A stumble by UWI?

By Winford James

The vice chancellor of The University of the West Indies, Prof E Nigel Harris, has publicly stated that a student who has been subjected to a lot of negative media attention following the award of the EMBA (Executive Master’s in Business Administration) to him “fully satisfied all the requirements to graduate from the programme”, and in my column last week, I adduced evidence supporting his position. But many, many people remain unconvinced. They believe that the student used his high position in the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago to force the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business (ALJGSB) to grant him the degree when he did not deserve it, and that the ALJGSB gifted it to him in deference to his position.
The published exchange of e-mails among critical staff at the ALJGSB provided evidence of a serious insufficiency on the student’s part, of a “charity’’ on the part of the staff, and of an attempt to cover up something amiss as well. And yet Brian Ghent could resign over the matter, Prof Harris could aver that the student had satisfied all the requirements, and your columnist could provide evidence in support of the vice chancellor.
Many people are saying that Prof Harris’ student had clearly failed a particular course (and repeatedly!) but that the university had conspired, through a bogus oral examination (or whatever), to give him the degree. He should give it back—gosh, man! And if he had any shame at all, he would.
But Prof Harris says the student was given “an oral examination of coursework material, which he passed”.
There’s no getting around the regulations. As I pointed out last week, Regulation 66, for example, says that examiners can give an oral examination to a student who has failed a course, and the student cannot be awarded more than the lowest pass mark of 50 per cent. So if Prof Harris is right, the student must have got 50 per cent. (Incidentally, where does the claim that he was given a distinction in an exam that he sat by himself come from?)
Other regulations authorise an oral exam as well. Regulation 1 of the Regulations for Written Examinations and Coursework states that “candidates taking courses for graduate diplomas and degrees shall be examined by means of one or more of the following: (a) Written Examinations… (b) Coursework… (c) Oral Examinations…’’

This regulation and Regulation 66 are effective from August 2001, and some of you may be wondering if they have not been superseded by revisions since then which somehow do not protect the decisions of the ALJGSB in our matter. Here is what a policy, agreed to by the Academic Board Sub-Committee on Student Matters (ABSCOSM) as recently as May of this year, says:
“Policy on examinations only’’
Students who are one or two courses short of fulfiling the requirements for their degrees have traditionally been granted “exams only’’ in courses that they have failed. They are not required to attend classes and are allowed to write the final examination which contributes to 100 per cent of the overall mark. There are problems with this practice in that many courses have significant coursework components and in certain departments, students are required to pass these components. By granting “exams only’’ this stipulation is contravened.
ABSCOSM proposes that “exams only should be granted to only those students who have passed the coursework.’’
Our student was one course short of fulfiling the requirements of the EMBA. So let’s assume Prof Harris had this policy partially in mind when he said that the decision of the university was in keeping with the regulations (since he made his statement after May). He told us the student failed the coursework twice, and he told us that the student was given an oral exam.
If he was invoking this “exams only’’ policy, and if this policy states that the exam is a written one, could it be that, since his student did an oral exam, this oral exam, given by the ALJGSB, was in lieu of the written exam and approved as such (most probably by the campus chairman of the Committee for Graduate Studies and Research)?
It would appear so. If it is, was Mr Ghent therefore protesting the replacement of the written exam by an oral one?
The many, many people who still suspect that Prof Harris’ student benefited from a charitable decision would welcome more details of how he satisfied all the requirements to graduate from the programme, which details are in short supply in the vice chancellor’s statement. There are intricacies in the matter that they are simply ignorant about.

What they are sure about though is that Prof Harris’ student is a struggler for whom the university had to resort to special means to enable him to graduate with the EMBA. He will have to live with the knowledge that the public, local and regional, if not international, knows he is academically challenged in material respects even though he qualifies to hold a high governance position.
But in the scheme of political things, perhaps this does not matter that much.
• Winford James is a UWI
lecturer and political analyst
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