March 16, 2002 – Response has come from two quarters of the University of the Virgin Islands administration to student and faculty protests of the process that led the UVI board of trustees on March 9 to select LaVerne Ragster as the school's fourth president.
On Thursday, Auguste E. Rimpel Jr., trustees chair, wrote to the student body leadership on behalf of the board responding to a March 10 letter from the United Student Government Association to the trustees. The UVI Public Information Office circulated the letter on Friday.
On Thursday, Roy Watlington, chancellor of the St. Thomas campus, circulated a memo to "all members of the St. Thomas campus community."
Both Rimpel and Watlington affirmed the trustees' actions and called on all concerned to show solidarity for Ragster. Rimpel said student charges that the selection process was "tainted' were baseless. Watlington said Ragster won the trustees' nod "fair and square" even though she was at a disadvantage in the selection process because "her career is an open book in the Virgin Islands," while the off-island candidates "could make any promise without substantiation."
In his "Dear Students" letter, Rimpel said letters of support for candidates from students and others had not been ignored in the selection process. "A summary of the expressed views of students and faculty was reported to the board by its consultant," he said. "Both the student and faculty trustees on the board confirmed that the report of the consultant accurately reflected what their constituents felt."
But, he said, "the board "made its decision on the basis of all relevant information available to it, and not just the feedback from the campus visits by the candidates."
The USGA letter complained of one board member trying to influence others and of Kean joining in the vote after not having been present for board interviews of the three finalists. In the first instance, Rimpel said, there is "no legal prohibition against one board member seeking by persuasion to generate support for a particular candidate from another board member prior to a vote."
And, Rimpel said, Kean had announced at the board's regular meeting on Feb. 23 that he would not attend the candidate interviews, so as "to permit the candidates to speak freely and without discomfort regarding how they would perform differently as president than he had performed." Further, he said it is his understanding that Kean "met separately with and interviewed each candidate," as he said at the Feb. 23 meeting of the board that he would do.
From the February board meeting until the March 9 vote, Rimpel said, "no board member, including the student trustee, raised any objection" to how Kean proposed to proceed. Rimpel also said he was "surprised and disappointed" that Milton Connor, the student trustee, would question the integrity of the voting process, since he had "made no objection" at the March 9 meeting where "the board unanimously endorsed Dr. Ragster by acclamation."
Rimpel termed it unfortunate that Connor "did not voice his current objections during the meeting on March 9, preferably before the vote, so that they could have been addressed then."
Finally, Rimpel said, an independent consultant to the board has assured him that the selection process was conducted in accordance with "democratic principles and accepted practices in higher education." Accordingly, he wrote the students, "I understand your disappointment that the board did not select the candidate you favored, but I am satisfied that the board acted appropriately. I hope that you will join in welcoming Dr. Ragster as the next president of the university."
Watlington, like his counterpart on the St. Croix campus, reports to the provost (Ragster), who is the second-ranking official under the president. He said in his memo that he joined "those faculty colleagues who have asked for a separation of issues surrounding the selection process from our sentiments about Dr. Ragster."
"There is every evidence," he wrote, that the presidential selection process "was fair and thorough. It was also a very normal and ordinary process: A broadly representative committee received a number of applications and identified three finalists. All three finalists were, in my opinion, capable and credible presidential candidates."
All three finalists made presentations at open meetings on both campuses the week before the trustees met to vote. Watlington in his memo noted that while the trustees and their Presidential Search Committee spent months researching the applicants, the "staff, faculty and others" had only that one opportunity to gather information on the off-island candidates. "So it was predictable that the appearances of the external candidates would be refreshing for UVI audiences," he wrote.
"As usual," he said, Ragster in her presentation "was serious and focused and spoke from the basis of UVI realities. Most naturally, the others focused on being congenial and on making a good first impression."
Saying that he found the selection process valid, Watlington, too, noted that the decision "included the vote of a student representative and a faculty representative equally cast" along with those of the other trustees. Further, he said, any members of the university community "in the last several months … could have reviewed the process and made comments to the trustees for their consideration."
Rimpel wrote that the board of trustees acknowledges "the UVI community’s desire for a stronger financial base, an open administration and a leadership style characterized by accessibility, among other things, and plans to review the feedback with the new president."
According to a UVI release, the board is preparing a separate response to the Faculty Executive Committee, which also wrote in objection to the presidential selection process.
For background on the objections raised to the trustees' actions, see the earlier Source story "UVI students, faculty protest selection process".


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here