Although it appeared to be a
simple change of administration weeks ago, recent reports from several reliable
sources lead members of this community to question the future of St. Matthew's
University School of Medicine. Last Wednesday in Belize Supreme Court, Justice
Abdulai Conteh dissolved the injunction served by St. Matthew's Board of
Directors (BOD) on Monday, June 4th. Barred in the injunction were President Jeffrey Sersland; his wife
Renae, Vice President of University Services and Director of Student Affairs and
Financial Aid; Chief Financial Officer Liz Cechini, and their "agents". Justice
Conteh stated that a "failure to disclose material facts"(namely that Dr.
Sersland was a shareholder of St. Matthew's) deprived him of his individual
liberties. He continued that this matter should have been handled privately and
professionally by the board of directors, not aired publicly and furthermore
that it was not a "high urgency situation". Although the aforementioned are
allowed back on the medical school's campus, Mr. Sersland stated, "I choose to
remain off campus at this time in order to maintain peace and ensure the
stability of the students and the community." He said his lawyers have contacted
the BOD and they will attempt to resolve the matter through professional
At the time of the injunction,
Campus Security officers were "temporarily" relieved of their duties with
pay and promised there would be no termination. Last Friday, June 22nd, campus security officers received a
letter signed by Interim President, B.D. Owens, stating their "position of
employment with St. Matthew's University is terminated effective as of June 11,
2001. Your compliance in a professional manner with this order will be
appreciated." It continued, "As you did not work following the last pay period
there will be no further pay matters to consider. I hope you will accept this
decision as one that is designed to promote the best interest for the growth of
St. Matthew's University." There was no reason given for the decision to
terminate. Payment of these employees was contested and is now in the hands of
the Labor Department.
This alleged "growth of St.
Matthew's" appeared to be the main focus of the Board of Directors. This
expansion was the basis for the "need for a more experienced administration,"
and the explanation for the dismissal of previous President Dr. Jeffrey
Sersland's administration. Oddly, the administration of St. Matthew's is now in
the hands of people with little or no medical background whatsoever. Newly
elected President and Chief Operating Officer of St. Matthew's International,
Dr. Jerry Thornton, is a clinical psychologist. The Interim President, B.D.
Owens is an economist and reportedly a former employee of St. Matthew's whose
services had been terminated. The Dean of Academic Affairs/Registrar/Director of
Student Affairs is a historian, Dr. Nancy Adamson. The remaining administration
consists of a secretary/bookkeeper and a flight attendant (Board of Director
Harris' secretary and wife, respectively). At any given time in the past three
weeks, there is reported to be a minimum of representation of any of these
parties on campus. At the time of this writing, only Dr. Adamson was available
on campus and could not be reached for comment.
On the other hand, terminated were Dr. Sersland whose
past experience includes Director/Administrator of Financial Aid for 35,000
students at the College of DuPage in Chicago, Illinois. He also worked in
financing universities through Fortune 500's Unger & Associates as well as
being an aid to the late Senator Clinton Burdick of North Dakota in the United
States. Another colleague "let go" was Ron Pynn, a doctor of political science
with 34 years of experience in upper level administrative management.
This week, a member of St. Matthew's faculty
reported that in an address to the faculty, the reason given for the disruptive
mid-semester change of administration was decided on because of "financial
mismanagement and shareholder dividends not forthcoming." It was further
reported to them that this change was part of a BOD discussion as early as
November of 2000 but the board did not act on it at that time. This fact brought
up a question as to why the BOD hesitated at that time when the school was
temporarily closed due to the hurricane and instead interrupted classes four
weeks into a semester this year. Also, it was stated that since the school is in
its infancy there would not be a lot of dividends to be had by investors. It was
reported earlier that no financial inquiries were known to have been requested
by the St. Matthew's Board of Directors and there was no mention of financial
problems or a change of administration in the Board Of Directors Annual General
Meeting agenda of June 1st.
It was confirmed by professional sources that in most situations where financial
indiscretions are suspected, the directors hold a meeting to discuss the
situation and if "concrete evidence" is provided regarding abuse of the finances
of the institution, the BOD may remove the administrator. In this situation,
however, this was not the case; the president of the school was also a director
on the board at the time and a shareholder in the company which raises legal
Eyewitnesses have reported
that before the injunction was served, several people involved in the takeover
of administration were seen removing files from administrative offices.
Witnesses also observed shredded material in these offices after that fact. The
fact that administrative offices were broken into and locks changed before the
court injunction was served appeared to some that the "takeover" was illegal. In
a letter posted to the Chief of Security on June 2, 2001 Dr. Michael Harris
stated, "All property of St. Matthew's University is to be made available to the
officers of the Corporation including representatives of Apex Trust Company who
will be providing management services to St. Matthew's University beginning June
4, 2001." Upon investigation it was discovered that Apex Trust Company is a
subsidiary of the W. H. Courtenay & Co. law firm, and provides offshore
services and corporate management. It was further learned that Mr. V. Harrison
Courtenay of this company replaced Dr. Jeffrey Sersland as a director on the St.
Matthew's Board of Directors and his associate Lisa Peyrefitte is Corporate
Secretary to the board.
Faculty and students have
expressed much dismay at these turn of events. As one woman explained, "Things
were just starting to get going and the school had good projects in the making."
Plans for a medical and marine biology research facility are now questionable.
One faculty member stated it was necessary to cancel the closing on a house they
were purchasing due to feelings of extreme instability. Another faculty member
stated they remained on staff for the benefit of the students even before they
were told that if they walked out in protest they would be fired. Additional
information received from St. Matthew's University personnel revealed that a
director and his associates made visits to the island of Curacao regarding
school activities. Students and faculty are questioning if this means the
University will be relocating from San Pedro or if it pertains to the
possibility of opening a satellite school.
regarded a letter received from Dr. Ian Runcie, Vice President of Clinical
Sciences in the United Kingdom in which he threatened to terminate affiliation
with St. Matthew's unless the current issues are resolved. Dr. Runcie is
responsible for third and fourth year students who travel to the United Kingdom
to perform their clinical rotations. It was stated that a few students have left
the medical school and some are considering leaving St. Matthew's at the end of
this semester. It is reported that approximately 20 people are currently
unemployed as a result of this action. The future of St. Matthew's is a viable
factor in the economy of San Pedro and at this time it is not clear what that
future will hold.