Tension at Law Faculty
The decision by The University of the West Indies to re-appoint the dean at Faculty of Law’s St Augustine campus is being challenged by law lecturers on the basis of its legality.
The objection, which seeks to remove the dean, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, is based on the claim that they were never consulted in accordance with the university’s laws. Four out of the ten listed lecturers wrote to university officials expressing their concern over the reappointment.
In addition, other lecturers have raised serious allegations against her management style, including the alleged secret taping of a conversation with a lecturer and victimisation over disagreements relating to the relocation of the law faculty to Debe.
One lecturer, Veronica Aragon, who has since resigned, claimed Antoine made inappropriate and unprofessional comments about her to people in the human rights community, “further frustrating my work here”.
The T&T Guardian understands the lecturers also intend to challenge Antoine’s re-appointment in court if the university does not rescind her appointment.
The faculty is headed by Antoine and has two deputy deans - Sharon Le Gall and former attorney general John Jeremie; senior lecturers Dr Arif Bulkan, who is on sabbatical and John Knechtle; lecturers Alicia Elias-Roberts, Dr Chumah Amaefulel, Timothy Affonso, Afiya France, Dr Jewel Amoah, and Dr Justin Koo; and temporary lecturer Ria Mohammed-Davidson.
Antoine, 54, was appointed faculty head in 2013. She is the wife of former Saint Lucian prime minister Dr Kenny Anthony and is said to be a close friend of former prime minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar. Antoine was given the mandate to ensure the faculty moved to Debe.
To date, the Debe campus remains shrouded in controversy, even as $250 million for the project remains untouched in the university coffers. The majority of students and lecturers are against its relocation, citing access to facilities such as library services.
In response to the claims, Antoine, in a detailed six-page response, said she was unaware of any legitimate concerns that “some” staff members may have about the process of her re-appointment.
“As you will appreciate, that is outside of my remit, since those matters fall under the purview of the University Appointments Committee and University Council,” she wrote in her response to the T&T Guardian. She said she was confident The UWI would have followed all appropriate procedures and protocols.
But Amoah, in correspondence to UWI campus principal Professor Brian Copeland, said to the best of her knowledge and after discussion with her colleagues, “No member of academic staff was consulted at any time before the decision was made to re-appoint the dean. Nor is it evident that the vacancy in this position was advertised, whether internally or externally, formally or informally.”
She said the failure of the university to abide by its own statutes in the appointment process was “deeply troubling” and called on the university to rescind the appointment.
Similarly,Bulkan said at no time was he consulted before the decision was made to reappoint Antoine.
In a letter to Copeland, Bulkan said, “I view this apparent breach of the university’s statutes with profound alarm and disappointment. While Professor Antoine has been an energetic dean who has shepherded the faculty through its nascent stages at this campus, renewals should not be automatic for any individual.”
Contacted on the issue, Copeland said the position of dean was not advertised because “it was a matter of a re-appointment”.
Asked what was the process for her re-appointment, he said, “As per Statute 12, a recommendation from the principal to council that takes major aspects of the incumbent’s performance over the period of appointment, including staff perspectives, then the decision by University Council who is the only body authorised to appoint deans.”
Copeland said some of the other matters raised in a meeting with lecturers were dismissed “as there was clearly a lack of understanding of process” while some were now “being addressed”.
He said Antoine was the only professor in the faculty and was an internationally recognised academic who has done exceedingly well in her first term. Antoine does not, however, hold any other teaching position at the university, as do the other deans.
In addressing the Debe relocation issue, Antoine said she returned to T&T after 30 years and became aware that the controversial campus “was a political football” but that she had no interest in political games.
“My primary concern is that we have adequate facilities, which we do not currently have. I am prepared to go to Toco if needs be!”
She said the decision to move the faculty to Debe was a university decision made in the academic year 2008/2009. She said it has been a personal sacrifice for her, having to take a pay-cut and give up her lucrative international consultancies to come to T&T to build “this young faculty as I was asked to do”.
On the allegations of victimisation and that she is a poor leader, she said she
considered it be a particularly irresponsible assertion, especially since not a single act of alleged victimisation was identified. “I will therefore simply state that it is entirely untrue that I have ever victimised any member of staff,” she said.
However, lecturer Timothy Affonso wrote to the West Indies Group of University Teachers (WIGUT) on May 9 detailing complaints and fears of victimisation. Affonso alleged Antoine came to his office under the guise of discussing an upcoming plan to attend an event. He claimed, “The dean was behaving very strangely in the meeting as she was speaking into her handbag. The dean actually secretly recorded our conversation and never told me.”
He also wrote that Antoine had played the recorded conversation with another staff member. Affonso said he had asked the dean to stop discussing matters with students as it was undermining the relationship.
Told of this allegation, Antoine admitted to taping a conversation “with a particular individual” but said in the likely event that she would be misquoted by him she ensured there was an independent and unimpeachable record of their conversation. WIGUT has summoned Affonso to a meeting to address his grievance.
Aragon, who resigned with immediate effect on May 1, stated she could not return to the faculty “due to a very difficult and hostile work environment”.
She complained to Dr Linda Steele, of human resources department, that “given the current leadership in the Faculty of Law, I cannot return to my post without having to face onerous and unnecessary obstacles to fulfilling my responsibilities. I have been berated for requesting consideration of my pregnancy in determining my schedule, I have been accused of lying, of simply “reading” out of a book for my lectures, have had my work constantly underestimated despite the fact that my superior is unaware of the details of the work she expects me to do”.
Antoine said it was true that over the past few months the peace which she enjoyed for her first term had been disturbed by the uncertainty of a permanent location and further marred by the fact that 75 per cent of staff was up for assessment and promotion.
She said it was understandable that people would be upset when they do not succeed and feel insecure about their status in the university community and that it would lead to some discontent, at least in the short term.
She said the fact assessment and promotion were around the time that her deanship was up for renewal also added “fuel to the fire”.
“Like all power contests, albeit a fairly insignificant one in the larger scheme of things, deanship contests are often contentious, involve a fair amount of intrigue and have different factions. Ultimately, however, the post of dean is not a popularity contest.”
Antoine (pictured on the front page of the Guardian) was appointed faculty head in 2013. She is the wife of former Saint Lucian prime minister Dr Kenny Anthony.