UWI has become more than a seat of learning


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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Milton Friedman, a staunch defender of American capitalism, famously wrote in his book Capitalism and Freedom , “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities to increase its profits.” Friedman was wrong. The intervening years and the growth of capitalism has proved that, while businesses have a responsibility to shareholders to make a profit, to do so without concern for society and the environment would inevitably lead to a situation where there are no raw materials left to extract or markets to sell to. There are studies which show conclusively, the most enduring and profitable businesses are those that elevate concern for people and the environment to the level of their mission statements.Shift the conversation from business to academia. What is the foundation purpose of a university? The academic purist would give a narrow answer, such as, “The role of the university is to educate.” A more enlightened answer would be, “The foundation purpose of the university is to equip students to solve society's problems and to itself be an instrument in the development process.”

More and more universities around the world are integrating social responsibility in their mission statements. There is near-unanimous agreement that higher education is better served when it gives back to the society that is responsible for funding it. A good university takes its social responsibility seriously by seeking to improve the economy and increase social harmony, starting in the area where it is located and extending outward to the country. In fact, the prudent university sees this as acting in its own self-interest and in the interest of long-term sustainability.

Judged against this measure — service to the community — how has The University of the West Indies (UWI) done? Founded in 1948, when a university education was seen as a privilege and not a right under colonial rule, UWI has for most of its life had the well-earned reputation of classism, elitism and isolationism. The Mona campus is surrounded by communities which provide ample justification for the charge that the university has only a prophylactic — distant and aloof — relationship with the neighbourhood. Almost 70 years after its founding, it remains an oasis in a desert of despair. Papine has not developed economically beyond what it was 20 years ago. August Town has not become the much-talked-about university town.

That UWI has made a stellar contribution to local and regional development is not in question. One only need look at the number of heads of State of Caribbean countries, including the recently elected prime minister of The Bahamas, who are numbered among its graduates. What is in question is whether UWI, in the same way that it places emphasis on providing quality education to students in the classroom, has gone beyond the boundary fences to positively impact the communities on its periphery, and by extension Jamaica, where the graduates will live, work, raise families, and do business.

Last Thursday's launch of the annual Greater August Town Film Festival (GATFFEST) on the UWI Mona campus is one of many signs that this venerable Caricom institution, which sits at the pinnacle of academia in Jamaica and the Caribbean, is becoming more engaging of the community. The University of the West Indies Film Project was started by the Centre of Tourism and Policy Research, headed by Professor Ian Boxill, in 2012, in the community of August Town. Drawing on partnerships with the Mona Social Services/UWI Township Project, GraceKennedy Foundation, Social Development Commission, and others, the project rapidly expanded to a number of other urban and rural communities across Jamaica. The UWI Film Project encourages unattached youth from the community to get directly involved with storytelling and film-making around important community and national issues. It provides new opportunities and alternative livelihoods to at-risk youth, while simultaneously contributing to their education, social development and the economic empowerment of their communities.

Over its short life, GATFFEST has produced many testimonies which come from the mouths of talented youth who have gone on to make a career in film-making or found employment in allied fields. These testimonies include that of Aldino Stewart, whose Trench Town documentary premiered at last year's film festival. Significantly, the film festival has also grown to be a benchmark for local efforts seeking to go global.

With over 1,600 expressions of interest from outside Jamaica in this year's film festival, GATFFEST is living the mantra: Think global, act local. In addition to the film festival, which runs over 10 days in July, each year the benefits are spread to a community through a film night. Last year the community was Nannyville. This year it is Trench Town's turn.

Community Film Night 2017 will be held May 27 on location at the Ambassador theatre on Collie Smith Drive. The theatre, which was constructed by Palace Amusement Company, opened its doors to the public in 1952. In its heyday, it was the showpiece of theatres — The Apollo theatre of Jamaica — and home to the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, which, starting with Bunny and Skully as the first act, went on to unearth many of Jamaica's iconic performers. Douglas Graham of Palace Amusement, which is partnering with GATFFEST to make the return to the “base” a memorable experience said, “This is going to be a night of nostalgia.”

Through interventions such as GATFFEST and Community Film Night, UWI has come of age. A new day is dawning in Jamaica's tertiary education sector. We should acknowledge it, be thankful for it, and support it.




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