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Young Man’s View: Determining The True Value Of An Ideal Education Leader

adrian-gibsonWithout doubt, the $400,000 salary demand by recently selected College of The Bahamas (COB) presidential candidate Rodney Smith is excessive, beyond the pale and, frankly, unreasonable. That said, I believe that no one could put a value on what a person may think that they’re worth and that whilst Dr Smith may believe that he deserves such a humungous salary, it was the duty of the government and those negotiating with him to discuss his remuneration package long before they rushed to announce his re-appointment as president.

I was completing my first degree at COB when Dr Smith was appointed and I believe that he was on the right track, seemingly espousing a vision that was moving the college forward. I was there at the time and could sense the change and also observe some of the new structures built on the campus – from gazebos and sitting areas, to the book store and so on. I also happen to have been a reporter with The Tribune, breaking and pursuing the story of Dr Smith and the so-called scandal that erupted when he was found to have given a speech without attributing the original author. By his own admission, Dr Smith stated that he had made a mistake and had used commentary first articulated by John Sexton (president of New York University) without giving him academic credit. Plagiarism is a grievous sin in academia and therefore much ado was made about Dr Smith’s failure to cite Sexton, resulting in his resignation in 2005.

The re-appointment of Dr Smith represents his second chance at leading COB. Frankly, whilst his salary request is nothing short of outrageous, I think he is the best and most capable person to lead COB from college to university. I do not think that Dr Smith should forever be made to pay a price for his error. Yes, it is impossible for him to be totally separated from the faux pas; however, the more important question is whether that would weaken him as he seeks to lead the college in challenging the status quo in the Bahamas. I think he has an impressive resumé and a previous tenure at COB that was on the up-and-up.

I would also note that Smith has always faced much opposition, either because he was brought in to run the college or there were those who simply loathed and begrudged him because they felt as if they were being passed over or because he was a progressive, student-first president. I recall having to write him a letter on behalf of myself and a few other students requesting that we be allowed to do an independent study during the summer for a class that would not have been put on schedule until the following year, though we only had one semester left. He listened to – and obliged – us, we were able to complete our class and were all able to graduate on time.

What COB – and the future University of The Bahamas (UOB) – needs is a president who can mould the minds of people, who has an unbelievable ability to draw out the best in educators, who can raise money, who can foster the independent spirit and who could take the college from really good to great. I think Dr Smith can do that; however he has to be deliberately iconoclastic and seek to further shape COB/UOB into a place that fertilises new thought. What’s more, COB has to now be modelled into a self-sustaining entity that can raise and attain private endowments and the president must be one who can engage in various finance-generating ventures to raise the institution’s budget. COB/UOB must also seek to attract international students, creating a University of the West Indies-esque atmosphere that caters to Bahamians and students across the globe whilst also fostering an environment of cultural exchanges.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Dr Smith served as the Administrative Vice President of Hampton University in Virginia. He also served as the Chief Planning Officer until nine months ago. He is a graduate of St John’s University in Minnesota, attained a master’s degree from Fisk University and has a second master’s degree and an educational doctorate from Harvard University.

In his description of Hampton University he wrote:

“Hampton University, founded in 1868 as a multicultural institution, is a selective, private, non-denominational comprehensive institution with a strong liberal arts undergirding. The enrolment is in excess of 5,500 students of diverse ethnic backgrounds (mostly of African descent) drawn from 49 states, 35 territories and nations. The endowment stands at $289,000,000 plus. The institution’s annual operating budget is around $185,000,000 with assets in excess of $800,000,000. The faculty numbers 339 with over 850 administrative support staff.

“The University has launched atmospheric research satellites and is the site of the world’s eighth and largest Proton Beam Cancer Treatment Centre ($225,000,000) and the country’s only Research Institute for Skin of Colour. The University is organised into four colleges: the Undergraduate College, the Graduate College, University College and the College of Virginia Beach. The Undergraduate College has seven schools: Business, Education and Human Development, Engineering and Technology, Liberal Arts, Journalism and Communications, Nursing, Pharmacy and Science. The University offers 71 baccalaureate, 34 masters and 9 doctoral degree programmes and is NCAA Division 1 in Athletics. Hailed by the John Templeton Foundation as one of America’s 100 “character-building colleges,” Hampton University maintains a Code of Conduct for all faculty, staff and students.”

