June 2017

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VB: Your responsibility as Campus Principal began within a regionally depressed economic environment. It meant financial cuts across the board, which has affected staff and projects. How have you been managing this process?

BC: On a campus level, I have supported the initiatives proposed by the Bursar and arrived at after consultation with campus senior management, mostly the Deans. We did not want to cut staff, but at the same time were mindful of the fact that we also could not cut too deep into our operational budgets. I think we barely managed to do that while maintaining a satisfactory level of operation.
The major actions included the reduction of part-time contracts to nine months; the freezing of unfilled positions to pay part-time staff; aggressive contract negotiations to reduce the price of outsourced services; the reduction in staff by attrition, and reduced overtime.
At the Office of the Campus Principal, I deliberately decided not to purchase a new vehicle as was my right as new Campus Principal. There was no need, as the last Principal had purchased a vehicle in 2015 which had clocked only about 1000 km when I took up office. It just so happens that this was exactly the vehicle I would have selected had I opted to purchase a new one. I have also taken a decision to reduce the use of paper in the office; most people will tell you, for example, that I download papers for meetings.

VB: With uncertainty about the future of GATE, how has the Campus been managing student admissions? Has there been a decrease in applications?

BC: There has been a decrease in applications in some programmes, significantly at the postgraduate level. In response, we held an Open Day on May 28 and invited prospective students to discuss their career goals and to view UWI offerings. We have extended application deadlines to June 30. Faculties have been asked to get in touch directly with existing students. For the medium and long term, we will be reviewing our recruitment strategies.

VB: Can you give an update on the status of the South Campus?

BC: We have started to award tenders to contractors to complete the infrastructure and some of the buildings. Given the funds available, the Law Faculty building, the Moot Court, the Academic building, the Halls of Residence, the Student Union, the Facilities Management and the Security buildings will be ready for use. Sadly, we cannot afford to complete the Library at this time. We will accommodate the requisite library services in one of the completed buildings until it could be made ready.
Much has been said about the academic programmes to be offered at the South Campus. What I can definitely say at this time, is that Faculties, Departments and Units that will be the vanguard of South Campus occupation, will be those with offerings that leverage the site to support the thrust of the Campus into new avenues and to increase the Campus’ earning potential. We have detailed appropriate criteria for selection on the basis described. Unless good sense dictates otherwise, there will be a single lead Faculty-based operation in the form of a single programme or suite of programmes. However, this will be complemented by other operations.

VB: Can you identify the biggest challenges you have faced?

BC: Despite the fact that I spent eight years as Dean [Faculty of Engineering], I must say that the past few months have been quite a learning experience. Notwithstanding the challenges such as the South Campus, the protests arising out of the Law Faculty, the shortfall in Government allocations and the outstanding negotiations and attendant back-pay issues, I would have to say that the biggest challenge thus far has been managing the pace of the office, more so in an environment in which systems and processes are not as well defined as they should be.
That pace is primarily determined by the short cycle of Campus and University meetings and is compounded by an organizational structure that leans to the unwieldy. In addition to the funding challenge, this has limited my ability to properly plan and strategize. I intend to address these structural challenges in short order.

VB: What would you say were your major achievements?

