Jamaican Art Disappears In Cuba

In May, on my way home from Havana, I ran into Ebony Patterson at the airport. She was one of the international artists invited to exhibit in the Havana Biennial. And the only Jamaican! On Saturday afternoon, I had happily wandered around Old Havana with my sister, Donnette, and our friend, Ifeona, trying to find Ebony’s three installations.

Ebony.CubaWe managed to track down one of them. It was a typically complex image, both alarming and strangely beautiful: A mutilated male body lying in a bed of flowers. Dread reality transformed by the artist into a seemingly pretty picture. The body was carefully camouflaged, dressed in flowers that blended with the background.  The underwear was visible, bearing the K-Mart/Sears brand, Joe Boxer.

This is how the brand is described on its website: “Joe Boxer was founded in 1985, with the very simple idea of taking the most basic elements in men’s clothing and remaking it to reflect humour, fashion and popular trends. Because the product is based around the idea of having fun, it gives consumers a chance to identify with, and be a part of the brand.”

Ebony takes all the fun out of Joe Boxer. On the waistband of the underwear, she subversively inserts the word ‘Joeker’ between the repeated brand name. The joke is quite serious. Ebony explained that the work is one of a series focusing on murder, masculinity and consumerism. There are signs of other trendy accessories: fashionable sunglasses and mismatched shoes.

I don’t suppose the owners of the Joe Boxer brand would be too pleased with Ebony’s deadly refashioning of the product line. But they can’t determine exactly how consumers “identify with” their brand. Artistic licence permits Ebony to turn Joe Boxer into a vulnerable male model for so many youth who end up dead, just trying to have some sort of fun.

WHOSE IDEA AND EXPERIENCE?

The theme of this year’s Havana Biennial is ‘Between the Idea and the Experience’. And the curators took the decision to move some of the art out of conventional exhibition spaces into the street. They wanted people to experience art as they were going about their everyday business. Along the busy Malecon, the seawall that protects Havana, installations kept popping up.

inti-balance-2Right outside our hotel there was a grouping of beautiful rocking chairs, titled ‘Balance Cubano’. But some of the chairs were joined in such a way that you couldn’t actually sit in them. As the artist, Inti Hernandez, put it in the exhibition guide, “Furniture that could very well comfort a person and interact with the surrounding community becomes a rigid and unpleasant object.”

I must confess I thought the installation a waste of perfectly functional furniture. But Hernandez, who lives and works between Cuba and the Netherlands, wanted to make an intriguing point about a society in transition: “I dedicate these works to Cuba and its present interesting situation, aware of the many opportunities and yet also faced with challenges.”

One of Ebony’s pieces was installed on the Malecon. On Sunday morning, when she went to photograph it, she was amused to see that it had disappeared. She did admit that when she was installing it she had overheard some entertaining reviews from onlookers. They said the work would make excellent bedspreads and curtains. Not the design; the actual object! They, obviously, didn’t see the dead body. Only the flowers.

The curators’ rather ambitious concept of the biennial seems to be a far cry from the basic needs of ordinary Cubans. There appears to be a big gap between the curators’ ‘idea’ and the people’s ‘experience’. Art taken out of the ‘protected’ space of the gallery and put on the street for mass consumption assumes new functions.

THE ART OF DEAD BODIES

So it looks as if somebody decided that Ebony’s installation, like those rocking chairs, was a waste of useful material and simply repurposed it. And that’s why the installation disappeared. The fate of Ebony’s artwork made me think about the value and cost of art in societies like ours where people are literally dying of hunger. How do we justify the seeming excess that is art? Does public art, for example, make the life of the poor more bearable? Or is it a luxury we simply cannot afford?

Stop-ED-image-300x284In countries with erratic governance structures, ‘disappearance’ is often a destabilising fact of life. Just think of those 43 male students in Mexico who disappeared last September on their way to protest at a conference put on by the wife of the mayor of Iguala. Disappearance is often a code word for murder, plain and simple. The victim is abducted, often tortured, then killed and the body disposed of so there is no evidence.

The disappearance of art is clearly not comparable. Quite the contrary! Unlike so many human beings, the disappeared object is certainly not violated. It is preserved because it is highly valued. So somebody, somewhere in Havana, is enjoying Ebony’s public installation in private. Perhaps, it hasn’t been turned into home furnishings. It may have been captured by a collector who knows that it’s really ‘art’, meant for a wall.

I suppose we won’t ever know the fate of Ebony’s installation. We can only be philosophical about its disappearance. Ebony’s startling artwork about dead bodies ends up like a corpse in an unmarked grave. That’s the terrifying appeal of Jamaican culture.

The High Cost Of Development

casaamI recently visited Grand Cayman for the first time. I was on my way to Havana for a conference on cultural diversity in the Caribbean, hosted by that distinguished Cuban institution, Casa de las Américas.

One of the highlights was a symposium titled ‘Bob Marley, Time Will Tell’. Professor Horace Campbell, author of the classic, Rasta and Resistance, gave the opening lecture on ‘Bob Marley and the Resistance to War’. All the speakers acknowledged the power of Marley’s music as a political force, urging the oppressed across the globe to rebel against systems of injustice.

