The financial woes of the University of St. Martin (USM) have been widely reported on hence there is no need for further elaboration in this letter. I would like however, to take this opportunity to let the people know why I stayed on the Board of the USM Foundation (BUSMF) after the financial crisis was announced and why I submitted my resignation effective December 21, 2017.

My affiliation with the USM dates back to 1990 when I was seconded by the Island Government of Sint Maarten to be the institution’s first local Director, later President. In August 1995, just before hurricane Luis devastated the island and inflicted much damage to the USM, I had resigned as President to return to work with the Government of Sint Maarten. However, because a new President of USM was not yet in place as well as the fact that the recovery of USM after Luis required all hands on deck, the BUSMF asked me to return to USM to help with the restoration of the institution. I gladly complied with the Board’s request and returned to work at the USM until 1998 when I left to take up duties in Curaçao with the Government of the Netherlands Antilles.

In 2006, the BUSMF asked me to become a board member based on my previous experience as Director/President of the USM. I gladly accepted. Then in 2012, the BUSMF appointed me as Vice President of the Board. Being a member and Vice President of this Board is an unpaid function. One does it out of a commitment to education and to the country.

Fast forward to 2017. On August 23rd, the BUSMF once again, for the umpteenth time, publicly made it known via a press conference that USM would not be able to move forward without financial support from Government. At that time no one could have predicted that exactly two weeks later, on September 6th, hurricane Irma would devastate the island and consequently halt the operation of the USM.

By the end of September it became clear to the BUSMF that the number of students, able to resume their studies, had dropped considerably. In addition, the business community, on which the USM depended for additional income, was also severely hit by Irma. On October 2nd the BUSMF informed the Minister of Education of the untenable financial situation of the USM. A day later, October 3rd, the Board sounded the alarm via the media that, under the current circumstances, the USM would have to close its doors. To avoid this from happening USM would need an acute financial injection from the Government.

After that initial press release the Board met with all stakeholders namely, staff, students, faculty and the Alumni Foundation. I clearly recall the meeting with the Alumni Foundation in which each member of the BUSMF was asked individually if he/she would quit or if he/she would stay on and work to avert the closure of USM. During that meeting, I committed to stay on as Vice President and do my best to ensure that USM did not close. In the meeting with the faculty, several instructors declared that USM would not close. This also motivated me to do whatever I could to keep USM open. In addition, individual encounters with staff, students, faculty, alumni and people in the community encouraged me to “fight” to keep USM open. Mind you, during this time there was no indication at all that Parliament would be dissolved and new elections would be called.

After the fall of government on November 2nd 2017, parliament was dissolved a day later and new elections were initially scheduled for January 8th 2018. When the election date was pushed back I informed the President of the BUSMF that, given my political aspirations, I would be resigning from the Board prior to postulation date on January 5th 2018.

Meanwhile, the USM got drawn into the political arena. The BUSMF was called to Parliament to give an account. I must admit that I felt awkward presenting the USM issue in Parliament, knowing that whatever I said, no matter how factual, it would be politically misconstrued. Also the mere fact that I was the Vice President would raise political questions in some people’s minds. As for me, it was never my intention to subject the USM to political manipulation. I was simply following my life’s motto namely “if you start a job you should complete it and if you make a promise you keep it”. This is the reason I remained on the Board until the MOU was finally signed.

Needless to say, the MOU went through numerous revisions before both parties were in full agreement with it. This occurred on December 18th which I considered a well-deserved birthday gift. The final version was signed by the Minister of Education and the President of BUSMF on December 19th 2017. With the MOU signed, it was also time for me to resign from the Board , knowing that I had kept my promise and had lived up to the commitment I had made to students, staff, faculty, the Alumni Foundation and to the many people in the community who had been hoping and praying that USM would remain open.

Wycliffe Smith
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party