Monday, February 19, 2018

The turd degree

As a writer and commentator, I perform a role that in other countries is described as “public intellectual” and which, in Trinidad and Tobago, is described as “talking crap”.

Since intellectuals are primarily defined by their adherence to fact, this is not a label I can refute. Given the popularity and influence of radio talkshow hosts, it is undeniable that crap-talking is the main form of public discourse in this place.

This is why our real smart men and smart women are politicians, pastors and beauty queens. Yet, perhaps due to the deleterious influence of foreign cultures where intelligence is respected, even these smart men have lately betrayed a tendency to prove how smart they are by acquiring academic degrees, albeit without an actual education.

The first prominent example of this was undoubtedly Pastor Winston Cuffie, who for many years now has been taking out paid newspaper advertisements in which he uses the title “Dr” even though his “PhD” is not accredited, with nary a word of complaint from the Advertising Association of T&T. Similarly, alternative medicine conmen pay for 30-minute slots on radio and call themselves “Doctor”, which is illegal, yet the same talkshow hosts who host these programmes want people in State companies who have bogus degrees to be jailed. This is not only hypocritical, but underestimates the intelligence needed to hold down a job you have no expertise in.

After all, who is to say that it doesn’t take more effort to get a false degree from a Pacific University than a real one from the The University of the West Indies? (No, that’s not a typo, it’s the title—UWI is found under T in the phone-book, presumably so citizens will know it’s not just “a” university of the West Indies.) Mind you, there are several outstanding academics at the The UWI, but none of them actually got their PhDs there. However, the brilliance of the individuals who graduated from the St Augustine campus is clearly demonstrated by a Facebook post from the UWI Alumni Association, which last Tuesday said that it “stands with the University Administration in attesting to the probity, rectitude and academic rigour applied to the award of University of the West Indies degrees”.

This not only means that no lecturer ever helped his girlfriend write her PhD thesis, but also that the UWIAATT took just three days to find proof refuting the Sunday Express report which cited emails between officials of the School of Business (SOB) querying the award of an Executive Masters in Business Administration to House Speaker Wade Mark. Moreover, the alumni’s evidence refuting the news article was so irrefutable that they didn’t even bother to post it in their post.

Additionally, the The UWI’s own statement assured that “The university remains committed to maintaining the high standards which we have established over more than 65 years of service to the region”, which means that it accepted programme director Brian Ghent’s resignation because he must not represent high professional standards and ethical principles, whereas the SOB’s executive director Miguel Carrillo, who granted Mr Mark’s request to do his exam alone without even asking for a reason, does. Unless, of course, by “high standards”, the The UWI meant some other kind of high.

All of which explains why I have never become a respected intellectual. Apart from having a BA from the The UWI myself, I know that my opinions carry no weight with people who matter because, although I’ve been a journalist for over 20 years, I’ve never been offered an exclusive interview, an SUV or sex.

However, I have been able to identify my shortcomings with the assistance of SOB executive director, Express columnist, Independent Senator, and anti-secularist Dr Rolph Balgobin. You see, in the emails published by the Express, lecturer Balraj Kristow says he consulted Dr Balgobin on the Mark matter but, when the Express asked Dr Balgobin about it, he replied, “I don’t know anything about that at all.” This, obviously, is the right approach if you want to be respected in T&T, since Balgobin in an Express column wrote that “We want change and call for change, but the change we want is required of somebody else, not us.” I had foolishly read this as criticism, rather than advice.

So I realise now that I have failed as a commentator because of what Dr Balgobin describes as my “ignorant secular logic”. I love knowledge and, even worse, love to share knowledge. Indeed, I have spent over 20 years writing what I believe and, even more dotishly, living by those beliefs. Which only works in this place if you believe in God, socialism, and KFC. I only hope I can follow the example set by the The UWI and Wade Mark so I can become smart enough to top a class in a course I failed twice before.

Maybe then I’ll finally be a respected intellectual.