Tonight, the leadership of the University of Belize hangs in the balance. In a letter, dated November 6th, President Dr. Cary Fraser wrote to the Prime Minister expressing his intent to leave his post next year. The letter reads in part “Dear Prime Minister Barrow, I have made the decision that I will leave the University of Belize at the end of the current academic year. I had hoped my appointment would pave the way for a systematic effort to confront the challenges of financial uncertainty, inadequate and aging infrastructure, and the need to build professional capacity within the University to meet national development needs. However, during my tenure, the chronic inability of the Ministry of Education to meet its debts to the University of Belize has been an unfortunate signal of the low priority accorded to the University. The negotiations within the University about the budget for the 2013-2014 academic year have led me to question whether the situation will improve in the future.” Dr. Fraser went on to state his concern of the University’s Board of Trustee’s demonstrated commitment during the period of August 2011-2013 to a micro-management of the institution. That letter is just as much information as we’ve gotten from the President, as he has with-held from commenting about his decision, until after meeting with the Prime Minister. As we showed you yesterday, the Board of Trustees hosted a meeting attended by the media, and the university’s faculty, staff and students, in an effort to brief the public on the recent transpired events. The Chair, Harrison Pilgrim, noted that the first he heard of the President’s intent was on November 1st. According to Pilgrim, Dr. Fraser announced at the commencement of a Board Meeting that he was considering an appointment that would take him away from the University and that if he decided to accept the offer, he would be leaving the institution by mid-2014. As we said that’s about as much information we grasped from the press conference, as that is just about all the information the Chair says they have at this time. So the question was posed to Pilgrim – at the Board Meeting, why wasn’t there more dialogue between the Board and the President on the possibility that he may be resigning? According to Pilgrim, there were more pressing matters to deal with.
Forum attendant 1: “Sir, you mentioned that the statement was made at the commencement of a meeting. Nowhere during that meeting, the president got up, made that statement, everybody just sat down and said okay and boom. Nobody asked him why or nothing else was said?”
Mr. Harrison Pilgrim- Chair of the Board: “The president gave us a statement…a verbal statement. The president provides at board meetings, a written president’s report. That statement was not in his written report. As a result, the board felt that it was a casual indication of thoughts and we did nothing at that point because there were other…it was actually the first meeting that we were holding. No board meeting were held since August, and there were number of pressing matters that we had to address, and we moved on with our agenda”.
That aside, Dr. Frazer continues to serve as President of the university and though there appears to be some tension between the two parties, Mr. Pilgrim assures that it will not impede on their working relationship.
Forum attendant 2: “If he has already effected his resignation and it seems that his heart has already left, how will you. Continue to work with him in the interim and what will this mean for the University?”
Mr. Harrison Pilgrim- Chair of the Board: “There is no crystal ball that I know about that I can look into to determine the future. At this point, there are cordial relations existing. Going forward, there is going to be need to handle the matter with the level of sensitivity, which , if I were to start talking about things now, about what I would do or about what I wouldn’t do, would betray the confidence and the relationship that I presently have with the president, and which this board would like to maintain throughout the 10 years of his appointment”.
Another issue that arose at the press conference and you may have noticed a bit of a foreshadowing in the previous clip – is an exclusion of the institution’s staff and faculty in the primary consultation process of a crisis such as this.
Forum attendant 2: “There are several concerned coming from the faculty and one of the abbreviations that I made very quickly is…this blatant disrespect for faculty because you mentioned the Board with a management/middle management; there has been no discussion at all with faculty from any level whatsoever. So, I want to ask you a few questions that faculty is currently concerned about”.
Mr. Harrison Pilgrim- Chair of the Board: “Your senior managers or middle managers were appraised at 12:30 this afternoon of this situation that we now have before us. We have now made all of you aware of what the board knows at this point and it is my expectation and of the Board, that your managers going forward will have meetings with their direct reports and that that will result in everybody coming on Board with the discussion”.
President of the Faculty and Staff, Allison Fraser also queried the Board on a 2013/2014 budget cut. All faculties were asked to cut their budget by 15 percent. This, says Fraser, has caused some strain on the management of the respective courses and programs.
Forum attendant 3: “When we were informed that that cut was instructed from the Board because everybody keeps attacking the president saying that we cannot manage with this amount or work with what we have presently”…
Mr. Harrison Pilgrim- Chair of the Board: “In hard times, everybody has to trim their seals, be prepared to tighten their belts, and the University of Belize is no exception”.
Forum attendant 3: “This semester, students are paying more. I don’t understand if the students are paying more, why not cut. If you cut, you are saying, I believe the media, where you guys pass there, do you see how it looks? What actually is going on and where is our money being used…or if the faculty members or departments cannot get the money they need to get this going?
Mr. Harrison Pilgrim- Chair of the Board: “That, along with other present administrative issues that we hope that the president, had he been here would answer for you”.