The struggle against colonialism is a recurring theme in Marley’s lyrics. But, from what I could see of Cayman, colonialism didn’t look like such a bad thing. Cayman is still a colony of Britain. And Grand Cayman does seem to be rather grand. First World. I kept wondering what was hidden beneath the surface. Offshore banking has been a source of great wealth. But the obvious material prosperity of the Cayman Islands wasn’t the whole story.

My sister, Donnette, noticed that there didn’t seem to be too many ‘local’ people around. At the hotel on the island’s famous seven-mile beach where we overnighted, most of the employees were not Caymanian. The majority of the waiters in the main dining-room appeared to be Filipino or South Asian. The housekeeping staff on our floor were Jamaican. We went into town for dinner and the waiter who served us was from Santo Domingo.

Where were the Caymanians? The female taxi driver who took us back to the airport on Sunday gave us the answer. She described herself as one of a dying breed. Soon, Cayman will be almost completely overrun by foreigners. They will be the primary beneficiaries of development. For Caymanians, the price of ‘development’ will be loss. Loss of land, loss of social place, loss of identity.

BRAND-NEW SECOND-HAND

In Cuba, I was immediately struck by the ‘retro’ development of the communist state. Even on the website where we booked our boutique hotel, Terral, we were warned that the neighbourhood wasn’t so hot. So we were prepared for the crumbling buildings. Very few seemed as if they could be salvaged. But Terral was a bright spot. And the building next door was being renovated.

The decades of embargo imposed by the US, as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union, have forced the Cuban people to be extremely creative. Recycling is both an art and a science. The antique American automobiles are legendary. They are more than mere cars. They are symbols of the resilience of the Cuban people who take pride in craftsmanship, demonstrating their capacity to transform ‘old bruck’ into ‘brand-new second-hand’. I hope that with the lifting of the embargo, these glorious antique cars will not be sold for a song to greedy collectors. Surely, the owners must know their worth.

MacklinCreativity takes many forms. At the main craft market in Central Havana, I met Arturo Macklin, an elderly gentleman who was born in Cuba of Jamaican parents. He approached my sister, asking if she was Jamaican. He’s 86 years old and his walking stick was a marvel. It was made from empty deodorant containers, placed over a stick and joined, like sausages, by being heated! At the top was an umbrella handle. Mr Macklin stylishly twirled his home-made walking stick as if it were pure ebony from the finest of gentleman outfitters. And he posed for the camera with an athletic ‘to the world’ gesture, worthy of Usain Bolt.

LOOKING FOR JAMAICAN FAMILY

At the conference, a Cuban woman with Jamaican roots gave me a list of names and asked me to help her find her family. Her name is Belkis O’Connor Jones. At the top of the list was Archibald Edinazer O’Connor, who was born in Westmoreland in the 1870s. Belkis didn’t know the district. Next was Anna Gardener. But there was no information about her birth. Then there was Albertha Adeline Gregory, who was born in Port Antonio in May 1895. And Lois Alexander Jones, who was born in St Ann in the 1890s. I promised to try my best to see if I could find any record of these births and, if possible, any descendants. But I wasn’t hopeful.

G-best-genealogy-sitesSo many Jamaicans went to Cuba to work on the sugar estates and did not return. They made life in their adopted homeland. But their grandchildren now want to reclaim their Jamaican culture. Mr Macklin spoke longingly about wanting to eat ackee and salt fish. His ackee tree in the country was blown down in Hurricane Flora! I promised to check with the Cuban embassy to see if I could send him some canned ackee. Not the same as fresh from the tree. But better than nothing.

There is so much that we share across the Caribbean. A common history of ‘discovery’, genocide, squatting, enforced mass migration, enslavement, resistance, emancipation, colonisation, flag independence and economic colonisation all over again. But there are still cultural differences that make us claim particular places as home. Even when we don’t always feel at home. Like that woman in Cayman who sees herself as an endangered species. And Belkis, who is not completely at home in Cuba, wanting to find her distant relatives in Jamaica.

Old Man No Fi Grudge Young Boy

Unknown-1Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CKAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

It no right fi old man a grudge young boy. Some a dem old man must be figet seh dem did young one time. A no like seh dem born old. Dem did get fi dem chance fi live young-boy life. An pick an choose dem woman-friend. An mek fi dem owna mistake. So wa mek dem no stop diss di young boy dem? Dem no have nutten good fi seh bout dem.

Chruu nuff a dem old man a look young gyal, dem can’t believe seh young boy coulda want big woman. A must someting di young boy dem a look. Money, car, house, land. A coulda never di so-so woman sweet dem. No matter if she a healthy-body woman; an she know how fi treat man; an she just nice-nice. She no have nutten weh di old man want. So ascorden to him, no young boy can’t want her fi nutten good.

