BY DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
The Grand Bahama Chapter of the University of the Bahamas Alumni Association is concerned over the uncertainty surrounding the future of the UB North, specifically the completion of a new campus at a downtown location in Freeport.
Following last year’s devastation at the $12m campus in East Grand Bahama due to Hurricane Dorian, UB has been relocated at a temporary location in Freeport. However, rumours of a proposal to discontinue operations in Grand Bahama has caused some distress among faculty, staff, and students. There were talks of converting the tertiary institution in Freeport to a virtual campus.
The Board of the Alumni Association in GB has now come forth seeking clarity as to the fate of UB North.
“Many rumours have recently plagued social media and news outlets concerning the uncertain future of the University of The Bahamas-North campus and its students,” the association wrote in a recent letter addressed to the UB President Dr Rodney Smith.
The association further said: “While we acknowledge President Smith’s statement to rebuild our local campus, we are no longer pacified by vague promises.”
“We have long awaited the realization of an autonomous campus, only to experience continuous delays towards this goal pre and post-Dorian’s landfall. This has compelled us to believe that individuals from the Oakes-Field campus are limited in their comprehension and experience in regard to UB-North and therefore cannot be expected to rationally advocate for our beloved campus,” the association wrote.
The association questioned Dr Smith concerning the possession of insurance money from Dorian’s destruction of the campus in East Grand Bahama.
The association’s board also questioned Dr Smith about the status of those funds.
The Board also wants to know: when a projected date will be provided for the completion of the new UB-North campus, with all the amenities and space to support growth, in a downtown location; will the university implement an autonomous governing body consisting of Grand Bahamians from the business and educational fields with the new campus, so that the campus can be responsible for general expenditure and its own growth? If not, then when? And will there be an introduction of degree programs exclusive to UB-North that are suited to the needs of the Northern Bahamas?
The association said UB-North has produced many outstanding alumni who continually make invaluable contributions to the community, locally and internationally.
“With the anticipation of our esteemed future alumni, we the board of the Grand Bahama Chapter of the University of The Bahamas Alumni Association along with the support of our fellow alumni, seek clarity from the authoritative powers that be to the state of the future of UB-North.
“Over the years, the institution has evolved from providing certificate courses to granting full degrees. The student body at UB-North has grown from full-time workers seeking part-time educational opportunities to including full-time students from every corner of The Bahamas who want to pursue full-time programs and experience true college life at home or close to home. Consequently, UB-North has had the privilege of serving a diverse student body with multiple educational ambitions and career objectives.
“As alumni of this distinguished institution, we understand the importance of obtaining a tertiary education conveniently on the island we call home. UB-North is a fundamental artery to the heart of the Grand Bahamian community. Just how the vena cava supplies the heart, UB-North has supported the Grand Bahamian community as it sustains the pulse of creativity, professionalism, and opportunity that pumps hope and life through our students to the community and subsequently its economic stability.”
In a letter in response to the board’s concerns, Dr Smith said the “UB North campus is a vital part our the university system”. He explained that the global pandemic has further compounded matters in GB.
“We value and appreciate the hard work, commitment, and resilience of its faculty, staff, students, and alumni, he said.
“While plans were well underway to rebound from the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, we certainly did not expect that a global pandemic would follow on its heels to further compound the financial and emotional toll that Hurricane Dorian left in its wake. Consequently, Covid-19 has brought with it a new set of associated restrictions and fiscal ramifications,” Dr Smith explained.
With regards to the rumours, he said: “As I did in my response to the UB-North community… I wish to reiterate that much of what you have heard has been speculation and rumour-mongering concerning University of The Bahamas-North.”
Dr Smith stated that the rebuilding of UB North remains a priority, indicating that preliminary work has already started, through the leadership of VP of UB North Dr Ian Strachan.
“Moving forward, we will continue to thoroughly envision and plan for a new campus that will meet the needs of the University community and those it serves. A part of this involves the acquisition of a new site and carefully solidifying the financial support that will be required,” he explained.
He pointed out that they must now build a campus that can withstand the inevitable forces of hurricanes that can be even stronger than Dorian.
On the question of the insurance money, President Smith indicated that the University does not have in its possession all of the insurance money yet.
“While we expect a substantial payout, it will by no means be sufficient to fund the entire rebuilding of a newly envisioned downtown campus. As stated earlier we will have to secure additional financial support and engage in extensive fundraising,” he explained.
Additionally, he noted that based on the UB Act and the current governing structure of the institution, there are no plans for the establishment of an autonomous governing body for UB-North. He however supports a semi-autonomous campus within the larger University System, with the recognition of a Standing Committee of the Board for UB-North, followed by establishing an advisory board of some kind.
Dr Smith said there are plans to introduce degree and certificate programs that will be exclusive to UB-North. He stated that his position remains focused on making UB-North the business and technology incubator of The Bahamas.
“Thorough reviews are being conducted, aimed at curtailing expenditures, stimulating more revenue generation, and improving overall financial and fiscal health. All of this is happening as the institution is still determining the operational changes that it must adopt in this COVID-19 environment. Although a number of proposals and recommendations have been submitted, including those from students, faculty, staff, unions, and alumni - nothing has been finalized as COVID-19 remains unpredictable and calls for us to be flexible in our decision making,” he said.