Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Orville Taylor | UWI still relevant, even if PSOJ blind

Published:Sunday | September 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM

A crocodile killed a fisherman last month and another did something last week which I warned/predicted years ago. Given the sociological insight I gained from the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the work of herpetologists such as my colleague Professor Byron Wilson, nothing about what these creatures and their lizard cousins do surprises us.

Alas, policymakers and their private-sector backers with fistfuls of dollars have ignored many of the recommendations of the scientists from the UWI and more than 50 per cent of environmental permits rejected by the UWI-trained National Environment and Planning Agency officers were reinstated by politicians for their capitalist friends.

In the natural sciences, one does not have to conceptualise a crocodile, and unlike social-science data, if ignored, it literally bites you in the butt. This intellectual ghetto, so labelled by the late Wilmot 'Motty' Perkins, had our most recent Nobel Laureate in Professor Anthony Chen, former head of the Climate Studies Group in the Department of Physics, Mona Campus. Chen was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which provided the research and shared the Nobel Prize for Peace won by former United States Vice-President Al Gore in 2007.

Ignore the science as selfish policymakers and their private-sector puppeteers in many countries do, but just days ago, UWI-schooled meteorologist Evan Thompson, who heads the Met Service, noted that when Hurricane Gilbert was formed in 1988, it was the first recorded Category Five hurricane ever. Since that, we have had at least five. Data do not lie but politicians and some lawyers who suppress their ethics and hide under, 'my instructions' often do. Days before my Hotline broadcast hosted by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management on the anniversary of Gilbert, my department, along with the local and international Red Cross, hosted a very revealing conference at the university.

Of course, it might not have been of great perceived relevance to the private-sector leaders, but our research has irrefutably demonstrated that what makes the difference between natural hazards becoming natural disasters is the decisive behavioural change of human beings. Yet, our social science research does not only stop at advising how to strategise in the face of the vagaries of nature.

 

Social Intervention

 

Our psychologist Dr Dennis Edwards and the entire social work unit, with Aldene Shillingford as the point person, have done remarkable social intervention and rehabilitation in the Caribbean, most recently in ameliorating the impact of the 2017 hurricanes in Dominica and other countries. Indeed, had the policymakers and selfish moneyed interests implemented the scientific findings, which oftentimes sit on politicians' desks for decades, the situation would have been different.

Our UWI, apart from Derek Walcott, whose Nobel Prize was for literature, produced the first black person who won it for anything other than peace. Sir William Arthur Lewis, a founding father of the Faculty of Social Sciences, gained the prestigious accolade for economics in 1979. It is the Lewis model which formed the basis for Modernisation Theory, the global economic boom of the 1960s and believe it or not, the Singaporean success, which is associated with the regime of Lee Kuan Yew. Although imperfect like any creation of humans, it is the gap between the research and the implementation by politicians, which largely prevented the Lewis recommendations from producing the results that made other countries benefit from his intellectual insight.

Deep within the DNA of the social worker and other behavioural scientists in the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work, we find a tradition of asking the right questions and giving excellent answers. Ask Drs Claudette Crawford Brown and Peta Ann Baker why their work prior to the passage of the Child Care and Protection Act was so important.

On the subject of behavioural change and another type of barrel children, we have done amazing research on eating disorders, obesity and other maladies. How much attention has been paid to the work of the late Bernard Headley in criminology or Herbert Gayle's social and anthropological correlates of crime among youth? Crime costs multibillions, and had the right social policies been implemented as recommended by our behavioural scientists, instead of the politicians being led by short-term goals and targets of the private sector and others, this country would have gone way ahead.

 

Quality of Output

 

Nonetheless, my fellow Georgian and president of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), Howard Mitchell, still apparently inspired by his first degree in social sciences, stepped out of his lane and attempted to speak authoritatively about the UWI's academics, lamenting," There is a frustration within the university about the focus on output rather than quality of output." Moreover, "I am disappointed that the UWI is not providing the data-control ... the data-management ... the data-manipulation and analysis techniques that our business people so sadly lack, and our private sector is held back because we do not have, to a great extent, that talent internally." As one of the persons who stayed awake during a presentation he made at the university a few months ago, I am aware that this is a pet peeve of his.

Yet, he clearly seems to have forgotten that the UWI has an MOU with the PSOJ and it does precisely what he says it doesn't. Furthermore, maybe data do not qualify as evidence in the practice of law, his area of expertise, but we have myriad studies showing the relationship between certain employer practices and productivity, as well as crime.

Indeed, the PSOJ's executive director has made the unsubstantiated claim that the Jamaican labour laws are inflexible and inhibit productivity.

Nonetheless, Mitchell is a veteran lawyer and is, therefore, competent to ask, "What we going to do with 300 lawyers a year?" After all, with such a glut, we may find them straying into fields and making statements their training doesn't equip them to.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.