The trinidad Guardian / Armed police officers had to be called out to the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Teaching and Learning Complex, St Augustine, yesterday, after approximately 100 law students staged a noisy protest demanding consultation before being relocated to the South Campus in Debe by January 2018.
Armed with placards reading “No consultation no relocation” and “We want Copeland,” the students claimed they were locked outside the complex’s main gate at Circular Road like criminals.
After two hours of protest, UWI’s principal, Prof Brian Copeland, who was attending a Campus Council meeting inside the complex, quelled the situation after giving the irate students an assurance they will meet with them on Thursday to address their concerns.
Vice president elect of UWI’s Guild of Students, Darrion Narine, said the relocation was being imposed upon them.
“The law students tried to reach out to UWI’s administration asking for a meeting and consultation but nothing has been given. This has been going on since last year,” said Narine, himself a protesting students.
Incoming PRO of the Law Society, Jeron Paul, said the protest could have been averted if Copeland had agreed to meet them earlier, noting they are not totally opposed to the move.
“We are opposed to having us move for September 2017 without any consultation,” Paul said.
Paul said their biggest issue was that the south campus was still under construction, lacked security and had inadequate dorms to accommodate regional students.
‘The majority of students are from north who don’t want to go to south. From my estimation, approximately 300 of our 400 students are against the move. The time they are asking us to move is too soon. Students should have been told about this relocation since September 2016 to prepare themselves,” Paul said.
The protest was triggered by a letter sent to students and staff on Saturday by Law Faculty dean Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, who told the students of the impending decision in the wake of Education Minister Anthony Garcia’s announcement last Friday that the south campus will be relocating in January 2018.
“I have been reluctant to communicate with you formally, quite simply because my information to date is that the final decision is still pending,” Belle Antoine wrote.
Though it was clearly communicated that the relocation would have been in 2014, Belle Antoine said there were delays on construction and related issues. She said she made it clear to campus authorities that she wanted the least disruption for the students and a move under the most favourable conditions.
Having visited the South campus two weeks ago, Belle Antoine said there were some different viewpoints on the issue being raised. However, she noted their current faculty at St Augustine was no longer suitable.
“As you are well aware, our current faculty housing situation is drastically inadequate and cannot continue, in my view, under any circumstances. Neither students, nor staff have adequate facilities and there are increasingly, serious occupational health and safety issues, worsening IT facilities, lack of office and classrooms space at our present location. This is becoming worse as our staff and student population increase,” Belle Antoine wrote.
In addressing the students yesterday, Copeland described them as the university’s number one priority.
“There is no way we are making a move without students’ involvement. I am very much of the view if you are making significant change to the lives of students, you would put them in an uncomfortable position, you are setting yourself up to students not performing well. I am not about that. So whatever could be done to ensure that whatever transition is made…that whatever plans we make we will ensure that students are not put out.”
At a Campus Council Meeting press conference following the protest, Copeland said August would be the completion phase in getting the campus going.