The-Power-of-Ambition-Part-7Wat some a dem old man no know, a no all young boy a look big woman fi mind dem. Some a di young boy dem a mek good-good money. Legal. Dem no ha fi a beg woman nutten. Dem deh youth have ambition. An dem no prejudice gainst big woman. Dem two yeye wide open. Dem see one big uman an dem skin ketch fire. Dem just love how she flex. An dem put argument to her.

If it sweet her, she mighta tek on di youth. A no like seh dem a plan fi seh “I do”. Dem just a seh, “See me ya”. Ya so. Fi now. An if dem lucky, it sweet-sweet. A it dat. An it mighta last one night, one week, one month, one year. It coulda gwaan long-long. An wen it done, it done! An nobody no ha fi bex wid nobody. A so it go.

NO BODDER TALK BOUT VIAGRA

Then some a di old man dem love fi gi advice to big woman. A warn dem seh di young boy dis a use dem. Fi wa? Money? Sex? Deh so a di problem. A dat mek di old man dem so bad-mind an grudgeful. Di ting weh young boy have over old man a stamina! An dat a one a di ting weh big woman a look fa. Di old man dem no got it. No matter how dem chat. An no bodder talk bout Viagra. A no di same ting. Any stand weh last fi more than four hour can’t good. Dat a kill dead sinting.

But mek mi tell unu someting. A no ongle old man a diss young boy. Some a di said same big woman dem weh tek up wid young boy a diss dem. One youth tell mi seh im did deh wid a big woman. An any time im go a her yard all she waan do a sex im. Like im a human vibrator. An im seh it hurt im. Sometime im just waan fi talk. Seet deh! Man an woman story no easy.

Di big woman dem ha fi treat di young boy dem better. Dem can’t gwaan Iike seh di yute a machine an dem waan wear out im battery. Still for all, if young boy an big woman waan fi try a ting, mek dem dweet. Nobody can’t tell dem which combination nah go work. A no padlock. A life! Some a dem outa order old man better mind dem owna business an stop tell people how fi live dem life.

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN It no rait fi uol man a groj yong bwai. Som a dem uol man mosi figet se dem did yong wan taim. A no laik se dem baahn uol. Dem did get fi dem chaans fi liv yong-bwai laif. An pik an chuuz dem uman-fren. An mek fi dem uona mistiek. So wa mek dem no tap dis di yong bwai dem? Dem no av notn gud fi se bout dem.

Chruu nof a dem uol man a luk yong gyal, dem kyaahn biliiv se yong bwai kuda waahn big uman. A mos somting di yong bwai dem a luk. Moni, kyaar, ous, lan. A kuda neva di suo-so uman swiit dem. No mata if shi a elti-badi uman; an shi nuo ou fi chriit man; an shi jos nais-nais. Shi no av notn we di uol man waahnt. So azkaadn tu im, nuo yong bwai kyaahn waahnt ar fi notn gud.

Wat som a dem uol man no nuo, a no aal yong bwai a luk big uman fi main dem. Som a di yong bwai dem a mek gud-gud moni. Liigal. Dem no a fi a beg uman notn. Dem de yuut av ambishan. An dem no prejudis gens big uman. Dem tuu yai waid uopn. Dem si wan big uman an dem skin kech faiya. Dem jos lov ou shi fleks. An dem put aagyument tu ar.

If it swiit ar, shi maita tek aan di yuut. A no laik se dem a plan fi se “I do”. Dem jos a se, “Si mi ya”. Ya so. Fi nou. An if dem loki, it swiit-swiit. A it dat. An it maita laas wan nait, wan wiik, wan mont, wan ier. It kuda gwaahn lang-lang. An wen it don, it don! An nobadi no a fi beks wid nobadi. A so it go.

NO BADA TAAK BOUT VIAGRA

images-1Den som a di uol man dem lov fi gi advais tu big uman. A waan dem se di yong bwai dis a yuuz dem. Fi wa? Moni? Seks? De so a di prablem. A dat mek di uol man dem so bad-main an grojful. Di ting we yong bwai av uova uol man a stamina! An dat a wan a di ting we big uman a luk fa. Di uol man dem no gat it. No mata ou dem chat. An no bada taak bout Viagra. A no di siem ting. Eni stan we laas fi muor dan fuor ouwa kyaahn gud. Dat a kil ded sinting.

Bot mek mi tel unu somting. A no ongl uol man a dis yong bwai. Som a di sed siem big uman dem we tek op wid yong bwai a dis dem. Wan yuut tel mi se im did de wid a big uman. An eni taim im go a ar yaad, aal shi waahn du a seks im. Laik im a yuuman vaibrieta. An im se it ort im. Somtaim im jos waahn fi talk. Siit de! Man an uman tuori no iizi.