BC: I have made some adjustments at the management level. For example, I cleared the Office of the Campus Principal of all units that I considered to be of a purely operational nature so that it could focus on more strategic matters. Significantly, the Division of Facilities Management was returned to the Registrar’s Office and its activities in managing campus projects were transferred to the Campus Projects Office.
At the campus level, I have restructured campus management in an attempt to make it more responsive and action oriented. Significantly, there is a Campus Executive Management Team (CEMT) that comprises myself, the Bursar [Andrea Taylor-Hanna], the Registrar [Richard Saunders], the Deputy Principal [Prof Rhoda Reddock] and the Librarian [Frank Soodeen]. We meet every two weeks to look at core, supportive elements. Senior Management meets twice per semester; this includes Deans and Directors who manage the various operational units. Finally, there is a management team that includes all the above and other management staff and administrative officers. We are still fine-tuning this system. What I can say is that judging from the CEMT activities to date, there is an awful amount of work ahead of us.
I think that I have been successful in motivating a new vision for the Campus, one that incorporates an implicit mandate to do all that we can to support the development and growth of the nation, the Caribbean and the University. It is supported by two key initiatives: a completely re-engineered and revitalised educational component, as well as a new thrust into the domain of innovation-led, export-oriented entrepreneurship. This vision is now embedded in the UWI Strategic Plan for the period 2017-2022.
I think the greatest achievement so far has been the galvanizing of the Office of Research, Development and Knowledge Transfer to take the lead in building the campus systems required to effectively support that innovation-led, export-oriented entrepreneurship. At the same time, it will seek to facilitate innovation on the social and ecological fronts. Its progress has been in no small way the result of the stellar efforts of its new director, Professor John Agard. I place great store on this activity because it represents a significant departure from what the University has traditionally been doing: teaching, research and outreach.

VB: You have spoken consistently about the need for the University to reconfigure its way of doing things: to think more entrepreneurially, to be more focused on transforming research into commercially viable ventures. This requires more than systemic changes, it will demand a cultural shift that, given human nature, will doubtless meet resistance. Can you elaborate on how you plan to make this happen?

BC: My 20 years or so of singing the song of innovation-led entrepreneurship has made me painfully aware of the depth of the challenge of creating the new university culture. Historically, the most effective strategies for culture change require a significant change in the people who are solidly embedded in the old culture or a motivating force that is too strong to be ignored. I had hopes for the country when the new university, UTT, was formed, as innovation and entrepreneurship was identified as part of its mandate; however, I do not think that this has yet been achieved.

That being said, my strategy for the UWI has several components:

  1. Work really hard for an early win. It is for this reason that I have set a mandate for St. Augustine to launch its first spin-off company by August 2017.
  2. Establish an innovation-to-entrepreneurship ecosystem that will provide all the support required to move an idea into impactful reality – commercial in the first instance. That ecosystem will include legal, financial and business development support, all in collaboration with the private and public sectors.
  3. Work with staff who are willing, but target students primarily, to identify potentially innovative opportunities among the vast array of projects at St. Augustine.

The long-term, very conservative target is for UWI to spin-off one new company every two years. The recession is a great motivator in moving these plans along.

VB: There has been speculation that the appointment of a Chancellor who comes from a commercial background is part of a university strategy to signal a difference in the way it does business. How relevant is that element to the selection of Mr. Robert Bermudez?

BC: I think that his appointment is truly strategic; if only because it signals the urgency of the very same culture change you asked about. Many are of the view that a Chancellor should be an academic. However, the Chancellor’s responsibility is primarily ceremonial although he/she has responsibility in the governance framework as Chairman of Council, the highest decision-making body at The UWI. Most of all, the Chancellor is expected to be a strong advocate for the University.
Our first Chancellor, Princess Alice, was not an academic. The last Chancellor at the University of Huddersfield in the UK was renowned actor Sir Patrick Stewart, best known for his role as Captain Jean Luc Piccard on the Star Trek Enterprise TV series.

VB: Can you share your vision for the St. Augustine Campus and the University generally for the next five years?

BC: Along the lines of what was mentioned earlier, The UWI will be a University that would have reinvented itself so as to optimally align its teaching and research mandate to societal needs, even as it makes its contribution to the creation of a stronger culture of innovation. The latter will be characterized by a steady stream of new innovation-led, export-oriented enterprises to buoy our sagging economies and by University-resourced social interventions towards a vastly improved society. This University will also be one that continues to lead in identifying and addressing ecological challenges of the Caribbean.

VB: What kind of support – internal and external – do you see as necessary to enable your vision, and how do you propose to get it?

BC: It always boils down to a workable strategy that is well-resourced with human and financial capital.

VB: Finally, one year in, what do you think has defined your principalship?

BC: People-empowerment and the consequent reliance on the collective to aid in situation assessment and in decision-making.