I remember when the first housing development by 138 Student Living was introduced, and it was then Guild President Lerone Laing who had the responsibility of communicating this to the Guild of Students; which I am almost certain he did through his guild councilors at the time. Most students didn’t have a problem with the development because it wasn’t seen as a threat to the traditional status quo, but just another income generator like the Marlene Hamilton halls of residence; which students at the time understood.
UWI has been running on a billion dollar deficit for years now, and as a result the quality of infrastructure, learning and the overall experience of being a Mona Pelican has diminished. So students understand the need to create income generating projects that will cut away the deficit, and bring the school to hopefully see a surplus. But in doing so, they also expect the University to be stewards of UWI Tradition and make efforts to preserve this; even as they embark on their development projects and initiatives.
What used to be a good idea to most students, started to sound like a scam when news broke that the agreement with 138 Student Living could also mean the demolition of old halls of residence to re-develop new living structures synonymous to the first development, recently named the Leslie Robinson Hall. What made the news even harder to digest was the impression that in this deal, the UWI also agreed to surrender its rights to the land space the current traditional halls rest on for 30 years; thereby giving 138 Student Living autonomous control over the redesign and redevelopment of the traditional halls of residence.
And the thing that smeared faeces all over this deal was the lack of transparency exercised by the UWI administration in inking it in the first place. If this was an administration that put the student’s welfare first then initially when the idea surfaced to redevelop housing on campus, the Guild of students would have been invited to those preliminary talks. The Guild president at the very least, should have been instrumental in the review and evaluation of the contract when it was proposed by 138 Student Living and subsequently given the opportunity to have adequate consultation with his guild of students before the University made a decision.
So I can understand the sentiment fully, when students say they feel UWI has scammed them. There is no way students would have accepted the full terms and conditions of this deal if the opportunity was given for them to directly have a voice. This lack of transparency only highlights a long time dysfunctional relationship between the administration and Guild of students; often times encouraged by the former. And it leaves the Guild Council having to play catch up and explain to their constituents what is really happening, when they themselves are at an informational disadvantage. Maybe it’s a case where UWI is underestimating the ability of their students to participate in major decision making processes; maybe it’s a conspiracy to erode the trust of the Guild of students in their leaders thereby giving the University absolute power over the direction the campus will go; or maybe they’ve just forgotten their duty to cater to the welfare of students. Well whatever the case may be, it’s disheartening and frankly unbecoming of an institution which prides itself as the jewel of tertiary education in Jamaica.
But the UWI alone is not to blame here, because the students and their lack of participation is a major stem in this problem tree. For years, UWI students have sat idly and allowed their student leaders to give them substandard representation and widened the gap between student wants/needs and perceived student wants/needs. This new way of doing things, created and supported by the same students who are complaining, has presented the opportunity for the University to do whatever they want; and maybe that is what has happened with this 138 deal. If UWI were able to scam you out of your right to have a say in how campus housing options will transform for the future, then imagine what they can do with your tuition fees? the curricula that guides your courses of study? Food options? healthcare? Security? Transportation? and the list goes on.
The University has a duty to facilitate a comfortable, enabling and enriching environment for its students through whatever means it deems necessary for sustainability. But the students also have a responsibility to ensure this duty is carried out in a most fair and justified way. The scammer here is not just the UWI, but you the students have scammed yourselves of the right to have the best representation of your interests in major decision making for the campus. Reflect on that.