WIFOL concerned about selection process for new USM Dean

Nepotism involved?

The WIFOL Union is very concerned about the indiscretions in the selection process for Dean of Academic Affairs of the University of St. Martin and chided the Board for not seriously focusing on improving the institution’s academics.


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The announcement was made by president of the WIFOL Theophilus Thompson after he said that the Board of USM was playing games with the institution’s future by not replacing the former dean in a timely fashion. The former dean, Ron Pribble, reportedly quit after taking sick leave.

"The staff had been complaining about Mr. Pribble’s disrespectful manner towards them and his lack of concern and direction for the institution. With him quitting, the staff have yet to be formally informed about the reasons for his departure. That says a lot," Thompson said.

On August 6, 2009, USM announced the "internal posting" for counterparts to the Dean of Academic Affairs and the Chief Financial Officer. Five persons applied for the dean counterpart post: four members of the faculty and Ms. Joyce Watson, the Accreditation Officer, requested by the USM Board from the Island Government Department of Education in 2007 to assist USM in preparing for accreditation. Joyce Watson is an employee of the Island Government, and not USM. He also said it is unethical for a civil servant to apply for the position while it was an internal posting. So, far both Mr. Pribble and Ms. Watson have failed the University in its quest for accreditation.

USM Board President Lockie Johnson is quoted in an article in the media on August 28, 2009, informing the public that interviews for a Dean of Academic Affairs were taking place. On that same day, the candidates for the counterpart to the Dean were informed they would be interviewing for the Dean’s position the following week, instead of counterpart, as had been advertised.

According to Mr. Thompson, the Board needs to give the public of St. Maarten an explanation as to how candidates for the job of counterpart to the Dean can become candidates for Dean. He also said that this post was one of the highest academic posts in that higher education institution and one which is responsible for the institution’s overall academic quality.

"Is USM a government-owned institution? Who does USM really belong to?" the WIFOL President questioned.

On August 31 and September 1, candidates interviewed for the Dean’s position without a job description being provided in advance, and not all panelists on the Search Committee interviewed all the candidates.

According to WIFOL president, in terms of Human Resource practices, this process can be considered faulty and leaves many doubts and unanswered questions about the process. Thompson questioned why the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Ken Nolan, who is supposed to be and equal member of the Management Team, was the only member of that team to be given the right to participate in the voting process of electing a new Dean? The other members of the Management Team have not been formally informed of the process nor who the candidates are that are vying for the Dean position.

"I would hate for it to appear that Nolan is being given preferential treatment over the other members of the Management Team. The other members are highly qualified, some even have knowledge of hiring and selection processes," Thompson said.

Though it appears that the members of the Search Committee panel agree that Joyce Watson had performed the least capable during the interviews, she was selected as one of two finalists for another round of interviews.

"Is the Board really serious about USM’s Academic quality and moving the institution forward academically?" Thompson questioned. This may be significant, since, according to Pribble, the USM Board had indicated that accreditation of the institution was no longer a top priority.

Thompson also added that the board should be honest with the University staff as to the direction they want the institution to go. He also said that the Board should also respond to reports whether Franklin Watson resigned from the Board to pave way for his wife to become the Dean of Academics.

"The people of St. Maarten should know that the University of St. Martin is a very important institution and crucial to the development of this island nation and especially the youths seeking higher education. As a people, we should all be concerned and involved in whatever happens at this institution, academically and administratively," WIFOL President Thompson concluded.

The WIFOL was elected by the USM staff last year to represent them after the staff felt their rights were being undermined and they were being taken for granted by the USM Board.