University College of the Cayman Islands officials are concerned about their independence as an institution and what it might mean for the way other colleges and universities view the students it graduates.
At a board of governors meeting on Wednesday, the focus fell on a tug-of-war with the Ministry of Education over some of the basic functional operations of UCCI’s educational programs. In a purchase agreement that covers the school’s budget for the next two years, the ministry had inserted language saying that decisions on what classes to offer or discontinue should be a joint decision between the college and the ministry.
“The proposed change by the ministry is not a change we can accept,” said Chair of the Audit and Finance Committee Thomas Simpson. “If the faculty can’t control what classes are offered, it [compromises] the quality of the degree.”
UCCI is in the early stages of exploring accreditation from an international body, in part to ease the process for students transferring to four-year universities. Mr. Simpson said such bodies require that colleges and universities act autonomously, without interference from a political authority.
UCCI President Roy Bodden said he too was concerned by the language in the proposed agreement.
As he read it, Mr. Bodden said, the ministry “would have the final say. We have to be autonomous.”
In an email, Ministry of Education Chief Officer Christen Suckoo said the agency is fulfilling its duty in line with the Public Authorities Law. Having the ministry take greater control is necessary, he said, “to ensure that the university is operating in a manner in keeping with the ownership and purchase agreements held between the two entities.”
Materials provided to board members highlighted a section of the University College Law, which gives authority for the college curriculum to the board of governors.
“The Board shall have power,” the law says, “to determine courses of study and admission standards [and] to create or abolish such departments or academic programmes within the college as the board may consider necessary or expedient.”
Mr. Simpson said the language is clear.
“The ministry is trying to circumvent that authority through the purchase agreement,” he said during an interview after the meeting.
Board Chairman Lemuel Hurlston said the Public Authorities Law, passed in May, gives government agencies greater purview over the entities they oversee.
“They’re saying, ‘We have certain responsibilities to reign in statutory authorities and government-owned companies,’” Mr. Hurlston said after the meeting. “We have to put forward our case in the strongest manner we find possible and hope that we’re right.”
Mr. Suckoo said the ministry is only exercising control over the programs it funds at the college.
“The purchase agreement … by necessity must reflect the portion of UCCI programming that the government expects to be delivered and is funding,” Mr. Suckoo wrote. “This does not limit UCCI from offering additional programming outside of the purchase agreement. We have held extensive discussion with UCCI on this matter and have committed with them to work through their issues and perceptions.”
He believes, “UCCI … is sufficiently autonomous.”
Mr. Hurlston said until the issue is resolved, UCCI cannot pursue accreditation. And if the ministry manages to maintain the control it wants to exercise, pursuing accreditation would likely not be possible.
“We’re asking the ministry to kick it upstairs to the government solicitor’s office,” Mr. Hurlston said. “It’s a legal reconciliation we’re going to go into. It has to be reconciled.”
In other action, the board is looking into the activities of the former human resources director, who left in September.
According to board materials, the director “awarded certain UCCI employees salary increases and other awards during the current year. These awards were not in keeping with the HR Director’s job description.”
The board has consulted an attorney on how to proceed. The attorney’s response was discussed in closed session. No action was taken. But Mr. Simpson said the board is looking at an audit of the department. The college is in the process of interviewing candidates for taking over the human resources department.