Sunday, November 18, 2012

George A. Condon

George A. Condon

I recall my four years as Vice President for Academic Affairs from 1981-1985, at what was then the College of the Virgin Islands, as some of the most fulfilling years in my entire personal and professional life. I was personally enriched as an “adopted Virgin Islander,” and I continue to hope that I gave to the institution as much as I received.

When I joined CVI it had not yet completed the first score of years of its existence. Presidential leadership, at the time in the hands of its first native-born leader, Dr. Arthur A. Richards, was a work in progress. The roles of President, trustees and legislators were evolving, and prerogatives—real and presumed—were being tested on all sides. While CVI’s future role in the territory’s development and aspirations for self-sufficiency was widely acknowledged (if not completely settled), there were diverse opinions within and outside the institution about the precise definition of that role and the allocation of limited resources, both geographically within the territory and among competing programmatic priorities.

Except for the spring of 1984, when President Richards was ill and it fell on me to act in his place on a variety of issues (a special honor was to testify before the U. S. Congress on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965), academic matters were uppermost in my ongoing involvement. A well-qualified faculty was being developed, and I considered it urgent to add to that strength through new appointments and appropriate rewards for outstanding service, with due protection of the academic freedom which is essential to the free flow of ideas. Believing that the core strength of a college or university is its faculty, I led the effort to redesign internal governance which sought to increase faculty influence over academic policy.

Being one institution with two campuses, I strongly felt that the College should work forcefully to equalize the quality and range of course offerings on both St. Thomas and St. Croix. In the early 1980s the only means of regular contact between the two campuses were telephone and by seaplane, the latter’s utility being limited by its expense, time constraints and reliability. I headed the effort to apply for U.S. federal funds to support planning and facilities for an inter-island telecommunications system which would assure access to postsecondary education “on an equal basis to all residents of the Virgin Islands.”

During the 1981-1985 period the College achieved renewal of its accreditation from the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges and emphasized the central place of long-range planning in its ongoing development, nurtured program enrichment through partnerships with other institutions, and continued to refine its strategy for creating an Eastern Caribbean Center that would extend the College’s reach throughout the region. Internal reforms designed to encourage better communication and more effective relationships with internal and external constituencies were introduced.

George A. Condon - CVI Yearbook 1982
Finally, as a political scientist, I couldn’t resist opportunities when offered to contribute to the always vibrant civic dialogue which characterizes the U. S. Virgin Islands. On one occasion I had the temerity to address legislators on the subject of civility in public discourse. I was politely received and herewith apologize to any who may have thought my comments a bit brash. And I spoke of civic virtue to Rotary Club II, arguing for more public accountability and openness in the conduct of public affairs.

All in all, my time at CVI was most fulfilling as I saw first-hand a fine institution being built brick-by-brick (yes, I worked beside students pouring concrete to build a sidewalk between buildings) by dedicated people in every capacity – students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees and friends. It was a time of optimism, growth, progress, and even a few missteps.

When I left in 1985 the talk on and off campus turned frequently to speculation about CVI’s transition into the University of the Virgin Islands. So many, myself included, take pride in a half-century of great accomplishments and look forward to many more in the years to come.

Dr. George A. Condon was Vice President for Academic Affairs from 1981-1985.

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