Contrasted to Hampton University, COB has an enrolment of between 5,000 and 6,000 full-and part-time students, has an annual operating budget that pales in comparison to the $185m budget that undergirds Hampton’s yearly expenses, does not possess assets of nearly a billion as Hampton does and is certainly not organised in various colleges. Dr Smith is coming from a US state that is home to a little more than eight million to a country of about 370,000 citizens. He must therefore put his absurd salary request in perspective. At present, the government has cut subventions to COB leaving the college with $18m this fiscal year. Therefore, in the net, Dr Smith’s $400,000 salary request is obscene. If the government was “fool enough” to make a decision to pay such an unjustifiably hefty salary – which is not made by many chief executives in the private sector – such a decision cannot be made in isolation from the rest of the Bahamas’ public sector. If one looks at COB itself, such a ginormous payday would significantly set him apart from his professorial colleagues and is bound to augur contempt. Frankly, there are some at COB who may already be offended at Dr Smith’s re-appointment and it would only add insult to injury to say that he ought to enjoy the trappings of life and buying power than anyone else at COB by nine to ten times.

The government, on deciding to hire Smith, should have exercised a degree of rational thought and first concluded negotiations with him before announcing that he was being re-appointed. If that isn’t putting the cart before the horse, then I don’t know what is! The premise of the presidential search – according to COB’s council – was that they were seeking a qualified Bahamian to take the country forward. Whilst I believe in Bahamians first and foremost, I thought/think that to use nationality as a stipulation – particularly when we’re talking about tertiary education – limits the available options. The political directorate wants to use COB as the crucible for Bahamianisation and, whilst I would share that view, I also know that we must ensure that the zeal to Bahamianise does not limit the growth potential of the college, that the college experience is not being viewed in a vacuum and that we – our leaders in particular – are not adopting a parochial view as it relates to tertiary education.

What if we are looking for a few cardiovascular surgeons or 737 pilots and stipulate that they must be Bahamian? Considering the size of our country, how many will we find? It would be best if we could get a Bahamian or have a number of Bahamians at the helm of our institutions and local companies, but we must not limit our national development on the altar of pseudo-Bahamianisation.

Now, when I think about the salaries of educators, police officers, nurses, firemen and other key professions in the public service, I think that to entertain Dr Smith’s request for a compensation package of $400,000 would insult them. Bahamians angrily object to the notion that certain folks could be paid astronomical sums without proper reasoning and when so many Bahamians are struggling or living week to week. Initially, Bahamians pitied former NIB head Algernon Cargill’s plight; however, when his remuneration package was revealed, there was nearly a revolt on talk radio and in the editorials, as Bahamians complained about what appeared to be a ridiculously inordinate pay package. I suspect that it is for this reason that Dr Smith’s salary requests were leaked – whoever leaked it knew that it would cause the public to become irate.

Yesterday, Dr Duane Sands – who is a cardiovascular surgeon and a medical consultant at PMH – shared with me his pay package. He is paid a base salary of $4,138.07 per month, plus a risk allowance of $41.67 and a doctor’s on-call allowance of $1,034.52. His take home pay from the public service is $5,214.26 per month or $62,571.12 per year and this is a person who saves lives and is paid $1,034.52 to remain on standby in case he’s called to the emergency room during late night hours or on weekends to perform emergency surgical procedures on patients suffering from gunshot and stab wounds and other trauma. Yes, he has a right to private practice but, considering such skill sets, this should further demonstrate how ludicrous demands of a salary of $400,000 seem to everyday citizens and such professionals. The Commissioner of Police, the Commodore of the Defence Force, the Chief Justice, the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers all make far less than $400,000! The public purse simply cannot afford it.

I recall former Director General of Tourism Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace at one point making about $250,000 per year. However, I’m told that that salary was shared between the government and hoteliers who agreed to pay the difference.

Yes, Dr Smith has a right to demand the salary that he believes that his services are worth. The onus is now on the government/COB negotiators to counter-offer him and seek to arrive at an amicable solution. If such an agreement cannot be arrived at, then the government must seek a new president for COB. Moreover, if negotiators can arrive at a salary, they could sweeten the deal by setting up a bonus structure where, if Dr Smith raises a certain amount of money or reaches certain benchmarks, he could receive a bonus or increments along those lines. I believe he has the capacity to tap into connectors and engage in local and overseas fundraising exercises and, if incentives are attached to his contract, he’ll perhaps be even more adamant about such efforts.

I think that a reasonable sum to pay Dr Smith, considering his experience and qualifications and the fact that he’s been tapped to lead the COB from college to university, would be between $200,000 and $250,000.

Adrian Gibson

Posted in Opinions

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