Di big uman dem a fi chriit di yong bwai dem beta. Dem kyaahn gwaan Iaik se di yuut a mashiin an dem waahn wier out im bachri. Stil far aal, if yong bwai an big uman waahn fi chrai a ting, mek dem dwiit. Nobadi kyaahn tel dem wich kombinieshan naa go work. A no padlak. A laif! Som a dem outa aada uol man beta main dem uona bizniz an stap tel piipl ou fi liv dem laif.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Old men shouldn’t envy young men. It’s just not fair. Some of these old men don’t seem to remember there was a time when they were young. It’s not as if they were born old. They had their chance to enjoy their youth. They could pick and choose their female friends. And make their own mistakes. So why won’t they stop dissing young men? They have nothing good to say about them.

imagesBecause a lot of those older men are trying to hook up with young women, they can’t believe any young man would want an older woman. The young man must have an agenda. He wants the woman’s money, car, house or land. It couldn’t possibly be just the woman herself that he finds desirable. It doesn’t matter if she’s physically attractive; and she knows how to treat men; and she’s just very sweet. She has nothing that an old man would want. So, as far as he’s concerned, no young man could want her for any good reason.

What some a these old men don’t know is that not all young men are looking for an older woman to look after them. Some of these young men are making good money. Legally. They don’t have to ask women for money. These young men are ambitious. And they’re not prejudiced against older women. Their eyes are wide open. They see an older woman who excites them. They just love her vibe. And they chat her up.

If she likes what he says, she just might fall for him. It’s not as if they’re planning to say, “I do”. They’re just saying, “You can have me”. Right here. For now. And if they’re lucky, it’s very good. And that’s it. And it might last one night, one week, one month, one year. It could go on for a very long time. And when it’s done, it’s done! And they don’t have to get angry with each other. That’s just how it is.

DON’T EVEN TALK ABOUT VIAGRA

viagra3_aotwThen some of these old men love to give advice to old women, warning them that young men are just using them. For what? Money? Sex? That’s the real problem. That’s what’s making those old men so malicious and envious. The advantage young men have over older men is stamina! And that’s one of the things mature women are looking for. And old men just don’t have it. No matter what they say. And don’t even talk about Viagra. It’s not the same. Any erection that lasts for more than four hours can’t be good. That’s a death sentence.

But, by the way, it’s not only old men who diss young men. Some of those same older women who get involved with young men diss them as well. A young man told me he used to be with an older woman. And when he visited her, all she wanted to do was have sex. As is he was a human vibrator. And he said it hurt him. Sometimes, all he wanted to do was talk. You see! Male/female dynamics can be quite complex.

Older women have to treat young men better. They can’t get on as if the young man is a machine and they want to wear out his battery. All the same, if a young man and an older woman want to have an affair, let them go right ahead. No one can tell them which combination can and can’t work. It’s not a padlock. It’s life! Some of those officious old men should mind their own business and stop telling other people how to live and love.

Teething Pains At UTech’s College of Oral Sciences

UnknownLast Wednesday, I telephoned Dr. Irving McKenzie, dean of the College of Oral Sciences at the University of Technology. I wanted to ask a single, straightforward question: Why was UTech bypassing accreditation of its degree programme in dentistry?

I was relieved by Dr McKenzie’s unexpected answer. UTech is not actually avoiding review by the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). A consultant has been hired to manage the long and expensive process. The first stage is self-assessment, which has already started.

So why didn’t Dr. McKenzie say this in his article, “Jamaica Produces World-Class Dentists”, published last Monday? He didn’t even acknowledge CAAM-HP, much less the need for accreditation. Instead, he announced that “the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision to ensure that graduates of the College of Oral Health Sciences are qualified according to world-class standards”.

Dr. McKenzie seemed to be proposing that the examination administered by the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA), based in the US, was insurance enough. Mere accreditation of the academic programme by the unmentionable CAAM-HP didn’t appear to count. But should it be either or?

Making his case for world-class standards, Dr. McKenzie echoed the words of Professor Colin Gyles, deputy president of the University of Technology. In an article headlined, “Carolyn Cooper and the UWI Cartel”, published on April 28, Professor Gyles reported that “The CDCA is described as being like the GOLD standard for dental competency assessment”.

The inflammatory headline of Professor Gyles’ article is the work of a devilish Gleaner editor. The original was much more innocent: “Protecting our nation’s investment in university education”. The provocative headline sent a subliminal message. It was a reminder that I’d invited Vybz Kartel to speak at UWI. But, perhaps, as a teacher of literature, I’m reading too much into it.

THE REAL DEAL

SMILEEE-resized-600.jpgUTech’s last-minute decision to start the accreditation process is the real “world-class” deal. For example, the website of the American Dental Association (ADA) makes it quite clear that “Though requirements vary from state to state, all applicants for dental licensure must meet three basic requirements; an education requirement, a written examination requirement and a clinical examination requirement”.

The website confirms that “The educational requirement in nearly all states is a DDS or DMD degree from a university-based dental education program accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation (ADA CODA). References to accreditation in states’ licensure provisions relate to the CODA and no other agency”.

Dr. McKenzie boastfully announces that “The people of Jamaica can be justly proud that the graduating dentists, having successfully passed this most objective method of assessment, are competent dental professionals that are eligible for licensure by the Dental Council of Jamaica and the licensing bodies of many States in the USA, countries in the region and elsewhere in the world”.

