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Candidate for UVI President Touts School's Values

Jan. 29, 2009 — David Hall, one of two finalists for president of the University of the Virgin Islands, met with St. Croix residents, UVI alumni and trustees Thursday.
Born and raised in and around Savannah Georgia, Hall holds both a doctorate of juridical science and LL.M. degree from Harvard Law School, a J.D. and M.A. from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. from Kansas State University. He is a law professor at Northeastern University School of Law and before that was an administrator in the law school and at the university, he told the gathering in the Great Hall of UVI's St. Croix campus. He was appointed provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Northeastern University in 1998 and served in that capacity for four years.
Before appointment as provost he was dean of Northeastern's law school, where he spearheaded efforts with experiential learning and social justice. Hall also served as associate dean of academic affairs for the law school and was a tenured professor at the law schools of the University of Mississippi and the University of Oklahoma. He has also practiced with the Federal Trade Commission in Chicago and played professional basketball in Italy.
He said UVI stood out as a special opportunity for several reasons.
"Number one; you cherish the role students play at the university," he said. "It is good to see the university value that student experience. Students I've talked to have told me they do not feel like a number. One said 'if I'm not in class my professor calls me to see why not.' I think that’s important." Focusing on students' as individuals rather than subjects improves education, he said.
"When we ask students to divorce themselves from their culture and values and try to impose new values without recognition of the whole person, we impede the educational process," he said. "Yet, when we ask students to bring all of who they are to the educational process and we use those insights to build an inspiring and educational process we increase the chances of educational success."
Hall emphasized the role of universities as an engine for benefitting the communities in which they're set, in addition to their mission of educating their students.
"A second compelling aspect of the university is you are concerned about the rest of the surrounding area," he said. "I think that's just being good neighbors. Northeastern has that as part of its mission and I have seen the results of that … UVI is an example of that. You have the UVI Center for Lifelong Learning and other programs."
Asked to elaborate on UVI's role in the community above and beyond its primary educational mission, Hall suggested directing some of the university's research and study toward problem solving.
"The poverty rate is high here as we know, and there are not always the resources we would like," he said. "We need to think about what positive effect the university can have here. Hopefully we can find some solutions to those taxing problems."
As examples, Hall mentioned studies on health outcome disparities between blacks and whites, looking at local plant life that might prove to be a remedy for cancer or another disease.
"That is the type of research a university wants to support because it can be helpful in the community."
He also endorsed more cooperation with the public K-12 school system, "if for no other reason, because the public school system here is where the student body is coming from. So that is a selfish imperative."
The personal relationship between professors and students is as important as financial resources, he argued.
"Growing up in all black, segregated educational institutions in Georgia, I learned to appreciate the role of teachers in inspiring students to succeed," he said. "Despite resource limitations and social stigma, we were taught and inspired by teachers who did not allow us to place artificial limits on our dreams."
The Virgin Islands' culture and demographics – as well as the weather – were draws to Hall.
"It may not seem so at first glance, but there are strong similarities between our community in Savannah where I grew up and here in the Caribbean," he said. "The role of the church and religion in people's lives and other cultural aspects are so familiar. I see as revisiting in a different form what I remember from my childhood. And second, my Africanness, I cherish that link to the motherland … I see this as connecting with another important part of the African diaspora. Third, I've been married to a wonderful woman from Jamaica for 19 years and whether I like it or not, island culture, food, all those things have been made a part of my life now. And then you get the sunshine, coming from Boston."
Alumni and the public met with Calvin D. Jamison, the other finalist, on Wednesday. (See: Potential UVI President Introduces Himself to St. Croix.)
The UVI Board of Trustees will meet with the two finalists Friday and Saturday.
The board is expected to name the successor to current UVI President LaVerne Ragster early next month. Ragster will step down at the end of June after serving for the past seven years as UVI's president.
Both finalists were selected by a search committee appointed by the UVI board with help from executive search firm Isaacson Miller. More than 70 applications were received during the search process and more than 300 educational leaders throughout the mainland and Caribbean were contacted, according to UVI. (See "UVI Down to Two Finalists for President.")

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