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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, November 29, 2023


More than ten years ago, the College of the Virgin Islands became the University of the Virgin Islands with much pomp and ceremony. It was a time of new hope, a promise of far-reaching excellence. At the time, Dion Phillips published a thought-provoking article in The Daily News outlining the challenges that lay ahead.
We, the faculty, were ready. New offerings were designed, new graduate programs were discussed, expanding our presence in the greater Caribbean was planned. Spirits were high, excitement prevailed. We were to be not just another university, one located in the Virgin Islands, but the University OF the Virgin Islands, a premier educational leader in the
And indeed, significant strides were initially made. CARIBBEAN PERSPECTIVES, a scholarly journal originating on the St. Thomas campus, heralded a new dynamism of research interest in the Caribbean basin.
Its editorial board, led by such fine scholars as Teresa Turner, Pearl Varlack, Dion Phillips, among others, garnered the respect of an international, intellectual audience. A new emphasis was placed on the study of Caribbean language and literature, a focus of justifiable pride. Celebrating the oral tradition, spearheaded by Gilbert Sprauve, wonderfully applied by Gene Emanuel and others, gained new respect.
Study of Creole and the creative use of its language was even introduced into high school curricula. Small business initiatives under Solomon Kabuka gained prominence. Marine science expanded its operations.
Student enrollment and applications increased. Later, a new president,
Orville Kean, took charge, ushering in a daring vision commensurate to the dream of academic excellence. Those were heady years.
What happened to the anticipated glory, the vibrancy so expected and almost realized? Much was realized in a short time, much still continues.
Well, among other things, the hurricanes came. First Hugo, then
Marilyn. Those of us who weathered them have stories, memories of devastating impact. But that's not the worst of it. These storms were so unsettling that we lost our anchor, some of us, our hope and strength. Economic catastrophes abounded, tensions heightened, anxiety ran rampant, discomfort, if not outright distrust, prevailed. And perhaps still does.
So what's happening now with the University of the Virgin Islands.
Like many institutions, it is still struggling. It has not given up the challenge, though the harvest anticipated, understandably, is not as bountiful. CARIBBEAN PERSPECTIVES has steered a new course in a vital direction, at first guided by the incisive intelligence of LaVerne Ragster, now by the steady, masterful hand of Frank Mills. Caribbean language and literature has become a staple of educational curricula throughout the region. The university's THE CARIBBEAN WRITER has won national acclaim. Marine science continues to be strong area of research.
Much had been accomplished with little revenue.
Now is the time for new opportunity, time to momentarily bask in past accomplishments, time to plot a future course with renewed vigor.
Some of the best minds involved in this daunting enterprise on the UVI faculty–Charles Turnbull (Education), Ruby Simmonds (English), and Almando "Rocky" Liburd (Spanish) are now in positions of leadership in the government of the Virgin Islands. They were all active partners in the dream, an important part of the transition from college to university.
Even though the islands' financial concerns have reached nightmarish proportions, courage and forthrightness need to prevail.
The bond between the government and the university is a close one.
Both the university's and the islands' future are connected by an umbilical cord to the government and its finances. We need our youth to carry on a vital heritage, to go beyond our limitations, to achieve for us the quality of life always hoped for. UVI is the perfect place where this can happen. This is where our youth can develop an educated imagination, an informed heart, and courage to act on the strength of moral conviction.
Yes, financial pressures are legion. Priorities need to be established. But the future must not be mortgaged. Past debts and their repayment, which can suck up like a vacuum the very oxygen needed to function as a sane, a forward looking democracy must be addressed.
Our government needs to be resolute. It must insist, in the interest of social justice, that our debt be forgiven (or at least half of it, as was done in the case of Poland), that new aid be forthcoming, that the new initiatives developed on island will work, that our university will provide a more than adequate training ground, that the United States and the Caribbean region will all benefit from what we do. This must be a firm resolve. If so, it will happen.
A dream doesn't need dreamers. It needs workers, men and women of strong heart, clear mind, and dedication. What better place to find them than at the University OF the Virgin Islands?
Editors' Note: Dr. Joseph Lisowski taught at UVI from 1986-1996.

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