This declaration is not entirely accurate. Passing the CDCA examination is not enough. In order to be licensed in the majority of states within the US, dentists must have graduated from a university with an accredited dental education programme.

Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, the CDCA exam only tests clinical competence. It does not meet the written test requirement, as outlined by the American Dental Association. Are we in the Caribbean willing to settle for lower standards than those of the ADA?

CONSPIRACY THEORY?

imagesDr McKenzie is a busy, busy, busy man. He wears several hats. He’s the chief dental officer in the ministry of health. In that capacity, he’s a long-standing member of the regulatory Dental Council of Jamaica; and, on top of that, he’s dean of the College of Oral Sciences at the University of Technology. It is rumoured that he also has a private practice in dentistry. But that cannot possibly be true. Those patients would really have to be very patient to see him.

Until quite recently, it seems, UTech appeared unwilling to begin the demanding process of accreditation by CAAM-HP. I wonder if the dean of the College of Oral Sciences inveigled the chief dental officer to approach the Dental Council of Jamaica to cut a deal with the CDCA as a way around the obstacle of accreditation! Sounds like a conspiracy theory.

Furthermore, Dr. McKenzie seems to have forgotten which hat he was wearing when he asserted that “the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision” to ensure that its students could take the CDCA examination. As I understand it, the CDCA does not enter into contractual arrangements with teaching institutions, only with licensing bodies. So the CDCA recognises the Dental Council, not UTech.

Color VersionIn addition, both UTech and UWI dental students are eligible to take the CDCA exam. But, to date, the Dental Council has not officially informed UWI of this development. In effect, UTech got a head start. Their students have already taken a mock exam and are about to do the real-real exam later this month.

What I simply don’t understand is why the minister of health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has not acted decisively to rein in Dr. McKenzie. But based on his mishandling of the chik-V disaster and, more recently, the Riverton plague, I suppose it’s too much to expect the minister to rise from his state of terminal impotence.

UTech Deputy President Beating His Gums

If he’s not careful, Professor Colin Gyles, deputy president of the University of Technology (UTech), will soon need the services of a graduate of an accredited dental degree programme. He’s just beating his gums in response to my column published last Sunday, “University fi stone dog in the UK?”

There, I state the truth: “UTech hasn’t even applied for accreditation of its dental programme! And the first graduates are about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world”. In his evasive column, “Carolyn Cooper and the UWI cartel”, published last Tuesday, Professor Gyles takes almost 800 words to avoid addressing the issue of accreditation.

redherringInstead, he puts some rather smelly red herrings on the table, hoping, I suppose, to distract readers from the meat of the matter. Professor Gyles says he’s a graduate of the University of the West Indies. That’s irrelevant. Then he makes a nonsensical claim: “It should be evident that any criticism of UTech’s capacity to deliver quality education is a criticism of the institutions from which those experts got their training”.

Perhaps it should be evident. But it is not. Accreditation of a university’s academic programmes – the primary issue here – is not solely dependent on the qualifications of those who are offering training. And, in any case, I was not criticising UTech’s capacity. The quality of actual delivery may be quite different from capacity.

CARICOM ACCREDITATION

What Dr. Gyles fails to admit is that the University of Technology is not accredited by The Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). As stated on its website, CAAM-HP “is the legally constituted body established in 2003 under the aegis of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), empowered to determine and prescribe standards and to accredit programmes of medical, dental, veterinary and other health professions education on behalf of the contracting parties in CARICOM”.

Furthermore, the website states that “CAAM-HP will serve as the means of providing the assurance of quality that generates confidence in the principal stakeholders, students and the public”. When I checked with the local office of CAAM-HP two Fridays ago, I was informed that several attempts have been made to get the University of Technology to begin the accreditation process. With no success.

Apparently resisting local/regional review, UTech has turned to the US-based Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA) to legitimise its academic programme. In his response to my column, Prof. Gyles states, “UTech’s dental programme is recognised by the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA), which assesses and approves dentists to practise in the United States and Canada. The CDCA is described as being like the GOLD standard for dental competency assessment.

“It is of note that UTech’s College of Oral Health Sciences became the first institution outside of North America to be approved by the CDCA. The current final-year cohort of students from UTech’s dentistry programme will be sitting the CDCA examinations in less than a month”.

FALSE IMPRESSION?

headerCDCAWhat, exactly, does CDCA recognition and approval mean? Nothing much, it would appear. Last Tuesday, I spoke to Dr. Ellis Hall, Director of Examinations at the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment. He immediately confirmed that the Commission is not an accrediting body. It administers exams. That’s it.

Professor Gyles argues that because UTech dental students are about to take the CDCA exams, “It therefore gives a completely false impression of the quality of the cohort of students who will shortly graduate from the programme as fully trained and qualified dentists for them to be described as ‘about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world’”.

The UTech graduates may very well be “fully trained and qualified dentists”. But this is another red herring. How many of us would suspect that the UTech dental degree programme is not accredited? Try as he might, Professor Gyles cannot deny the fact that UTech is pressing along with its dental programme, with no regard for the CARICOM accreditation requirements.

