Chairman of the COB Council Alfred Sears should generally be applauded for insisting that the next president of the college should be a Bahamian.
Still, this columnist believes that the search should be open to other Caribbean nationals. By example, what if we are able to find a Caribbean national of the calibre of Sir Hilary Beckles, professor of history and Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies?
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake which devastated Haiti in early January 2010 also sent emotional aftershocks throughout the region as the Caribbean mourned yet another setback for the country.
Following the earthquake, Sir Hilary penned a brief essay entitled “The Hate and the Quake”. Such essays rarely go viral. His did because he captured the cries of many for Haiti, chronicling a colonial legacy which put Haiti’s history into greater context.
Sir Hilary provided the quality of intellectual and ethical reflection that is at the heart of the role of the head of a college or university. As a native Barbadian and historian of the region he also provided a Caribbean voice.
The next president of the College of The Bahamas should speak with a Caribbean voice accented by a global worldview. The recent non-Caribbean heads of the college are to be applauded for their contributions to the country.
But as COB moves towards university status and 40 years after independence, the need for a more indigenous voice is essential in light of the role that COB and its president play in national development.
That voice includes a Caribbean idiom better able to inspire, and to reflect our history and development goals. Such a voice can highlight our successes while being brutally honest about our shortcomings.
The president of COB should be one of the leading intellectual voices in the country, able to speak to a myriad of issues with reason and deliberation, including the ability to speak to issues of public policy in a nonpartisan manner.
The president must speak to the challenges and aspirations of a small developing state, and of the role of education in national development.
The audiences and constituencies of the president include the nation-at-large, but more particularly stakeholders within the college, and potential donors.
The president’s voice must be strong enough to insist on institutional autonomy, and strong enough to stand up to political leaders when necessary, with finesse and intelligence.
Within the institution the president must be able to inspire students, faculty and staff. Further, the president will need the political wiles and determination to pursue the broader good of the institution amidst some of the outsized egos, rivalries and fiefdoms at the college.
The “Profile of the President” issued for the presidential search details a number of qualities a candidate should possess generally, and in terms of leadership and professional experience.
The Profile notes that no one candidate is likely to possess all of the qualities desired. Yet what are some of the essential qualities a new president should possess?
He or she should be an individual of demonstrated intellectual ability, namely the capacity for discernment and critical thinking. Notably, academic achievement and intellectual capacity are not necessarily synonymous. There are many academics fluent in their field, yet lack the capacity for critical thinking and informed commentary.
The new president should be able to read and to understand a considerable amount of information, and a capacity to learn quickly. He or she should also be an articulate public speaker and a superior writer.
Other essential qualities include the capacity to raise money and to cultivate donors, as well as general public relations skills. Equally important is the need for demonstrated administrative and managerial skills, including an understanding of finances and budgets.
Given these qualities, who are some Bahamians who possess the leadership and professional experience to lead COB?
The search profile noted that candidates: “Will preferably possess an earned doctoral degree from an accredited institution of higher learning; and will preferably have at least seven (7) years of senior leadership/administrative experience in progressively more responsible positions, with a strong record of achievement, preferably in an institution of higher education.”
The word preferably suggests that the COB Council is open to a candidate who may not possess a doctorate or may not have spent considerable time in an academic setting, but who has extensive professional and leadership experience.
All of which leaves the door open to a more diverse pool of talent. There are a number of international tertiary institutions led by individuals who, though they do not possess a doctorate, proved extremely capable in a given field, making them ideal candidates to lead an institution of higher learning.
It is not that we are without potential candidates to lead COB. The question is whether certain potential candidates would consider leading the institution for a designated period while helping to identify and prepare possible successors.
It is a testament to her extensive experience and knowledge that Dr. Paulette Bethel is currently Chef de Cabinet for the President of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly.
Dr. Bethel has a Ph.D. in Sociology. She served as an educator, negotiator and diplomat, with time spent in the private sector. She has taught at COB and served for a brief period as Chairperson of the Social Sciences Department.
Dr. Bethel has extensive international experience having served The Bahamas as a diplomat at both the UN and in Washington D.C. She served as the country’s UN Ambassador under both the PLP and the FNM.
Sean McWeeney, Q.C., possesses one of the finest intellects in the country. Well-read, he is highly articulate as a speaker and as a writer, someone who possesses the ability to improve the quality of public discourse in the country.
One of the leading trust attorneys in the country, he served as Attorney General and in a number of other capacities including, presently, as Chairman of the Constitutional Commission.
He served as advisor, speechwriter and counsellor to Prime Ministers Sir Lynden Pindling and Perry Christie. The urbane McWeeney might be a good choice to help COB to raise significant funds.
Teresa Butler, who earned a Master’s Degree in international economics from Georgetown University, is one of the most capable public servants of her generation, having also taught in the government-operated school system.
Following a distinguished career in the public service, including as a diplomat, she rose to the level of permanent secretary.
She has an extraordinary understanding of the public service and is one of the country’s leading experts in public policy. An avid environmentalist, Butler has an extensive record of involvement in community service.
Therese Turner Jones is currently the Inter-American Development Bank’s Country Representative in Jamaica. She has a Master’s Degree in Economics and served at the IMF and at the Central Bank of The Bahamas.
With extraordinary international experience, she also “has over 20 years of experience in the areas of macroeconomics and economic development, with particular emphasis in the Caribbean.”
Dr. Reginald Eldon has a doctorate in theology and extensive administrative and leadership experience in various capacities with the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church. He is also a gifted writer and public speaker.
He has extensive experience as an educator and in youth development, including having taught college level courses overseas. He is presently Dean of the Centre for Leadership, Education and Training (CLET).
There are other Bahamians at home and abroad who may prove to be a novel choice as the next head of COB, including a number of medical doctors, international bankers or attorneys who meet the essential qualifications necessary to serve.
To attract the best talent possible we should be willing to handsomely remunerate the next president of COB, paying them a very good salary along with generous benefits. This is standard fare at many institutions of higher learning seeking to attract outstanding leaders.
We are often quite happy to pay foreign consultants all manner of handsome sums. The president of COB is a central figure in the life of the nation. He or he should be financially secure in order to lead one of our important national institutions.