Students want apology from USM board, revised board

PHILIPSBURG–University of St. Martin (USM) students are looking to receive an apology from the institution’s board of directors for the manner in which their education was disrupted with the sudden announcement that the institution would be closed weeks after Hurricane Irma.

Students said they had not been consulted or informed before the announcement of the decision to close. Students also believe the board should be revamped.
“We need an apology. Saying ‘sorry’ can go a long way,” USM student Nisalyna Bontiff told Members of Parliament (MPs) during a meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament on Tuesday.
Bontiff was one of three USM students who spoke to MPs about their challenges, experiences and concerns about tertiary education in St. Maarten, during Tuesday’s parliamentary sitting. She said the board is unaware of how much its decision to close has affected students.
She said the day Education Minister Silveria Jacobs received the letter informing Government about the closure if the institution’s subsidy was not increased was the same day students also received the letter. Some students learnt from their friends, who were abroad “and it affected us tremendously. We feel really bad that this is how it had to go and it did not have to reach to this point. There are a lot of things that could have been done to avoid the closure of USM, which is still in question. We need an apology. Saying ‘sorry’ can go a long way.”
Student Fabiana Richardson was particularly irked with the manner in which the board sprang the news on students that USM would be closing. She said students were never given a “heads up” beforehand, which she said was unfair.
“We never got an opportunity to sit and brainstorm on saving [the semester – Ed.]. … It was like ‘USM will close if we don’t get the NAf. 3 million’ and the Minister needed to answer by such a deadline in the midst of a disaster, which I find was impossible at that time,” Richardson said. “I felt that the approach and the manner in which it was done was inappropriate. Have you sat with your students?”
She said no one could have controlled the natural disaster that struck the country in September, adding that it is still unclear whether USM has closed or whether it will be closing.
“These questions are still not answered. We still don’t have a clue,” she said noting that there are students who are still attending USM trying to finish up the semester.
“We need an answer – is USM closing or not?” she asked and questioned what will happen to students who did not have an opportunity like she did to enrol in University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). “Let’s face reality here. Those students right now are left with a big question mark on their heads.”
Students want to know what the solutions are for the institution and what the next steps will be. If the answer is received, Richardson wants to see a positive change.
She also questioned whether the sitting board will be revised, “because I feel they have to take responsibility and ownership of the mistakes done.” She spoke of one of her colleagues who attended USM, returned and, on learning that the same board is in place, remarked that the “the problem is still there. I left it and I came back and it’s still there.”
She said, “A serious revision needs to be done [on the board – Ed.] and I don’t believe that if USM has to remain open that it [should – Ed.] operate in the same way either. What are the solutions if the USM does reopen? Will the board be revised? This way we can have a strong university.”
In the meantime, Bontiff wants to see USM grow from strength to strength. She said more programmes are needed for this to happen, as currently there are not sufficient options for students to want to remain in St. Maarten to study at USM. She listed studies such as robotics, modern agriculture and finance as some of the course options that can be considered. “There are so many things that USM can do to help create something that can be the greatest, but we need to take a step from here,” she said.
Bontiff called on authorities to make education a priority. She also called for the law on higher education to be put in place sooner rather than later. Her vision is for USM to become the best university in the Caribbean.
Also addressing MPs during Wednesday’s session was student Ralph Cantave, who said he wanted to become a proud product of USM, but said this goal was not realised due to the closure of the institution. He said the institution has a lot of potential which he believes should be honed.
Several MPs weighed in on the situation regarding USM following the presentation by the three students.

Source: The Daily Herald