EDITOR, The Tribune.
My family and I share a deep connection to the College of The Bahamas. My mother was a founding faculty member when the College began in 1974. My six brothers were each students at COB. I, too, am a former COB student, having studied Economics and Physics there as the 2001-2002 All Bahamas Merit Scholar.
When I came back to visit COB during my senior year in college at Duke University, the campus was alive with excitement. The old passport office had been converted into a world-class bookstore, rivalling the bookstore of Stanford University. The old CDU building had been re-fashioned into an academic space with multi-media-equipped seminar rooms and faculty and administrative offices. These renovations represented a $4m investment in the future University of The Bahamas.
In addition to the infrastructural upgrades, I also saw optimism in the eyes of students and faculty as they spoke about the changes that were happening at the College. A big part of the reason for this excitement was the effective leadership of then COB president, Dr Rodney Smith. In the year that he served as president he executed these changes and many more. With good reason, the advisory search committee has recommended to the government that Dr Smith be named the next president of COB.
Dr Smith is eminently qualified to lead the College into university status given his years of experience as a university administrator at Hampton University, which is now ranked the top HBCU in the US. Furthermore, as president of Ramapo College, Dr Smith participated in infrastructure development projects that totalled $80m. Moreover, Dr Smith possesses world-class academic credentials, earning his doctorate in Education from Harvard University on an OAS scholarship.
The biggest obstacle to Dr Smith’s re-appointment as the new president of COB is the accusations of plagiarism that led him to resign during his first term of the presidency. Dr Smith spoke directly to this issue at a public forum on campus. He acknowledged the error that he made when he read a graduation speech that was written for him without first confirming that the sources cited in the speech were referenced by the person who had written the speech for him.
US President Barack Obama made the same mistake when he used the words of his friend, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, in the context of a campaign speech, without proper attribution. President Obama recognised his error and gave appropriate credit to Governor Patrick. His mistake did not prevent him from winning the US presidency in 2008.
Similarly, when I was a graduate student at Harvard University, two of its celebrated law school professors were implicated in plagiarism scandals in which parts of books that they had written bore striking similarity to the work of other scholars. Both men owned up to their mistakes, which turned out to be genuine errors of research assistants, as opposed to intentional intellectual theft. Both men continue to serve Harvard University and have made enormous contributions to the university’s law school faculty since.
It is important to note that president Smith was not accused of plagiarism with respect to his academic work, as was the case with the two Harvard professors; rather, his error was an unattributed quote in a graduation speech. This is a meaningful distinction that has not got the attention that it deserves in discussions about his suitability to lead the College into university status.
If the US electorate can forgive President Barack Obama for a mistake similar to the one committed by Dr Smith; and if Harvard University, considered by many to be the paragon of academic excellence, can forgive two of its law school professors for accusations of academic plagiarism that were far more serious than the plagiarism charges that Dr Smith faced, then COB bears no shame in considering Dr Smith for re-appointment to the College’s presidency.
Just as President Obama recovered from his mistake, I am confident that Dr Smith can do likewise and lead the College of The Bahamas with distinction and excellence as its next president.
July 29, 2014