•Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind
who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published
every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at
The decision of President Janyne Hodder to resign her post at the College of The Bahamas after a short tenure provides COB and the country with an opportunity to revisit core issues related to the institution’s evolution towards university status.The knee-jerk reaction by some that her departure will harm COB’s transition to university status is based on all sorts of faulty assumptions. It assumes that Mrs. Hodder is the only person in the world who can lead this effort, and that there are no others who can so do. Notoriously unscientific newspaper polls notwithstanding, Mrs. Hodder’s retirement is not Armageddon.
President Hodder has a number of accomplishments and many are grateful for her service and wish her well in her future endeavours. There are others who remain generally displeased with her presidency. It is disingenuous to suggest that all of the criticisms concerning her tenure revolve around her not being a Bahamian.
Towards this end, there are legitimate questions as to whether Mrs. Hodder was the appropriate choice to head COB. These questions do not detract from her abilities, energy or dedication to the College and The Bahamas.
Rather, they are broader questions about the mission and role of COB almost 40 years after independence, and of who should serve as president as this key national institution pursues university status.
These questions are at once academic, literally, and broadly speaking, concern national development and identity. The President of COB should have a doctorate, which Mrs. Hodder does not. As the College requires more professors with such a degree, it is more than symbolic for the president to hold one, especially with university status on the horizon. If we are to aim for the stars we should seek a leader with the academic distinction of a doctorate. In this regard Mrs. Hodder only hit the treetops.
COB is a Bahamian tertiary institution with strong regional connections to the Caribbean and longstanding ties to the University of the West Indies. Those ties and connections include the Culinary and Hospitality Management Institute.
As the search for a new president begins, the preference of many is to find a qualified Bahamian, those qualifications include a number of skill-sets and the ability to move the institution to university status. If this proves impossible at this time, a qualified Caribbean national with a doctorate would be preferable.
This is not about identity politics. Rather, it is about the academic qualifications a university president should ordinarily have, as well as about the sensibilities such a person should bring in terms of the needs of an institution such as COB, a national university in a developing county rooted in a post-colonial Caribbean context, still battling colonial mindsets in too many Bahamians and many expatriates.
The appointment of a fellow West Indian should be an interim measure, with an accelerated programme to identity possible Bahamian candidates, and helping to provide the resources necessary to prepare them to eventually serve as president of the University of The Bahamas.
Singapore transformed itself into a modern developed country by embarking on ambitious executive training programmes, ensuring that qualified Singaporeans would lead key national institutions. Likewise, The Bahamas cannot continue to outsource the leadership of our national university to non-Bahamians.
Just as the country invested the resources necessary to prepare now Acting Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade and now Acting Deputy Commissioner Marvin Dames for the leadership of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, we must do likewise in preparing the future leadership of our premier tertiary institution.
While a university should be cosmopolitan, outward looking, global in perspective and a place of diversity, it is also rooted in a tradition or history in terms of its primary mission, location, strategic plans and vision.
Because that mission, COB’s location, and the strategic plans and vision which guide our national development are Bahamian, so should the president of our eventual national university be a Bahamian. While we draw on the treasury of world civilization, The Bahamas should continue to make our own contributions to human civilization. We have a vantage point and a perspective.
Our accomplishments and challenges need to be articulated, at home and abroad, by a Bahamian whose voice will carry a certain authority and resonance, rooted in a unique place and national identity. This voice should no more be outsourced to a non-Bahamian than a McDonald’s burger can be called a Bahamian national dish.
While Prime Minister Ingraham may consider a foreign national for a job such as Director of Public Prosecutions, it is highly unlikely that he would consider a non-Bahamian for Chief Justice or Commissioner of Police. Like the latter individuals, the President of COB is the head of a national institution and not mostly a technocrat like the former. This is a distinction with critical differences.
Our national university should be a laboratory for discovery and innovation, modelling in its vision and best practices the larger goals for the country, including Bahamianization. Towards this end, COB is developing a signature programme in small island sustainability.
This programme is an example of Bahaminization. It utilizes a variety of national treasures and native wisdom to promote sustainability by creating opportunity and responding to national challenges creatively with indigenous solutions. The Small Island Sustainability Programme should serve as a template as to how COB may think about its own progression into a university.
This and other programmes should be geared towards fostering a critical consciousness, a way of thinking, provoking and enticing us to think about the way we think, and the assumptions we reflexively make without really thinking. Along with such critical thinking, COB should help the country to develop a Bahamian Imagination.
The American coffee chain Starbucks announced its retirement from COB before Mrs. Hodder. It did not seem to be the right fit. Before replacing Starbucks, whose local franchise is Bahamian-owned, with another foreign implant the College may want to consider some more deeply Bahamianization possibilities such as the Pasión Tea and Coffee Company, “which was formed in 2001 and is the exclusive creation of Bahamian born and raised Julie Hoffer.
“Her passion for sublime teas led her to do extensive research internationally resulting in the creation of an exotic line of teas, spices, coffees, hot sauces and authentic Bahamian bush tea remedies ... ”
Ms. Hoffer is passionate about her Bahamian “cultural traditions and roots”, and about “developing high quality products that showcase the beautiful flavours and remedies of The Bahamas.” She combines the traditions, flavours and insights of our indigenous wisdom and treasures with world-class excellence and a cosmopolitan worldview, and plans to export her products to North America.
This is the Bahamian Imagination at its best, a model for national development and small island sustainability, and what COB should be promoting: helping Bahamians to discover and develop their own native genius and sense of excellence.
Sbarro, another American franchise, also owned by Bahamians, appears to have also retired from COB. If a Bahamian wants to open a foreign food franchise so be it. But opening one on the future national university’s campus is a lesson and an opportunity lost.
If COB is going to be a centre for critical thinking and a laboratory for cultivating a Bahamian Imagination, it should do so in its academic programmes and business contracts. Rather than Sbarro, a home grown eatery could serve as a cross disciplinary living classroom with lessons in a variety of academic fields.
Might someone like Elaine Williams Pinder, the extraordinarily entrepreneurial spirit behind and owner of Bamboo Shack be approached to open some type of Bahamian style eatery at COB? She is a hugely successful, hardworking and imaginative Bahamian businesswoman, who has created a brand while providing employment to scores of Bahamians.
Such an eatery would be a business seminar of sorts, highlighting another home grown commercial success that continues to aim for the stars and has gone well beyond the tree tops. It could serve as a student placement and learning centre for courses ranging from management to economics to the culinary arts, with someone with Mrs. Pinder’s inspiration and success motivating students to cultivate their own Bahamian imagination.
While COB may temporarily require some non-Bahamian leadership, it is a matter of priority that we seek out and ready the next generation of Bahamians who will lead the University of The Bahamas, particularly in the Office of the President.
We cannot continue to outsource the vision, mission -- or leadership -- of our national university to others, whether they hail from the University of the West Indies or Harvard University. These institutions have their own mission, within their own context. But they are no substitute for our own national university, headed by a Bahamian leader who will help us to reach for the stars.