Today’s Opinion: Professorial

POSTED: 05/8/11 7:06 PM

Not all is peace and happiness in the world of universities. That became clear yesterday morning in a court hearing wherein a professor who’d been working for twelve years for the American University of the Caribbean in Cupecoy, contested her dismissal.

Trouble started four months after the new dean arrived at the university last year. He fired the professor’s husband over a seemingly trivial difference of opinion (the question was whether the husband was obliged to stay on campus during a hurricane) and then braced himself for the anger and frustration of said professor.

In general it is true that where two parties are fighting, usually both are at fault. The university claims that the professor vented her anger in all kinds of ways (the professor denies) and that the atmosphere at the institute of supposedly higher learning suffered from that attitude.

It is not easy to imagine how little quibbles about packing her husband’s belongings and other trivial matters are able to balloon into something that suddenly looks like the start of World War 3. But something like that occurred, and the university decided to fire the professor.

Interestingly, as the attorney for the injured party pointed out, the labor contract at the university is linked to a Faculty manual – the civil and penal code for professors, so to speak. That manual in turn is linked to the university’s accreditation – in other words, to its permission to do business in St. Maarten as a university.

Sticking to the rules set forth in this bible for educators is therefore a must. And that, the attorney for the professor said, is something the university did not do when it fired the professor.

The attorney for the university said that the manual gives the authority to apply the rules but that there is no obligation to do so.

That got us thinking a bit, because the Faculty manual is part of the professor’s labor contract, a bit like the LMA is part of labor contracts for civil servants. We’d think that such rule books are designed to keep everybody in line on an equal playing field – employer and employee.

But according to the university, that’s not how it works.

There was of course more juicy information coming to the surface, such as the tax construction the university says it has agreed upon with the tax inspectorate. Professors get a bit more than half of their salary paid from local accounts in St. Maarten and the rest comes from the sunny Cayman Islands.

That’s to ease the tax burden for the university, its attorney said, and for one, we understood perfectly. We also understood that the university generates about $50 million in turnover, and that makes us wonder how badly the institute needs a breather from the tax man.

It will be interesting to see what Judge van Veen has to say about all this. Not that he will rule on the tax construction itself next Friday, but the construction does come into play because the university claimed yesterday that the income the professor derived from the Cayman Islands was not part of her salary. Van Veen immediately doubted that, so the tax-burden remark could cost the university a couple of dollars.

In the meantime, we are curious what the tax office has to say about the Cayman construction. It could very well be a generous tax holiday granted by a previous government that wanted to bring the university to St. Maarten. And it could also very well be that the current government is now raising its eyebrows, wondering whether the university could contribute a bit more to the state coffers in the near future.

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