The controversy surrounding the new College of The Bahamas president that was sparked by the Action Group of the Free National Movement is already having a negative impact on some of the institution’s plans, COB Council Chairman Franklyn Wilson admitted Sunday.
Mr. Wilson appeared as a guest on the radio Love 97 programme “Jones and Company”, where he took the opportunity to defend Dr. Rodney Smith and detail some of the plans for the college moving forward.
The Council Chairman also appealed to Bahamians not to politicize the College of The Bahamas. That appeal was triggered by statements from the FNM group, which Mr. Wilson labeled “despicable.”
In its most recent statement on the matter, the Action Group called for the resignation of Dr. Smith.
The pressure group questioned Mr. Wilson as to the reason why Dr. Rodney Smith reportedly changed his to name to Dr. David Smith when he sought employment in Freeport.
He, Chairman of the Council of the College of Bahamas Mr. Franklyn Wilson- needs to state unequivocally who is taking over the college: Is it Dr. Rodney, once employed by the Ministry of Education, or is it Dr. David Smith, who was "briefly" employed by Sunland Lutheran School, Freeport,” the statement read.
It continued, “It is the view of the Action Group that the issue of values involving Dr. Smith speaks to the future of the College of The Bahamas, and ought to have been given the highest priority among policymakers.”
But Mr. Wilson said it is “very, very tragic” that the FNM has seen fit to make such accusations.
“The College of The Bahamas is too important to our national development to complicate it in this way,” he said. “I make that appeal for good reason.
“Before this controversy arose, I had been in personal contact with certain Bahamians who one, happened to be wealthy and two, happened to be known supporters of the opposition party. They had seen the same résumé that you saw…and they were ecstatic. Based on that, I had received certain assurances as to certain financial support for the institution.
“After this controversy arose, they came back to me and said ‘Mr. Wilson let us hold off for the time being.’ So this action has had that type of adverse consequence. It’s not every day that someone who has served as president of a reputable college in America leaves that environment to go back to their home country (a developing country) to lead that country’s primary tertiary institution.”
Mr. Wilson also said the controversy is risking the possibility of COB getting invaluable exposure through newspapers and magazines that write specifically about tertiary level institutions.
“We feel very fortunate to have Dr. Smith,” he said. “The council engaged in a wide ranging review…we did so with remarkable transparency and aggressiveness.”
The show’s host, Wendall Jones, asked whether officials had found anything questionable in Dr. Smith’s records with the Ministry of Education given that the Action Group made the charges it made.
“I’m sure you must have had an opportunity to find out from the Ministry of Education what that possibly is,” Mr. Jones said.
Mr. Wilson responded, “The Minister has said that there is nothing in the Ministry of Education files that cause him to have second thoughts about having ratified and approved the appointment of the Council.
“The only thing in the Ministry of Education files that create any controversy in this context has absolutely nothing to do with what was implied by the Action Group.
Mr. Jones also asked about a case involving Ramapo College in New Jersey that named Dr. Smith as a defendant.
“The fact of the matter is if one wants to sue the Government of the Bahamas you don’t prepare any writ saying you’re suing the Government of the Bahamas, you sue the Attorney General, “ Mr. Wilson pointed out. “Dr. Rodney Smith was named in this action because someone was suing Ramapo College and the particular case involved a matter that was before the college, before his presidency.”
Mr. Wilson also revealed that Minister of Education Alfred Sears asked the Council to make certain inquiries after he was informed by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham that certain concerns were being raised about Dr. Smith’s history.
“He thought he would bring this to the attention of the Minister and encourage the Minister to ask the Council to investigate this line of inquiry,” he said. “Now, why do I disclose this at this time? I disclose it because it shows…what is the right way to act on certain matters. I salute Mr. Ingraham for the way he dealt with that.”
Responding to Mr. Jones’ comments that COB’s Council provided a very lucrative package for the new president in attracting him to the institution, Mr. Wilson said Dr. Smith took a salary cut in accepting the top position at COB.
He also pointed to the importance of the residence that has been secured for the president.
“I know no credible world class university that does not provide a residence for its president,” Mr. Wilson said. “It’s like having a governor general with no state house.”
Asked whether COB can afford the Eastern Road residence it is renting from BISX Chairman Ian Fair, as well as the rest of the package Dr. Smith is receiving, Mr. Wilson said, “We cannot afford to do otherwise, it is too important. The College of the Bahamas must be at the centre of the whole development of this country moving forward.
“We have to be about building a whole country, about inspiring a whole people. That requires leadership. That requires the College of The Bahamas doing it right, so we can not afford not to do it the right way.”