The invisible College of The Bahamas
“Education is teaching our children to desire the right things.” – Plato
In April, 2009, we wrote about the College of The Bahamas (COB) in an article entitled “A Hidden Treasure” in which we observed that “it is important for Bahamians to have confidence in that institution as the forceful and valuable seat of higher education”. Two and one-half years later, and almost a year after the appointment of a new college president, we thought it would be interesting to Consider This… has the College of The Bahamas lived up to the high expectations and ideals of which we wrote, or has that hidden treasure now become virtually invisible?
The current state of affairs
Sadly, we believe that since former president Janyne Hodder left the college, the institution that is supposed to be the cornerstone of learning in our nation has become less impactful, less relevant and almost invisible on the Bahamian landscape. In fact, if you think about it, when was the last time that anyone has heard of any new, innovative, or interesting developments at the college? Regrettably, there have been several fascinating day-long seminars that have gone under-attended because of the lack of any organized and formal publicity or advertising, putting the dazzling knowledge imparted at these forums in the category of trees falling in the forest with no one to hear them.
It is always revealing and instructive to speak to college students attending that institution in order to garner their perceptions of how the college is faring. I did that with several students, some of whom had transferred to COB from North American colleges as well as students who attended COB directly from high schools in The Bahamas, and what we discovered is disturbing, distressing and disconcerting.
Those students observed that generally they do not have an inkling of an idea of the college’s vision or the direction in which it is headed either in the short- or long-term. Those same students indicated that teachers and students are not always very helpful on a number of fronts. Some COB lecturers and many students do not know where certain classrooms are situated on the campus and many of those classrooms and bathrooms are dingy, drab, dirty and disappointingly maintained.
In some cases, the air conditioning does not work, classrooms are uncomfortably hot and many of the lecturers and students do not even use their college-assigned email addresses, preferring instead to use their own Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail addresses. The registration process is poorly-organized and managed, and classes are often over-populated, sometimes with as many as 60 students, where the ideal class sizes are not supposed to exceed 25 students.
For various reasons, some of the more seasoned personnel have left or are in the process of leaving COB. The college has lost some of its senior management and faculty over the past year, and, while some of the departures have been a positive development for the college, others have been very detrimental.
In the aggregate, while there are positive attributes at COB, these abnormalities suggest a crisis of leadership and an absence of effective management at the college. If COB hopes to attain university status, these, among other deficiencies, must urgently be rectified.
Another area where the invisibility of the College of The Bahamas is hurting its overall mission is in the wider community. Institutions of higher education should play a vitally important role in the development of the community in which they exist. Historically, colleges have exerted a powerful influence on communities as bastions of critical intellectual intercourse, providing leadership in making positive contributions to ensuring the community’s future. This, in turn, ensures the development of competitive skills of the nation by building community values and cohesion which ultimately help communities to move forward. The college should be an incubator for innovation, thought, leadership, research and critical commentary on intellectual, social, economic and political issues. The college should also be a catalyst for change and transformation of the society in which it is situated, offering an enticing menu of seminars and lecture series for those who are not students, spreading the seeds of knowledge beyond the walls of academia. However, this desire to be an enriching force in the community seems to be sorely missing from the College of The Bahamas.
An institution of ideas
Can you imagine the contribution that COB could make in helping to frame the national debate on issues relative to the upcoming general election campaign in order to encourage an issues-oriented exercise?
Where better to have the kind of structured debates between candidates that the populace is yearning for than within the confines of COB? Monitored and analyzed by academic minds, these kinds of debates could broaden the political discourse in a healthy and intelligent manner, giving Bahamians – for the first time – a dispassionate and analytical atmosphere in which to evaluate their future leaders.
Additionally, shouldn’t COB’s Social Sciences and Business departments, based on research and empirical study, engage in formulating ideas about how we can realistically address some of our social challenges and the expansion of the Bahamian economy? Seminars and lectures could enlighten Bahamians from all walks of life about surviving these challenges and understanding the new normal that will be the Bahamian economy. Clearly, participating in scholarly discussions could introduce new concepts and ideas, enabling and empowering attendees to thrive in the future.
And shouldn’t the Political Sciences department address the shortcomings of our quasi-Westminster model with a view to proposing constitutional changes in order to update and transform our system of governance? In a college setting, minds young and old would be able to come together in fruitful examinations and discussions that could do much to shape our future.
Isn’t there a golden opportunity for COB to research comparative penal institutions that work effectively, with a view to enhancing our efforts toward rehabilitation and reconciliation of persons who have lost their way in society? The intellectual study and explanation of the restorative justice initiative, for example, could change not only the way we punish criminals but also how we help victims to reclaim their lives. In a college atmosphere, these kinds of investigations can be undertaken in a non-threatening way, allowing all sides to question and understand this concept.
Higher education provides an exceptional forum where lecturers and scholars can evaluate societal problems from a uniquely balanced and comparative social and economic perspective.
In the final analysis, the role that COB can and should play in contributing to the development of a modern Bahamas in the 21st century and beyond must not be understated or underestimated. But first and foremost, COB must shed its cloak of invisibility and boldly step forward, prepared and eager to open its doors to the community and make positive contributions for the benefit of all our citizens.
•Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to [email protected]