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Published On: Sat, May 26th, 2018

On the reconstitution of USM

Dr. Antonio Carmona Baez - USM President

By Antonio Carmona Báez, Ph.D.*

My recent appointment as President of the University of St. Martin has been accompanied by a warm welcome from many of the island’s residents, as well as a strong sense of encouragement and support expressed by my colleagues from around the world. As a newcomer, I hope to use my experience, strengths, and knowledge to collaborate with local talents and doers in the reconstruction of the country and the reconstitution of its main public institution of higher education. I have come to learn about the commonalities and differences between St. Maarten and my homeland Puerto Rico, a country that has also been affected by the hurricanes of 2017 and is currently being forced to rethink its path of development, and its relation to the world.

My arrival coincides with a decisive moment for St. Maarten, when government officials and dignitaries have been called upon to contemplate the role of the university through legislation on higher education. We, USM administration and the governing Board under its Chair, Mrs. Valerie Giterson-Pantophlet, have been invited to comment on drafts and proposals addressing these issues that have yet to be articulated and released to the community. It is our intention to participate in this process, by which USM will take on a larger role in our society. This entails nationalisation by which the university will undergo internal restructuring and an external redefinition, particularly in its relation to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports. Of paramount importance is our commitment to academic autonomy. The underlying premise is that public higher education is a human right and an essential key to nation building. We have the right to be the government’s first choice when selecting its consultants and investing in future generations.

We aspire to a university entrusted by law to serve the people of St. Maarten in consonance with the ideals of democracy, self-determination, diversity, academic freedom, and living harmoniously with nature. Our principal mission is: to house, foster and disseminate the arts and sciences, placing knowledge at the service of the community through the contributions of professors, instructors, researchers, non-academic staff, students and alumni, and to contribute to the island’s socio-economic development, the cultivation and enjoyment of aesthetic and ethical values, and sustainable living on the island and throughout the Caribbean. 

We aim to make USM the central institution informing policy makers and political leaders of solutions developed by scientific research, the humanities, and the arts, as opposed to ideology and short term economic interests. We understand that the key to solving many of our problems resides in our ability to promote homegrown experts and their many talents which have historically been bypassed, by integrating them in organised contact with academic communities in our region and around the world. To accomplish these important goals, USM needs structural funding from the government of St. Maarten and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, coinciding with plurinational accreditation, and inclusion at all levels of the decision-making processes. We look forward to enhancing our programmes in collaboration with St. Maarten’s civil society, including local business, labour, and communities of faith.

The tasks that lay ahead of me are manifold but the most important of these is getting USM back on its feet by increasing our student population and securing funding to employ qualified full time faculty. We are not starting from zero, as former president Dr. Francio Guadeloupe and those before him have already laid a solid foundation of networks and projects that have enriched the USM experience. Our administration has been blessed with the return of USM alumna Dr. Rolinda Carter, who has demonstrated her political will to participate in our university’s reconstitution by serving as Dean of Academic Affairs. Her experience in the field of medical sciences will nourish our aspirations in developing a space for significant research and public service to be recognised not only on the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten but throughout our Caribbean region. Furthermore, we are taking the steps to initiate our law programme, which has been the delayed by a change of government and last year’s hurricane season.

My intention is to share and articulate a sense of hope that will require active collaboration from our community, government, and civil society. We have embarked upon a path of redefining public higher education. I gladly take on the challenge to serve the people of St. Maarten with the same sense of love, determination, and resiliency that I have discovered among my colleagues and the students at USM. Together, we will build back stronger and better; together we can make USM a shining gem of knowledge production and innovation. I look forward to working with all of you to bring our goals to fruition.

*Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez was appointed president of the University of St. Martin on 7 May 2018.