As for the platitude that “We cannot become so fiercely competitive that we tear each other apart and undermine the collective strength that we could muster in order to bolster our own collective survival and competitiveness in the wider world”. Professor Gyles clearly didn’t see my statement that we need more than one university in Kingston. The issue is not competition; it’s competitive advantage.

“SOME KIND OF POYTECHNIC”

Surprisingly, Professor Gyles doesn’t seem to appreciate the value of polytechnic education. He dismissively states, “The impression being given that UTech is some kind of polytechnic that simply tries to duplicate the offerings of traditional universities such as UWI is not true”. The College of Arts, Science and Technology was a polytechnic that did an excellent job of providing professional education. CAST graduates easily found jobs for which their UWI counterparts were unqualified.

imagesAnd it is true that some foolish administrators at UWI turned up their noses at academic programmes they considered beneath them. Like sports. Now, the University is desperately trying to catch up in some of these fields. But the solution to the problem of shortsightedness is not duplication of effort.

The administrators of both UTech and UWI need to sit down and talk about how the limited resources of both the nation and the region can be used to full advantage. Ensuring that all academic programmes are accredited is the first step.

University Fi Stone Dog in the UK?

Believe it or not, influential academics are insisting that there are far too many universities in the UK. Of course, they’re not using our colourful language – university fi stone dog! But it amounts to the same thing. Universities are in such plentiful supply that the issue of wasted resources is now on the national agenda.

imagesLast year, Sir Roderick Floud, former president of Universities UK, made an alarming public statement: half of UK universities should be closed. His remarks were carried by the Telegraph on June 19: “I believe we have too many universities, that they are trying to do too many different things, and that the way we fund their research is fundamentally flawed”.

Practically all universities in the UK are financed by government. So cynics might argue that Floud’s belief is just the backward opinion of an elitist, conservative administrator wanting to curtail public spending on higher education. There may be some truth to that. But Floud does have a point. In the 1990s, British polytechnics were magically transformed into universities with the wave of a wand, it would seem.

Instead of specialising in professional vocational education, polytechnics began to duplicate the offerings of traditional universities. I suppose it’s similar to what the University of Technology has been doing in recent years: replicating practically all the professional programmes offered by the University of the West Indies. Incidentally, UTECH hasn’t even applied for accreditation of its dental programme! And the first graduates are about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world.

This is how Floud sums up the problem: “We don’t need two or more universities in each of our major cities, glowering at each other and competing to attract the attentions of businesses and local authorities.

“Why does Leeds or Sheffield or Oxford, for example, need two vice-chancellors, registrars or groups of governors?

“In London, the situation is even more bizarre, with some 40 universities within the M25 [the motorway that circles the city] and more arriving by the day. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has remained supine in the face of evidence that all this is unnecessary and inefficient.”

OVERSUPPLY, DOUBTFUL QUALITY

hydel_univOf course, our situation is different. We do need more than one university in Kingston. There’s a huge market for tertiary education. But the twin problem of oversupply and doubtful quality can’t be conveniently forgotten. Last week, I was reminded of this issue in a conversation with Dr. Henley Morgan, who was appointed Chancellor of the former Hydel University College in December.

Yes, Hydel does have a Chancellor. As Dr. Morgan explains, “not a ceremonial role as is the custom throughout the Commonwealth university system, but rather the executive role of Instructional Leader, as it is used in the American community college system”. And he made an amusing admission: “It’s funny but 7 out of 10 persons I tell of my latest calling ask if I’ve read your articles on the subject of unregistered institutions and unaccredited courses”.

Dr. Morgan has not only read the articles; he’s taken immediate action. He’s prioritised and expedited the necessary process for Hydel’s registration as a tertiary education institution and hosted the University Council of Jamaica on a site visit. Dr. Morgan brought to my attention the fact that the sign proclaiming Hydel as a university was removed even before his appointment.

Perhaps my sceptical columns persuaded the founder/president, Mrs. Hyacinth Bennett, to set more realistic goals. In any case, I’m glad commonsense has prevailed. And I wish Chancellor Morgan well as he attempts to transform Hydel College into a viable tertiary institution.

NOT SETTLING FOR WAT-LEF

Then there’s another side to the business of oversupply of British universities that we can’t afford to ignore. Many institutions have resorted to exporting their programmes. We, in the Caribbean, are a targeted market. But we have to be careful that we’re not settling for wat-lef. And we do have our own academic programmes that we can export.

UnknownEarlier this month, the 3rd CARIFORUM-EU business forum took place in MoBay. Its purpose was to review economic partnership agreements and, hopefully, increase trade with Europe in three areas of our competitive advantage: agro-processing, music and higher education. I was invited to speak at a roundtable on higher education.

Focusing on the potential of creative industries programmes to transform academic institutions, I drew attention to the accomplishments of the Reggae Studies Unit at the University of the West Indies. Over the last two decades, scores of undergraduate and graduate students have come to the Mona campus from across the world to do research on Jamaican popular music and related cultural forms.

