October 2017

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The installation of Chancellor Robert Bermudez and the July induction of Campus Principal Professor Brian Copeland, mean that two of the University’s highest levels of ceremonial events were held at the St. Augustine Campus during the past three months.

Not to be overlooked as meaningless pomp and ceremony, these events call attention to the leadership transition of the regional institution, signalling the conferment of authority, and serve as the formal welcoming of these senior office-holders into the university system.

Episode Five of the Netflix biographical series, The Crown, which tells the story of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, references the prestige and almost religious significance associated with bestowing the power of leadership. In that episode, Queen Elizabeth II places her husband, Prince Phillip in charge of her coronation and he upsets the planning committee with his insistence that it should deviate from ostentatious tradition.

Prince Phillip attempts to convince the Queen that her coronation should be a more modern affair: forward-looking and symbolic of the socio-economic and technological change of the times, her youth and the fact that a female would be taking the crown. In the end, although he had his way in introducing a modern twist by televising the coronation, Prince Phillip lost the battle of altering much of the traditions and rituals—including kneeling to his wife when she was crowned.

According to the archives, in 1943 the vice-chancellors of United Kingdom universities convened a special commission to consider the principles which should guide the promotion of higher education, learning and research…in the colonies. The recommendations of that commission saw a Royal Charter which established The UWI in 1947—opened formally in 1948—initially as an external College of the University of London as the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) and was made fully independent in 1962. It’s no surprise then that these British traditions of ritualistic ceremonies are a standing feature at our West Indian university.

Dating back even further, the traditions and rituals—although adapted from the British—incorporate elements centuries-older, such as academic regalia, an academic procession and the mace, which are based on the tradition of the medieval university. The Middle Ages have made a substantial contribution to the modern course of instruction. The idea of a university itself is a medieval institution by origin and its structure which includes the division of teachers and of students into faculties and the ordered systems of curricula and the awarding of degrees, the administration of the university society, all took shape in medieval times. Even the name 'university,' which comes from universitas or guild, is a reminder of the fact, since guilds were a characteristic feature of medieval society.

Ritual is characteristic of higher education, and not just in the British systems. In the US higher education system, the equivalent of an installation ceremony is called an inauguration or investiture or induction. Furthermore, in the US colleges and universities, the academic year is bookended with convocation and commencement. In between is a long line of building dedications, class galas, tree-planting ceremonies, alumni merrymaking, and founder's commemorations. Clearly, rituals and ceremonies are cultural markers of college campuses. (Manning, K 2000). But as Prince Phillip asked, what’s the purpose of these traditions and rituals in this modern era?

Well, rituals are said to provide cultural preservation and transformation and allow communication that cannot be stated overtly and dramatise the rich history of the institution. As The UWI turns a page in its history, approaching its 70th anniversary, one can see the need for reinforcing the University’s rich history at ceremonial events while transforming its strategic direction. Whether it’s an induction or installation, the ceremony celebrating a new leadership is a joyous occasion on the University calendar. Months of planning, high profile guest lists and local and regional announcements herald an occasion of great joy for the University community.

Induction Ceremony for a Campus Principal

I learned that inductions were uniquely constructed by The UWI, during the stewardship of Sir Alister McIntyre as Vice-Chancellor. The first was a special double ceremony held at the Mona Campus in 1991 when Professor Gerald Lalor became its Campus Principal and Professor Marlene Hamilton was appointed Deputy Campus Principal. However, the inductions of Deputy Principals have been discontinued.

The programme begins with procession of the academic staff (every formal University ceremony begins and ends with one) which was derived from the clerical processions of the Roman Catholic Church. After the arrival of government and state dignitaries, the Chancellor’s procession follows. This comprises the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Campus Principals and Pro Vice-Chancellors who are all seated on the stage. Welcome remarks are delivered by the University Registrar and followed with greetings by representatives from across the University community. The Vice-Chancellor then typically contextualises the moment and the actual induction involves him robing the new Principal. This is followed by brief remarks from the University Chancellor, who then caps the Principal in the mortarboard (the academic cap with a stiff, flat, square top and tassel) and all of this culminates with the Principal’s inaugural address.

Installation Ceremony for a Chancellor

On the other hand, the actual installation of the Chancellor is among the first order of proceedings at this ceremony. Following the academic and Chancellor’s processions, the University Registrar delivers introductory remarks, followed by the Vice-Chancellor who announces the purpose of the assembly during his statement. The Chancellor is then called upon to recite the official declaration, which reads that he has undertaken an obligation to promote the well-being of the University and its members. As part of the ceremony’s ritual, he is also robed by the Presidents of the Student Guild Councils across the four campuses, and capped in the mortarboard, as a symbol of knowledge and wisdom, by a representative from among the Campus Principals. He then receives the mace—a wooden staff—from the Vice-Chancellor, signaling his official installation.

Although steeped in tradition, over the years the installation and induction ceremonies have been modernised and cultural variations are seen across the campus territories and based on the personalities and preferences of the incumbents. Chancellor Bermudez for instance, had a hand in the selection of some of the music used in his ceremony, requesting contemporary Caribbean artistes. The current version of installations, inductions and other University events also incorporate livestreaming and digital campaigns, inviting the world to tune in. I think Prince Phillip would approve.