Features — 20 June 2014

(Publisher’s NOTE: I have been wanting to re-publish the following column for a long, long time, but I could not find the specific Amandala in our archives in which it first appeared. Finally, I realized what had happened. This column was published in a Tuesday Amandala, and presumably because we had discontinued our mid-week issue on more than one occasion, this newspaper had not been preserved by us. I am fairly certain the column first appeared on Tuesday, July 13, 2004.)

Every few weeks, my mother will remind me that I have mail at her house. The mail is addressed to “Evan A Hyde ’68, 1 West Canal Street, Belize City, Belize.” The “A” is for my legal middle name, which is “Anthony”, and the ’68 refers to the Dartmouth College class of 1968 with which I graduated. The “1 West Canal Street” is the address of my parents’ home, and also the address of Evan A. Hyde on the computers of Dartmouth College. All the mail is from Dartmouth College – class and alumni newsletters, fraternity updates, magazine reports on sports teams, special president’s speeches and commencement addresses, and so on and so forth.

If you are a Dartmouth grad and you visit any large city in the world – Buenos Aires, Cairo, Bombay, or Stockholm, you will find that there is a Dartmouth Club established there, where you can receive information, solicit assistance, or simply soak in the vibes.

After you graduate from Dartmouth, your Dartmouth life is not over. The university remains in frequent, if impersonal, contact with you, and if you become wealthy, as many Dartmouth graduates do, then the chances are great that at some point you will feel inclined to offer some sort of financial assistance to your alma mater.

Yours truly was poor for a long time after Dartmouth, and after I began to make a little money, I was surrounded by poverty, so I am not nearly in a category which would have me donating to Dartmouth. But if I were by some accident to become super rich, Dartmouth would be there to remind me by mail that they contributed to my education in an important way.

As I write this column on a Sunday morning, I am anticipating a critical University of Belize board meeting to be held tomorrow afternoon, Monday, July 12. It will be the board’s third meeting in less than a week, when normally we would not meet more than once a month, at most.

The national university is experiencing, as I discussed in these pages a few weeks ago, a financial crisis, and the board is caught between Scylla and Charybdis. There are constraints placed upon us by GOB, and there are requirements/demands from faculty, staff, and students.

The situation is a weight for me personally, because I am in the business of newspaper and radio, which involves the publishing and broadcasting of news and other information to the general public. As UB board chairman in this crisis, however, I must be very, very careful with what I say, the reason being that the situation is not only tense, it is also dynamic.

In the crises which have endangered Amandala and KREM Radio over the years, I have always come to you, the people, and I have said, well, this is the position, and I need this or that from you in order to weather the storm. The University of Belize is, for argument’s sake, maybe 20 or 25 times larger than Kremandala in terms of salaried employees and negotiable assets. In addition and more significant, it is a state-owned institution, established by an Act passed by the Minister of Education. So UB is a much larger ball game than Kremandala, and a significantly different ball game.

The university has not been able to adjust quickly enough to the yearly cuts in its government subvention since its establishment in 2000. From a high of $12 million in 2000, the UB subvention is now less than $7.5 million, after GOB requested last month that UB finance the 5% and 8% faculty and staff salary increases out of the $7.5 million 2004 subvention.

The problem here is that GOB has been providing tertiary education to Belizeans of modest means at subsidized credit hour rates – $29 in the case of the Associate programs and $90 in the case of the Bachelor’s programs. With GOB reducing the subsidy yearly, UB is now in a position where its deficit is $2.7 million for this year’s budget. The foreign offshore university, Galen, by comparison, is charging $200 per credit hour for some of the same programs which UB offers.

It is a long time that I have been wanting to discuss these matters with you, the people, but I do not own the University of Belize, and I get the sense that this is not the way things are done in these rarefied atmospheres.

In our board meeting last Tuesday morning, my stated position was that if I were the GOB problem, insofar as my political independence was concerned, then I would have to consider resignation. The board’s response appeared to be that their view of the situation was different from mine, and they impressed upon me the fact that they took their positions as custodians of the national university very seriously, indeed.

At the board meeting on Friday afternoon, the board essentially rejected the financial solutions offered from the University’s officials, faculty and staff, and chose to meet again, which is tomorrow, to take the bull by the horns.

I have found it amazing and disturbing in the years of struggle at UB, that the thousands on top of thousands of UCB and UB alumni, have not organized themselves in any sort of proactive way to assist the university. That is why I opened this essay with the references to the Dartmouth way, which is the way of all American schools and universities. Education is an ongoing process, and the end of one class is the beginning of another. We help others even as we have been helped.

Why there is no college spirit amongst the alumni of UB is an issue which needs to be addressed, in order for the situation to be rectified. I suppose the greatest problem is that students and alumni are allowed to abdicate any responsibilities on the grounds that it is a government institution, so let government pay for it and be damned. I have other, serious thoughts on this matter, but UB is not Kremandala, to repeat. Still, I feel strongly that the UB family needs to begin dialogue and discourse, immediately.

As we enter board tomorrow afternoon, our greatest priority, I submit, will be to save jobs. We are a poor university, in a poor country, and we must have a heart for each other. The modern world is run, nevertheless, by money. This crisis is all about money. Some people at the top of the UB totem pole need to start asking themselves what they can do for the university, instead of continuing in their selfish, dishonest, and hedonistic ways.

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