Question marks

By Clarence Rambharat

 Whatever their classroom prowess, the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business’s (GSB) recent real world performance is embarrassing. For 65 years the regional UWI brand (of which the GSB is part) has graduated thousands with governance, communications and legal expertise. But it is the lack of these specific skills in response to the credibility challenge that has left many wondering what went wrong. Whether or not it overcomes doubt on the EMBA degree award to the Honourable Speaker of the House, the bigger chill is the GSB’s failure to practice what it teaches. And for any GSB student or alumni that is the headline story.

The GSB’s Student Charter says, “we understand that our own organisational practices should serve as an example of the values and attitudes we convey to our students”. But away from the glossy brochures and marketing pitch of the GSB, what have the last ten days said to us? First, that the GSB’s defence of its credibility lies within a hodgepodge of policies, rules, regulations, guidelines, and practices, but the business school’s leadership will not sift through and highlight the specific provisions on which it relies. In the absence of that specific information no follower of the story can be comfortable with the GSB’s bald assertion that in recommending this specific award to the university’s senate, it did what it is allowed to do, without question. 

Second, the GSB wishes to convince us that it did not treat Speaker Mark in any extraordinary way. And the GSB wishes to do so without disputing the authenticity or contents of any of the e-mails that form the basis of the Express story. This is not the Express and its journalist Denyse Renne putting a spin on undocumented suggestions regarding the GSB’s degree award recommendation to the UWI senate. This is the Express publishing the exchanges among GSB insiders, all working on the degree award pre-conditions, with those email exchanges raising doubt over the GSB’s adherence to its rules.

How does the GSB leadership explain the e-mail that says, “we are examining the performance of Wade Mark in this examination. Miguel has asked that we keep this matter amongst the four of us only. Please keep this extremely confidential”? Well, the GSB leadership has said nothing on that e-mail except to make a broad defence of confidentiality while leaving the reasonable interpretation of the e-mail uncontested. 

How does the GSB explain the lecturer in charge of the required core course saying, “The marking is my contribution to this charity”? Again this e-mail is unchallenged and uncontested for authenticity, and still the GSB leadership, brooding under the UWI crest and expecting we will accept their say so, pays no attention to the way in which the e-mail fits into the story. 

And, how does the GSB leadership explain the failure to satisfy the now former EMBA programme director that the course work requirements were fulfilled in the manner expected by the business school? 

What were the changes in the usual student arrangements? What were the changes made to accommodate Speaker Mark?

How did these changes fit into the applicable rules? 

How often has the GSB structured different arrangements for specific EMBA students?

What were the circumstances in previous cases? If it wants to be believed, the GSB must provide the data to support its position.  

Contrary to what the UWI Alumni Association of Trinidad and Tobago (UWIAATT) says in its news statement, this is not a slur on the thousands of degrees, certificates, diplomas the UWI has awarded in its 65 years. This is about one EMBA degree, awarded to one student who just happens to be a well-known political figure, in circumstances that GSB insiders, working at the heart of the matter, have themselves cast into doubt. This is not the machination of someone out to get Speaker Mark, the GSB or the UWI. This is whistle-blowing on otherwise confidential email exchanges to let us know something happened in this award and permit the GSB to give their side of the story. 

As fellow Express columnist Kevin Baldeosingh pointed out, the UWI Alumni has clearly oversized itself on this one and compared to the impugned degree award, the lack of the alumni’s understanding of the story is more damaging to the university’s brand. 

The role of the Alumni Association is not to duplicate the public relations messages of the university. Its role is to be a sensible arbiter of the facts and circumstances and promoter of probity in affairs close to the public’s heart. 

It is unimaginable that the Alumni Association, without a role in the award of degrees, and definitely without a role in the award of this EMBA, can seriously attest to, “the probity, rectitude and academic rigour applied to the award of University of the West Indies degrees over the 65 years of the university’s existence.” The UWI Alumni is no better positioned than any one of us to defend the GSB or UWI. 

And, despite the obvious political jibes on the now controversial award of the EMBA to Speaker Mark, there is no evidence the Speaker has done wrong. His e-mail asks “whether it was possible” to do certain things. Like any other student the Speaker is entitled to press the GSB for assistance and support in completing his degree. 

Nothing so far suggests pressure was exerted on the GSB. In any event, as a mature student with full-time work responsibilities, Mark was entitled to seek whatever the GSB’s rules, regulations, and conditions of award made available to a student in his circumstances. 

Therein lies the problem. We do not know the basis on which the GSB rests its decision to recommend this EMBA award. 

The GSB leadership must not hide behind the UWI’s 65 years. It must present its case and understand that this is not a case study being discussed in a classroom at the business school. This is the real world. Welcome. 

• Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and university lecturer

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