THE term ‘Head Hunter’ has a number of historical meanings: Primitive tribes carried their enemies’ heads home on the point of a spear; in the corporate world, it is the search for a replacement — usually a chief executive officer.
A more recent use of the term has been the success of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) groups to have prominent persons removed from office because of alleged offences against the group’s objectives.
A recent widely discussed case in the United States was that of Mozilla’s co-founder, technological expert and President Brandon Eich,
who was driven from the presidency by an Internet lynch mob when it was discovered that he made a contribution of US$1,000 six years ago to the now overturned 2008 gay-marriage ban in California.
As Professor Robert George of Princeton University has noted: “Now that the bullies have Eich’s head as a trophy on the wall, they will put the heat on every other corporation and major employer who declines to conform their views to the new orthodoxy.”
Jamaica now has such a case, with the firing of Professor Brendan Bain as head and project manager of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network (CHART) by the University of the West Indies (UWI) vice chancellor. There has been much discussion of the case, with protest demonstrations and groups such as the Medical Association of Jamaica, the Human Resource Management Authority of Jamaica, the Jamaican Bar Association, and others protesting the firing of Professor Bain.
Daniel Thwaites’ column in The Gleaner was headed ‘Bain beheaded by gay Taliban’.
The Jamaica Observer comments have been, in general, balanced and even in one editorial makes the statement that “Dr Bain’s pronouncements about the spread of HIV/AIDS among MSMs is something to be taken seriously”.
The issue is a fundamental one and it has mobilised the Jamaican community in general, the church in particular, and other civil society groups to challenge the UWI action. What are the issues?
1. Conflict of Interest
The anti-Bain groups charge Professor Bain with “Conflict of Interest”. This stems from his providing a professional brief at the request of three church groups nearly two years ago in August 2012 on a civil action in Belize brought by the UWI Mona lawyers group, U-RAP, for Caleb Orozco.
The charge now is that because Professor Bain provided expert testimony that homosexual practice between men and men (MSM) carried greater infectious health risks, this is a conflict of interest. It cannot be that speaking the truth can be a conflict of interest. In addition, neither on that occasion nor in any other place has Professor Bain advocated criminal charges to individuals.
2. Some Unjust Reasons for Firing the Professor
* Professor Bain did nothing wrong and there are no legitimate reasons to lose confidence in him.
* The action potentially limits our access to all scientific research and information related to HIV/AIDS, and prevents medical experts and research professionals from carrying out their mandates.
* The vice chancellor failed in his duty to uphold justice and act in the broader interest of the public.
* The claim that the professor was damaging the university is baseless.
3. The Project
In April 2012, the US-based Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded a five-year US$9-million grant to UWI for continuation of the work of the CHART programme in 12 Caricom countries as one part of a US-Caribbean regional HIV/AIDS partnership framework. This is the first time that a university outside of the USA has received such an award and it is one of the largest grants received by UWI in recent years. It is a signal honour, due in large measure to the confidence placed in Professor Bain and his team by the donor.
4. Professor Bain’s Credentials and Practice
Dr Bain was appointed to the staff of UWI in 1980 as the first person with specialist training in clinical infectious diseases and has a tenured professorship from 1999.
A former student, now a medical professor in the United States, in his commendation of Professor Bain describes many of the aid agencies with having specialised agendas and as the new colonialists.
Professor Bain has treated with care and compassion thousands of HIV/AIDS cases in Jamaica and has, through training sessions in Jamaica and the Caribbean, helped all categories of medical workers to work with understanding and compassion, persons living with HIV/AIDS.
5. The Vice Chancellor’s Action
* The vice chancellor, in firing Professor Bain, acted illegally both contractually and constitutionally.
* He risked the continuation of the project.
* He succumbed to a vicious personal character assassination attack on Professor Bain’s credibility.
* He has endangered the regional and international credibility of the UWI.
6. The Head Hunters Methodology
The right of the individual’s action, irrespective of the moral consequences of those actions, represents a key objective of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition group led by Dr Carolyn Gomes, the former executive director of Jamaicans For Justice. Truth, when presented, is seen as an irrelevant or inconvenient item in any specific struggle. The repeal of the Buggery Law is a major objective of the gay community. The reason is that they have used the law as applying mainly (only) to homosexuals. Expert legal opinion — Attorney Maurice Saunders, Observer, May 21, 2014 — points out that the law does not discriminate against homosexuals and there is no good reason to change it. The report of high-fives and ‘you go girl’ greetings at the gay celebration with others saying that the ‘UWI is all ours’ (Observer May 30) may well be premature.
7. The Objectives of the Protest Movement
The protest movement is gathering strength in Jamaica and the Caribbean and has the following objectives:
* The retraction of the firing of Professor Bain and his reinstatement to his former position.
* Taking steps to restore the university’s credibility in the Caribbean and international marketplace.
* Restoring the viability of the project in case of any threat to its viability.
* Many persons are now proposing that a referendum be held to consider the repeal of the Buggery Law in Jamaica.
Alfred Sangster is president emeritus of the University of Technology.