conferences, seminars, and consultancies. Its graduates can fit in anywhere at any time. And what further strengthens it and contributes to its renewal and vibrancy is that many of its students have returned there to work. And that includes me.
• Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada and an MA from the University of London. He is a past permanent secretary in education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Published with the permission caribbeannewsnow.com.