Something is rotten at the University of the Virgin Islands. In the last two years, at least five excellent, long-term, committed faculty members have been driven away from the University for no good reason. One faculty member was denied tenure, although she had excellent evaluations for the entire pre-tenure period, was recommended for tenure by the faculty, Provost, and President, and not a single member of the Board of Trustees voted against her. Others have been harassed so severely that they have quit their jobs. In some cases entire programs have been brought to a standstill, leaving students unable to complete their degrees on schedule.
The latest example of this phenomenon is perhaps the most egregious. Dr. Robin Sterns, one of the most popular professors at the University, who has served in an exemplary fashion for the past three and one-half years as a "visiting" professor, resigned after she was given a one-year "terminal" contract, having been passed over for a tenure-track position on the pretext that she is not qualified to teach Journalism because she has a PhD in English rather than in Communication. This explanation is so ludicrous as to lead many to believe that she was punished for allowing the students to tell the truth in the student newspaper.
Dr. Sterns is eminently qualified to teach Journalism. She not only designed the Journalism curriculum at the University herself, but in two years built from scratch a student newspaper which won an impressive number of national awards from the Black College Communication Associationawards which President Ragster proudly boasted of at last year's Convocation, and at the March meeting of the Board of Trustees. Dr. Sterns has been one of our most hard-working and productive faculty members, and at the Service Awards ceremony last May was given a "Presidential Award" by Dr. Ragster for going the extra mile in her work with students. Dr Sterns has done a spectacular job of running the Journalism program and bringing out the UVI Voice for the past two yearseveryone at the University knows this to be true. How then is she "not qualified" to teach Journalism?
Although Dr. Sterns was not hired for the Journalism position, it seems that no one else has been hired in her place, and most of the courses she was scheduled to teach are being cancelled. The Journalism students–many of whom have told me "I became a Communication major because of Dr. Sterns"–have no one to teach them, and several of them may have to switch majors or delay their graduation. The students are determined to continue publishing the UVI Voice, and at their request I have agreed to serve as the Faculty Advisor for the paper, but it remains to be seen whether it can survive, having been deprived of the support of the Journalism program (if indeed such a program still exists), and of the hard work and expertise of Dr. Robin Sterns.
Without academic freedom–the free exchange of ideas and information–education is merely indoctrination. A university is the last place in the world where people–especially students–ought to be afraid of retaliation for freely expressing their ideas and opinions. The UVI Voice admittedly has been critical of the University administration at times, but its coverage always has been fair and balancedif you don't believe me you can look at the paper online, at www.uvivoice.com, and judge for yourself. It has played a valuable role in informing the University community, and has empowered the students to ask questionsand receive answerswhen things have not been working the way they should. A member of the Board of Trustees even stated that the UVI Voice was invaluable in giving the Board members information about things that were happening at the University which they had not been informed of by the University administration. Shutting down the student newspaper will not make the students and faculty less angry and frustrated when things at UVI do not work as they should–it will only lead them to express their anger and frustration in less constructive ways.
I plead with President Ragster, as I have before: please stop the massacre of UVI faculty! You have the ultimate say in all personnel decisions, and therefore the ultimate responsibility. I also plead with the members of the Board of Trustees, who are engaged in the search for a new president: please hire someone who will change the institutional culture at this University, so that students and faculty will not have to be afraid of retaliation for telling the truth, so that excellence will be rewarded rather than punished, and so that slogans like "Students First," "Principled Leadership," and "Collegiality and Shared Governance" will not be just a "vision," but a reality at the University of the Virgin Islands.
University of the Virgin Islands
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