I also highlighted the innovative undergraduate degree programme in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management that was introduced by the Reggae Studies Unit in 2007. And I talked about the proposal I recently developed, in consultation with several colleagues, to establish a multi-disciplinary, cross-faculty Centre for the Creative Industries and Cultural Enterprise at UWI.

We must acknowledge the relationship between culture, creativity and economic development and use our talents to our own advantage. Or we will remain trapped in debt, constantly dependent on our former colonial masters to feed us with scraps from the table.

Obama Done Know Wa A Gwaan

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

JAMAICA-US-DIPLOMACY-OBAMA-TOWN HALLSo Obama go a youth forum an im greet di massive inna fi wi language. An im big up UWI. An im aks, “Wa a gwaan, Jamaica”? An it sweet nuff a wi. Yeah, man! Obama talk up di ting.   But unu see seh im never talk dat deh talk wen im go a Jamaica House an wen im go meet di govament head dem. Im know wa a gwaan. Fi wi heart language no good enough fi dem deh high-up meeting.

Then chruu mi difend fi wi language, people a run joke wid mi, a aks mi if a mi did teach Obama fi talk Jamaican. Mi? Poor mi, poor gyal! Mi never get fi meet Obama, much less fi a gi im extra lesson. An mi never young enough fi go a di youth forum. By di way, mi wuda love fi know a who pick some a dem deh ‘youth’. Wen mi a watch di forum pon TV, mi see some hard-back, old, old smaddy a try pass fi youth. Mi seh to miself, “Dem must have big links fi get bogus age-paper”! Anyhow, a Jamaica dis. A bandooloo run tings.

Still for all, mi no know how dem deh unconscionable old smaddy no shame fi a tek weh young people seat. Fi dem shame-tree dead, dead, dead. An mi know seh di down-grow ‘youth’ dem a go seh a nutten but bad-mind an grudgeful mek mi a bad-talk dem, chruu mi never have no contact. Mi have conscience. Mi go outa road go watch motorcade pass wen Obama lef UWI fi go a Heroes Circle. Wat a piece a excitement! Fi wi outrider dem inna dem boasy uniform; an di whole heap a secret service guardy dem; an di two Beast dem!

‘WAZ OP WI DAT’?

mothers-tongue_0One a di ting Obama well know a dis: wen yu talk tu people inna fi dem heart language, yu get nuff forward. Mi fren, Prof. Hubert Devonish, send mi dis ya email: “In the whole Obama Jamaica language hoopla, the thing never mentioned is that he is himself a native or near native speaker of Hawaiian Creole (HC)! Check this video in which his ‘deviation’ into HC bears some interesting comparisons with his ‘Wa a gwaan, Jamieka?’ bit.”

Prof. Devonish a one linguist an im a di head a di Jamaica Language Unit a UWI. So im know weh im a talk bout.   Pon di video, President Obama dida gi one speech inna 2012. Im dida talk inna Washington, DC to di Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.   Same time Obama seh im born a Hawai’i, some a di Hawai’an people dem bawl out, “Chee huu”! Im stop braps. An im start laugh. Cau im know weh dem a seh. Dem well glad fi know seh im an dem come from di same place. Dem talk di same language. So hear Obama im, “These Hawaiians here! Waz op wi dat”?

Then music a one next language weh reach people, all wen dem no ketch di lyrics. Look how reggae music gone all over di world! An mi glad fi see seh Obama did go a Bob Marley Museum. Mi ongle sorry seh wen im did go a Heroes Circle im never dis go down a Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey. An mi know seh some people a seh dem no want Merica pardon Garvey becau im never do nutten wrong. Mi no gree wid dem. Merika fi stop tell lie pon Garvey seh im a jinnal an gi wi national hero di honour an rispek im deserve. Dat’s wa up wi dat.

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

OBAMA_6So Obama go a yuut fuorom an im griit di masiv ina fi wi langgwij. An im big op UWI. An im aks, “Wa a gwaan, Jamieka”? An it swiit nof a wi. Ye, man! Obama taak op di ting.   Bot unu si se im neva taak dat de taak wen im go a Jamaica House an wen im go miit di govament ed dem. Im nuo wa a gwaan. Fi wi aat langgwij no gud inof fi dem de ai-op miitn.

Den chruu mi difen fi wi langgwij, piipl a ron juok wid mi, a aks mi if a mi did tiich Obama fi taak Jamiekan. Mi? Puor mi, puor gyal! Mi neva get fi miit Obama, moch les fi a gi im ekstra lesn. An mi neva yong inof fi go a di yuut fuorom. Bai di wie, mi wuda lov fi nuo a uu pik som a dem de ‘yuut’. Wen mi a wach di fuorom pan TV, mi si som aad-bak, uol, uol smadi a chrai paas fi yuut. Mi se tu miself, “Dem mos av big lingks fi get buogos iej-piepa”! Eniou, a Jamieka dis. A banduulu ron tingz.

