After being away from the Caribbean for nearly four decades, Barbadian-born Dr. Andy Knight has returned to the region to take up an assignment as the director of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Institute of International Relations (IIR).
The armed conflict expert and Royal Society of Canada Fellow is on a three-year secondment from the University of Alberta where he was a professor and head of the political science department. He took up his new appointment earlier this month and is based at the St. Augustine campus in Trinidad.
Knight says that St. Augustine campus business development office director, Dr. David Rampersad, encouraged him to apply for the job.
“David is someone who I admire and respect,” said Knight, who was the recipient of the 2010 Harry Jerome Trailblazer Award. “After much soul searching and consultations with my wife and the University of Alberta provost, I decided to send along my resume. Within days, I received a call from the St. Augustine campus principal along with a note from the vice-chancellor’s office in Jamaica. They arranged for me to be interviewed by the appointments board and the rest is history.”
Knight, who worked briefly in Barbados with Citibank before migrating to Canada in 1977, said he had always wanted to give back something to the Caribbean.
“Like many from the Caribbean who find themselves living abroad for study and work, I had always told myself that one day I would go back to the region and serve in some capacity,” he said. “I had no idea it would take me this long to do so. My motivation to take this job was simply to give back to the region to which I owe so much and to use my accumulated skills to help advance the IIR.”
Established in 1966, the IIR is the region’s main interdisciplinary centre for the analysis and advancement of international relations.
A global leader in the study of international organizations, global governance and human security, Knight said he has big plans for the institute.
“I would like to see it become one of the top global think tanks and to become known for high quality policy-oriented research,” he said. “I also want to see the institute live up to its original mandate as a conduit for building capacity for leadership throughout the English-speaking Caribbean in the areas of diplomacy, foreign affairs, national/regional security and intelligence in addition to connecting it to the rest of the world by plugging into established global research bodies, multilateral and international donor organizations, global non-governmental organizations and academic institutions from outside the region.
“After all, the IIR has to be international in reach. It cannot be an insular organization that’s only concerned with Caribbean issues. It has to show how international concerns have relevance to the region.”
A former director of the University of Alberta’s peace and post-conflict studies certificate program, Knight intends to push for the institute to increase research that’s relevant to Caribbean governments and civil society.
“It has to excel in research that’s relevant,” said Knight. “This can be done by establishing a world-class international Journal of the Caribbean which can disseminate peer-reviewed, high-quality articles written by the institute’s faculty and leading figures who specialize on the Caribbean’s role in the world.”
Launched through an agreement between the Trinidad & Tobago and Swiss governments, the institution’s programs were a collaborative effort between the UWI and the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva for six years until 1972.
A much sought-after analyst, Knight would like to see the IIR renew its links with Switzerland, establish new connections with other global institutions that were set up with Swiss funding and serve as a catalyst for helping the Caribbean’s small states punch above their weight in international fora, including the United Nations, the Commonwealth and international financial and trade organizations.
“This can be done if we help to produce the brightest and the best representatives for the region who are articulate, knowledgeable and confident when they move into these multilateral circles,” said the former board member of the Canadian Consortium for Peace Studies.
Knight hit the ground running shortly after his return to the region. He was in St. Lucia two weeks ago for a three-day human rights and sustainable development workshop attended by senior government representatives from Barbados and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean Sates.
“The participants discussed the unique challenges faced by their respective countries in securing human rights for sustainable development and shared possible solutions with each other in order to ensure the protection of human rights for all citizens of the region,” he said.
Knight completed his final year of high school in Ontario before embarking on an artistic career encompassing painting and sculpting. When his parents objected to his career choice because they felt artists were financially undercompensated, he turned to political science.
Graduating from McMaster University in 1983 with an honours degree, Dalhousie University three years later with a Master’s degree and York University in 1995 with a PhD, Knight taught at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec for five years until 1998 before moving to the University of Alberta, where he served as an associate professor for two years prior to being elevated to full professor 13 years ago.
He was the first executive director of the New York-based United Nations Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.