DID YOU KNOW?!: The UWI Academic Dress

It is the Season of Graduation at the four Campuses of The University of the West Indies. At this time of year, the University recognises and celebrates the academic achievements of all its graduates who have satisfied the requirements for the award of Certificates, Licentiates, Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral degrees. As part of the celebrations and in accordance with time honoured academic traditions, Academic Dress is worn at all the Ceremonies for the Presentation of Graduates.

The Chancellor of The University of the West Indies, Sir George Alleyne, wearing the first official academic dress, at the recent Cave Hill Graduation, 2011. [See http://www.facebook.com/UWICaveHill

The story of the UWI’s academic dress runs parallel to the history of the University. The UWI began as a College in special relationship with the University of London. As such, the first official academic dress of the UCWI was that of the Chancellor’s Gown. In a 1952 letter to an enquiry on the UCWI’s academic dress, Registrar Hugh Springerwrote:

“The only official gown we have is the Chancellor’s Gown… The Principal, who for practical reasons is Head of the College, wears the gown and robes of his highest degree. This is also true of the other members of the College. Our undergraduates wear scarlet gowns. They are after the fashion of St. Andrew’s [University in Scotland] but in a light cotton material. Our graduates…will wear the gown and hood of the University of London during the period before we are empowered to grant our own degrees.” (Letter to Hugh H. Smith, Senior Lecturer, Rhodes University, South Africa)

When the University of the West Indies came into being in 1962, with a new Charter and Statutes, it needed its own distinctive academic dress. It was the work of a Committee of the Senate that settled on the present form of the UWI’s Academic Dress. They decided, inter alia, that the materials to be used were to be light and comfortably cool to wear in the Caribbean. The colours chosen were Blue Princetta for the gowns of Masters and Bachelors and Scarlet Panama for the gowns of Doctors.  Undergraduates were to continue using the scarlet matriculation gown as per the days of the UCWI.  The Committee noted that the academic dress of this Caribbean university must reflect its tropical environment. Hence, the faculty colours selected were to represent the bright colours of tropical life.

“The committee worked on the principle of using primary colours red, yellow and blue (or, in some cases slight variants)-for Doctors, Science and Arts respectively… As most colours have been used by Universities throughout the world, it is difficult to design hoods which will not clash with other universities.  The committee attempted to get around this by using very distinctively tropical colours (and names) [for example] Avocado Green.”  (Memorandum to Members of Senate from Committee on Academic Dress, 2 October, 1962) See a full list and descriptions of the Faculty Colours here: http://sta.uwi.edu/graduation/academic_dress.asp

So there you have it, the story of the UWI’s Academic Dress.  Congratulations to the Class of 2011 who were proudly presented to the Chancellor in the gown and hood of their faculty.

Sample of cloths used to place the first order of academic dress for UCWI-London Graduates (black) and students (scarlet/red), UCWI.

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