In November of last year, 7News told you about Dr. Cary Frazer's sudden decision to make an exit from the University of Belize and from his post as President of the institution.
It involved a letter he sent to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Minister of Education where he complained about bureaucratic pressures and breakdown between his office and the Board of Trustees. According to Frazer, the Board's micromanagement of the university, and lack of financial support from the Government made it difficult for him to develop the institution to the level he had initially planned.
So, his departure will officially take place next month, and at this time, there are moves afoot to get Economist and former Central Bank Governor Allan Slusher installed as a temporary president. We'll tell you all about that. But first, when we got an opportunity to the speak with Harrison Pilgrim, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, this afternoon, and we asked him about the process they will go through to identify who will be Frazer's permanent replacement.
For an institution as important as the Nation's University, which has been struggling with stability at the helm, Pilgrim told us that they've worked out plan get a suitable candidate:
Harrison Pilgrim - President, Board of Trustees, UB
"We've already begun to put in place what we consider to be a very robust search team, which will comprise of persons from the Board of Trustees of the University, Business persons within Belize, we intend and hope to have onboard a senior person from the University of the West Indies, as well as a senior person from out of the partnership of the COBEC institutions in North America. We're going to do the search using an international search firm, and then, when short listed, the candidates will be interviewed by the locally composed panel."
"Has anyone showed any interest at this time?"
"Well, the process has not at yet reached the point of advertisement because what we are doing at this time is ensuring that we have created the kind of robust profile, and then the search firm will have the tools necessary to search for someone who fits that profile."
"And what kind of timeline are we looking at in terms of looking at potential candidates."
"That's always a difficult question because we don't have any idea of who will apply, and how soon they'll be applying. We have gotten a number of interesting inquiries even the search began, and we feel that there's going to be a number of Belizeans, and perhaps non-Belizeans as well, who would be qualified, and who may fit the profile to act as the President, and to carry the University to another level."
But, when that permanent replacement is installed, will he or she have the same difficulties that Frazer complained about? That's what we asked Pilgrim, and here's how he responded:
"When this person is installed, as the President - we know that Mr. Frazer, he started out with a brilliant relationship between the Ministry of Education and the Board, and then all of a sudden, it seemed to deteriorate. So, will this new candidate be sort of protected, so that what he or she brings to the table won't be influenced or impeded by the political directorate?"
"First of all, I'd like to on record that I do not think that Dr. Frazer was impeded by any political influence at all, at any stage. Certainly, the Board of Trustees, of which I was a part, when he was appointed, was fully supportive of the programs that he wanted to implement. It was also very supportive of having the New President - Dr. Frazer - at that time, build out on the strategic objectives of the University. Objectives which had been developed over a number of years by most of the social partners involved in the University. To, answer your question, I feel if we - if the person who comes on fits the profile - I keep talking about the profile, because I think that one of the things that we are the search firm will do is to have the candidates undergo a psychometric - or various psychometric evaluations - which will help us to understand what make that person tick or not tick, what areas of support we need to give to ensure that that person can carry out the job properly, because we do not expect that anyone who is selected is going to be perfect. There are going to be some weak areas, and if we understand the weak areas, then the Board of Trustees will probably be in a better position, as well as the Ministry of Education to lend the support that any new leadership takes on at the University."
Slusher Has The Confidence Of The UB Board
So, as viewers may have noticed, when Frazer's letter became public, he sort of faded into the background, on a leave, where it was suggested that the board obliged him to make a pre-departure exit. In his absence, Dr. Wilma Wright, a holder of a Doctorate degree, took over as Acting President, leaving her post as Provost to run the University. That's been happening for over 4 months now, as we told you, Allan Slusher, will take over from her.
That appointment is in its final stages, and Slusher's work history is notable. He was a Governor of the Central Bank of Belize, the Region's Nominee at the World Bank, who served for 2 years, and he worked at Caribbean Development Bank for more than 15 years, where he retired as a vice president.
There is, however, one chink in the armor; he is only the holder of a Bachelor's Degree. When that announcement was made inside the University, it caused some protestations from the Faculty and Staff at UB who felt that an individual who does not hold a terminal degree shouldn't be the head of management. The reason was that there are persons who are persons employed currently and who are believed to be more qualified than Slusher. There was also the suggestion that his appointment was going be done chiefly because influence of the political directorate. More than that, some faculty members viewed it as a possible vote of no-confidence of Dr. Wilma Wright's management so far.
Today, we asked Pilgrim about those perceptions, and he told us that they couldn't be further from the truth. He explained that Slusher's appointment as a temporary president is being done chiefly so that the business aspects of the University can be streamlined. Here's how he put it:
Harrison Pilgrim - President, Board of Trustees, UB
"Universities across the globe and in particular in North America which is an area that we tend to emulate a lot had been moving rapidly to put in business persons at the helm of their universities, persons who can attract the financing necessary for these institutions, who understand the ethics of business and development and proper management and good governance and all those things which today make for successful enterprise growth. The university is a business, it's a business in education and we feel that by having a strong business person to direct this transition period is going to auger well for creating the kind of atmosphere for a new president who will come in and not have to do all the mapping up, but would have had somebody in there who have done that type of stuff for him or her. We also believe that the office of the provost is one that is central to the academic development of the organization and certainly in the appointment of a provost, one would want to make sure that the person has a terminal because they will be directly interacting at that level. But we do not feel that the presidency of the university must necessarily hold a masters or any other terminal degree and we feel that the job can be done by somebody with Mr. Slusher's ability, with his attitude, he is a people friendly person, he is open to suggestions, he works with other. These are all things that we feel are so very important and we believe that he will get the support that he needs on the academic side and that in appointing him directly as president it leaves the post of vice president, director and all the key senior positions open for us to fill, perhaps even before a new president comes on stream, so that when that new person comes they can move and run straight on with the business of taking the university onto another level."
"Sir you speak as though there are moves to make Slusher the head of the university - that there is this high probability that he will become the head of the university."
"Sorry I didn't speak as if. I spoke with certainty that Allan Slusher is the designate replacement to be the president of the university barring unforeseen circumstances."
According to Pilgrim, Slusher's appointment, when it takes effect, is expected last for the next 2 years, and after that, the candidate identified by the panel of educational professionals will take over as the proper replacement.
Current Acting President, Dr. Wilma Wright, will revert back to her post as Provost, where the Board believes the technically skilled professional will be best utilized for her qualifications.