By NICO SCAVELLA
THE Union of Tertiary Educators of the Bahamas yesterday called the relationship between the College of the Bahamas and the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Sciences Institute a “charade” and said the “forced relationship” has given “the ill-conceived BAMSI a sense of legitimacy” that would lead to an “academic Titanic.”
In a press statement released yesterday, the Union of Tertiary Educators of the Bahamas (UTEB) called COB’s involvement with Bahamas and Marine Sciences Institute (BAMSI) a “source of contention and confusion” and said it is “concerned” about COB being “tight lipped” about “questionable” and “misleading statements” by government and BAMSI officials “trying to tie BAMSI and COB together.”
“The efforts being made to do this have placed the college in a precarious position, particularly in light of the fact there are no written agreements between the two entities,” the statement read. “The UTEB understands that BAMSI is a limited company under the Companies Act and is not a government institution although it is presently being funded by public monies. It is still questionable as to the type of role or relationship that COB can forge with this kind of entity or how public monies can be used to fund a private limited company.
“Today, the answers to these questions and the relationship between the two entities are still no clearer than when the two bodies started meeting almost two years ago.”
According to the statement, the “one college official who has spoken on the matter,” Vice President of Operations Dr Ian Strachan, had said on record that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was “still being negotiated” between the COB and BAMSI to determine how the two will work together.
However, the UTEB took exception to BAMSI having yet to enter a MOU with COB, but already finalising one with the University of Miami, which was executed during a signing ceremony at the Rosentiel School on Virginia Key in July.
As a result of the non-existent MOU, the UTEB claims that there have been no courses or programmes approved by COB’s Academic Board for use at BAMSI despite “public statements from government and BAMSI executives.” It said it was “deceptive and misleading” for those officials to suggest as much.
“The only agricultural courses and programmes that have been approved by the Board have been approved as a revision and/or update to the current associate degree in agricultural science being offered at COB,” the statement said. “BAMSI would be violating COB’s intellectual property rights should the institute start instructing students in the next two weeks using COB courses and programmes. In many ways, this could amount to willing copyright infringement.”
The statement said the UTEB has “consistently advised” COB’s council chairman to be “cautious in his zeal” to partner with “this government driven entity that still lacks clear planning, direction or accountability” and warned the chairman against BAMSI’s “exploitation of the already strained intellectual capital and physical resources of the cash strapped College.”
“While the Union and the Faculty it represents understand well the need for food security and how an institute like BAMSI could be crucial to the development of the University of the Bahamas, we also are aware that institutions or entities are not or should not be developed and implemented by governments and other entities and then ‘given,’ somewhere down the road, to the College/University to run,” the statement said. “Until an overall master plan for the proposed running of the institute has been presented to the governing board of the College, with the necessary funding for an agreed plan that speaks to the relationship between COB and BAMSI, the Union once again asks the College to refrain from moving forward and committing COB employees to what appears to be an academic Titanic.”
In spite of the Union’s harsh criticisms, Associate Director of University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences International Programmes Dr Edward Evans, while leading a delegation of 10 UF professors touring BAMSI’s facilities, said BAMSI is “certainly a step in the right direction” and an initiative “that all Bahamians will be proud of when completed and fully operational.”
Additionally, one Bahamian farmer attending the forum called BAMSI “a God-sent vision of the Prime Minister.”
Dr Evans said that with the global population set to reach close to 10 billion persons by the year 2050, food production would have to increase by “about 70 per cent” to feed the increase in population. It is in this regard that he felt it was such a “forward-looking initiative” that will have a “tremendous payoff in the years ahead,” and said that government also has a role to play in “being the catalyst to spur rural development, and agricultural development in particular” by providing the “enabling environment in which private sectors will see fit to become investors.”
On Wednesday Minister of Agriculture Alfred Gray said the Opposition Leader and all of the “nay-sayers” would be “disappointed” when BAMSI opens on September 29.