Stil far aal, mi no nuo ou dem de ankanshanebl uol smadi no shiem fi a tek we yong piipl siit. Fi dem shiem-chrii ded, ded, ded. An mi nuo se di dong-gruo ‘yuut’ dem a go se a notn bot bad-main an grojful mek mi a bad-taak dem, chruu mi neva av no kantak. Mi av kanshens. Mi go outa ruod go wach muotakied a paas wen Obama lef UWI fi go a Heroes Circle. Wat a piis a eksaitment! Fi wi outraida dem ina dem buosi yuunifaam; an di uol iip a siikrit sorvis gyaadi dem; an di tuu Biis dem!

‘WAZ OP WI DAT’?

Wan a di ting Obama wel nuo a dis: wen yu taak tu piipl ina fi dem aat langgwij, yu get nof faawad. Mi fren, Prof. Hubert Devonish, sen mi dis ya iimiel: “In the whole Obama Jamaica language hoopla, the thing never mentioned is that he is himself a native or near native speaker of Hawaiian Creole (HC)! Check this video in which his ‘deviation’ into HC bears some interesting comparisons with his ‘Wa a gwaan, Jamieka?’ bit”.

Prof. Devonish a wan linggwis an im a di ed a di Jamieka Langgwij Yuunit a UWI. So im nuo we im a taak bout.   Pan di vidiyo, President Obama dida gi wan spiich ina 2012. Im dida taak ina Washington, DC tu di Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.   Siem taim Obama se im baan a Hawai’i, som a di Hawai’an piipl dem baal out, “Chee huu”! Im stap braps. An im staat laaf. Kaa im nuo we dem a se. Dem wel glad fi nuo se im an dem kom fram di siem plies. Dem taak di siem langwij. So ier Obama im, “These Hawaiians here! Waz op wi dat”?

Den myuuzik a wan neks langgwij we riich piipl, aal wen dem no kech di liriks. Luk ou rege myuuzik gaan aal uova di worl! An mi glad fi si se Obama did go a Bob Marley Museum. Mi ongl sari se wen im did go a Heroes Circle im neva dis go dong a Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey. An mi nuo se som piipl a se dem no waahn Merika paadn Garvey bikaa im neva du notn rang. Mi no grii wid dem. Merika fi tap tel lai pan Garvey se im a jinal an gi wi nashinal iiro di ana an rispek im disorv. Dat’s wa op wi dat.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION:  OBAMA KNOWS WHAT’S UP

Barack Obama,So Obama went to the youth forum and greeted the massive in our language. And he said, “Big up, UWI”! And he asked, “What’s up, Jamaica”? And lots of us were tickled. Yeah, man! Obama got the language right. But you must have noticed that he didn’t use that language when he went to Jamaica House nor when he went to meet the heads of government. He knows what’s up. Our heart language isn’t good enough for those official meetings.

Then because I defend our language, some people had a little fun at my expense, asking if it was me who taught Obama to talk Jamaican. Me? Hardly likely! I didn’t get to meet Obama, much less to give him a tutorial. And I wasn’t young enough to go to the youth forum. By the way, I would love to know who selected some of those ‘youth’. When I watched the forum on TV, I saw  some rather tough-looking old people trying to pass themselves off as youth. I said to myself, “They must be very well connected to get fake birth certificates”! Anyhow, this is Jamaica. Trickery is the name of the game.

All the same, I don’t know how those unconscionable old people didn’t feel any shame at taking the place of young people. Their conscience is dead, dead, dead. And I know that these over-age ‘youth’ are going to say I’m criticising them out of malice.  It’s just because I didn’t have any contacts.  I have a conscience. I went on the road to watch the motorcade pass when Obama left UWI to go to Heroes Circle. What an excitement! Our outriders in their stylish uniforms; and all of the secret service security guards; and the two Beasts!

‘WAZ OP WI DAT’?

images-1One of the things Obama knows all too well is this: when you talk to people in their heart language, you get lots of positive vibes. My friend, Prof Hubert Devonish, sent me this email: “In the whole Obama Jamaica language hoopla, the thing never mentioned is that he is himself a native or near native speaker of Hawaiian Creole (HC)! Check this video in which his ‘deviation’ into HC bears some interesting comparisons with his ‘Wa a gwaan, Jamieka?’ bit.”

Prof Devonish is a  linguist and he’s the head of the Jamaican Language Unit at UWI. So he knows what he’s talking about. The video shows President Obama giving a speech in 2012 in Washington, DC to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. As soon as Obama said he was born in Hawai’i, some of the Hawai’ians shouted out, “Chee huu”! He stopped in his tracks.  And he started to laugh. Because he knew what they were saying. They were excited because they were all from the same place. They spoke the same language. And here’s how Obama responded, “These Hawai’ians here! Waz op wi dat”?

Then music is another language that touches people, even when they don’t catch the lyrics. Just think about how reggae music has gone all over the world! And I’m glad Obama visited the Bob Marley Museum. I’m just sorry that when he went to Heroes Circle he didn’t go down to Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey. And I know that some people are saying they don’t want the US to pardon Garvey because he committed no crime. I don’t agree with them. The US needs to stop perpetuating the lie that Garvey was a con artist and give our national hero the honour and respect he deserve. That’s what’s  up with that.