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HomeNewsArchivesUVI Board Scolds Administration Over 'College Hill' TV Show

UVI Board Scolds Administration Over 'College Hill' TV Show

March 18, 2007 — Protests have taken place outside past meetings of the University of the Virgin Islands board of trustees, but this time the protests came from inside the boardroom as the group addressed a reality show that features more drinking and sex than academics.
The board discussed "College Hill — Virgin Islands," a show currently airing on BET (Black Entertainment Television) that has been the talk of the territory for the last few weeks. Each member of the board was asked to speak about the show, which dominated the morning in the day-long meeting Saturday at the Sports Center on the St. Thomas campus.
The perennial tensions between faculty, staff and the administration occupied the rest of the morning session — which lasted until almost two in the afternoon. On both subjects there was loud and lively discussion, but it was the portrayal of UVI in the television show that drew the most fire.
"It was probably an error in judgment, done with the best of intentions, but without due diligence," said board Chairman Auguste Rimpel. To UVI President LaVerne Ragster he said, "You took a risk. If it were me, I would not have done it."
Recently Ragster wrote an op-ed piece about the show published by the Source: "The drinking, the sex, the serious anger-management issues: All this and more are common among today's college students, and we at UVI believe a 'mirror' function is at work as our UVI students see their classmates behaving badly." (See "'College Hill 4' Isn't the Whole Story of Life at UVI.")
Many board members agreed with Rimpel's assessment. The decision was made by the administration of UVI, not the board, who was informed of it after the contract with BET had been signed.
The board had no options because the contracts had already been signed, Alexander Moorhead said: "The university gave them permission to do the show."
One after another, board members expressed outrage, disgust or disappointment. Comments included, "it was an embarrassment to UVI, the territory and black people." "We owe them an apology." "BET is in the business of exploiting HBCs (historically black colleges.)."
"Get real and accept life the way it is," countered Yvonne Thraen, who said that the older the person was, the more critical they were. However, others in the room said that even current UVI students had been upset and embarrassed by the portrayal of their school on national television.
Thraen offered a little humor to address what she saw as hypocrisy over the issue. She told the Woody Allen joke that went, "Two ladies were eating in a restaurant and one said, 'The food here is terrible,' and the other said, 'And the portions are so small, too.'"
The board moved on to other issues when UVI Provost Al Hassan Musah presented a report on the state of academic and faculty issues, in which he enumerated reasons for continuing tensions on campus.
Reasons Musah cited included the decision not to allow the faculty to unionize, the lack of a faculty-policy manual, the perceived disparity between the St. Croix and St. Thomas campuses, the restructuring of the academic departments and the failure to evaluate faculty in a timely manner. This lack of evaluation and the fact that faculty members did not receive contractual information by the university's December 15 deadline resulted in the renewal of all contracts.
Aletha Baumann, faculty representative, expressed grave concerns about conflicting scheduling, lack of classrooms and office space. Both Musah and Baumann stressed that the lack of communication between administration and faculty, staff and students continues to exasperate the situation.
All of these issues have resulted in the faculty considering a vote of no confidence in the administrative structure, the provost and the president, and may affect the upcoming accreditation process, scheduled for April.
In other action, the board authorized a budget resolution for an appropriation request of $36 million for operating, debt services and other mandated programs to be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for the 2008 fiscal year. This figure is $2 million more than the current general fund-expenditure ceiling set by OMB.
The board also amended and passed a significant policy on public access to documents and information. It both provides guidelines for access and, at the same time, establishes privacy protection for the institution, its employees and students.
"No information from the personnel file of an employee shall be provided to individuals who are not authorized university employees other than to confirm that the employee is in fact employed by the university, unless express authorization for such disclosure is given in writing by the employee or a determination has been made by the Director of Human Resources," the policy states.
In her report to the board, Ragster noted that this was the 45th anniversary of the institution, the 35th of its designation as a land-grant institution and that the university was continuing to make progress toward the implementation of VISION 2012. The four main areas of that initiative are educational excellence, financial sustainability, institutional improvements and community engagement.
The board heard a presentation on UVI's mid-year key performance indicators (KPI), which include enrollment, financials, research and development. Enrollment is just over 2400 and unchanged from fall to spring, although there has been a 10-percent shift from part-time to full-time status.
On the financial front, the V.I. government increased support to the university by 11 percent to $26 million, while UVI's total operating expenses went up 6 percent to $43 million. The governmental appropriations represent 63 percent of the university's operating budget.
There has been a 30-percent increase in awarded grants and contracts from last year to $11 million, though in 2004 the amount was $14 million.
The report on development figures represented significant institutional challenges, as the numbers are low across the board. Even though the number of alumni giving to the institution has risen dramatically by more than 267 percent, this still represents only 3 percent of total alums. The cash contributions were down 20 percent from last year's quarterly figures, although trustee contributions were up 34 percent.
At 3:30 p.m., the board went into a closed session in which they established a two-year subcommittee to review human resources and hiring policies. They also approved tenure for five faculty members: Gary Cox, David Gould, Michelle Petersen, Alice Stanford and Steve Ratchford. The university has a limited number of slots for tenure and currently none are available. These five are subject to slots opening up in the future and hence have the status of tenure-in-waiting.
Honorary Chair Gov. John deJongh was unable to attend, but the board welcomed Debra Watlington, chair of the board of education and acting education commissioner Lauren Larsen as new members.
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