This weekend the University of Belize will honor Mr. David L. McKoy in ceremonies to be held in Dangriga. Mr. McKoy is the first real benefactor the university can identify. About 7 or so years ago, when all we had was the University College of Belize, Mr. McKoy donated some prime real estate, which has become an endowment of the University of Belize, established in August of the year 2000.
For a man who was a Cabinet Minister through the 1960’s and 1970’s, representing the constituency of Stann Creek Rural (which became Stann Creek West in 1984), Mr. McKoy is not well known nationally. He came out of the trade union movement in Stann Creek in the 1950’s. As I write, I am wondering if Mr. McKoy ever lost in a general election. (My subsequent research shows that David McKoy won the “Stann Creek” seat in the 1957 national elections in British Honduras. He won “Stann Creek Rural” in 1961; 1965; 1969; 1974; and 1979. He won, then, seven straight times, and never lost.) [NOTE: The statistics, as are almost all this newspaper’s election stats, are from Myrtle Palacio’s WHO AND WHAT IN BELIZEAN ELECTIONS 1954 TO 1993, published by Glessima Research in 1993.]
It is clear that his loyalty to PUP Leader George Price was practically unconditional, as we have no record of Mr. McKoy’s ever being involved in any intra party or Cabinet dispute or dissent.
In his controversial letter to the press, which was circulated nationally, Fred Garcia, Sr., remarked a few months ago that Mr. McKoy had left electoral politics without having become wealthy, that others during his time and after him have become manifestly wealthy in relatively brief terms of office.
I don’t know Mr. McKoy well at all. In our few and brief conversations, I have found him to be a pleasant man, a humble man, and a man who is not confrontational. His record of electoral success impresses me, as does his ability to have retained equanimity amongst all the egos in Cabinet.
Insofar as the larger question of the university is concerned, the institution has been under attack from the UDP newspaper since I was first elected chairman of the UCB Council in late 1999. As UCB Council chairman, I oversaw the process of amalgamation of five tertiary institutions (UCB, Belize Teachers College, Bliss School of Nursing, Belize Technical College and Belize School of Agriculture) into UB. This is the university’s third year of existence. I became chairman of an Interim Board which governed UB until recently, when the Minister of Education appointed the formal board under the terms of the UB Act, and I was elected chairman. I informed the new board at that time, that if there were to be a change of government in 2003, I would step down from the chairman’s post.
A lot of the UDP attacks on UB have been directed at the engineering section, which was supposed to be featured at the old Belize Technical College campus. The engineering section, which was an ambitious proposition initially supported by the Cabinet of Belize, would have required serious investment in equipment and laboratories, and would have required us to seek the advice and faculty representation of expert personnel from countries which are friendly to Belize – like Cuba, Nigeria and Taiwan. The engineering section required a clear upgrading of what we knew as Belize Technical College.
Machiavelli said that it is always difficult to introduce a new order of things, and what we had at the formation of the University of Belize was a university biased towards business. UCB was the crown jewel of the amalgamation, and UCB was, by and large, a business school.
To move UB in the direction of science, technology and engineering, has been a daunting challenge. To begin with, all the university people were saying that such a faculty would not be cost-effective, that we should just continue sending people abroad when they wish to pursue an engineering degree. This would have been the safe and sensible way to go, but how can you actually build a new nation without an emphasis on science, technology and engineering?
There was a major philosophical question involved here which had political implications in the sense of where was Belize going. UCB was designed to be the feature institution in an economy which would go the way of services, tourism, and information technology. UCB, the dominant entity in the amalgamated UB, was not interested in manufacturing, industry or “national dignity.” The quest for science, technology and engineering at UB, then, would be a quest which went against the grain, so to speak.
And the PUP Cabinet has faltered in its commitment to engineering. We have seen the sensational successes in the tourism sector of the Belizean economy, at least where the statistics and media coverage are concerned. So the so-called “Third-Wave” kind of economics has taken the lead in Belize. Even under the PUP, as a result, engineering is struggling as a concept seeking Cabinet investment. If the UDP wins, engineering is dead.
Myself, I support engineering. I also support history, as you know, but UB does not have a history department. You get the sense that the designers of the original UCB were not thinking about our ancestors and our “national dignity.”
Insofar as my tenure of chairmanship at UCB/UB, I’ve been uncharacteristically “laid back.” Until recently, I’ve felt that I was completely in a learning mode. UB is a huge institution. I still haven’t toured the Toledo campus, and how can I say I know the place without knowing Toledo UB?
UB is also a wealthy institution where its national assets are concerned. If wise and informed decisions are made, UB can be a magnificent factor in the 21st century Belize. But the board of trustees has to find its way through the minefields represented by the politicians, both those in power and those on the outside.
The politicians interfere in UB, both those in power and those on the outside, because 75 pecent of recurrent funding for UB comes from the government. Properly run, the university can become more and more self-sustaining financially, and then it will be in a better position to make decisions without political interference.
We now have an excellent board of trustees in place at UB. They are intelligent, informed and forthright. In the words of James Brown, they “don’t take no mess.” With the support of serious, generous people like the aforementioned Mr. McKoy, the University of Belize will make Belize a better place for those who come after us. I believe.