Research for a Better Region – Professor Dale Webber
The Grateful Leader On a map of Jamaica, the town of Mandeville is fairly close to the island’s centre. Known for its agriculture, it is unusual indeed for one of the sons of this landlocked parish capital to be one of the island’s premier specialists on coastal ecology. “Who would have thought that as a country boy growing up in the middle of a large island I would end up being so deeply involved with the ocean,” Professor Webber says. And were it not for The UWI it might not have happened. Originally he went to the Mona Campus on a scholarship to study Agriculture. But on a field trip to The UWI’s Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory, seeing the sea from so close, he immediately knew his calling.
of the university community with the aptitude for groundbreaking and relevant research but have not been inspired. How does the university reach these people? PVC Webber has several initiatives in mind to encourage and expand the research community. Some can be introduced in the short term while others will be incorporated as part of the new strategic plan (he is on the team developing the plan, as he was for the 2012-2017 plan). Research is separated into three components—faculty-led research, graduate-led research and funding and partnerships. One of his major ambitions is to facilitate research in the islands that do not host a main campus. “We need to empower the small islands like Antigua, St. Kitts and all the other Caribbean countries that have enormous potential to produce critical research,” he says. “The UWI is a Caribbean institution and every island has a stake in its development.” Professor Webber is also considering incentives to encourage academic staff and graduate students to take part in research such research-only positions (freeing them from having to teach), giving semester breaks so that they can concentrate on research and 46 – THE PELICAN/ISSUE 14
“I saw the open ocean and that was it. I saw, for the first time, coral reefs.” This was the university’s first gift to Professor Webber—the gift of discovering his passion. In his telling of it, it was the first of many gifts. This is why his approach to The UWI and its work is one of gratitude. “My motivation is to benefit the university. I have always worked with the university—starting as a warden on Taylor Hall. My motivation is to get the university to be the best it can be. The university has saved me. I remember almost failing my way out in my first year. It was my lecturer who called me and encouraged me to improve. I almost felt like I was being groomed. Having gained so much from the institution, I felt I needed to pay it back three or four times.”
increasing administrative support so that researchers can concentrate on research while others handle procurement and management of projects. One of the most interesting initiatives that PVC Webber and the university executive team are considering is the activation of a Research Advisory Committee: “The Statutes and Ordinances related to Graduate Studies and Research makes provisions for a Research Advisory Committee. The committee is to be made up of 50 percent of non-university members. That means seven members of the 14 member team will be from areas such as development, entrepreneurship, music and others. The committee will also provide for staff to have an advisory role. We will be listening to both the society and the researchers.” For the members of the research community working in their silos in their separate departments on their distant campuses, these are hopeful statements for greater cohesion and resources for their work. The new Pro ViceChancellor has a message for them as well: “We need to give another push,” he says. “We can change the world but we have to work together. There are a lot of things we can achieve but we have to all work together. Bring your research.”