Ten­sion at Law Fac­ulty

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL - By Krys­tal Ram­bally

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.

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