Ross leaves us
Cost of Ross University School of Medicine exit from Dominica is huge and shocking
To Dian John it feels like a vicious kick to the stomach by the most violent and vile of mules.
"It will be very devastating," a dejected and deflated John told The Sun.
Two days after Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) announced it had pulled out of Dominica after 40 years, and would instead shift its operations to Barbados, John was still in shock.
He has 16 apartments that depended on the school for business, and a loan to service, "and without Ross I don't know how I am going to pay the bank," he said.
"I'm still not over the shock. I kind of coping with it, but I don't think I'll get over the shock very easy. I don't know, I just can't predict nothing for now. It's like there is no hope for now."
John's sense of hopelessness is representative of hundreds of people in Picard, and Portsmouth on a whole, who made a life from providing accommodation for 1400 or so students and faculty of the school. They took mortgages and built homes, assured of a steady income from an institution which was born in Dominica 40 years ago. While RUSM owned the academy section of this partnership, they owned the accommodation.
But Ross University was more than just about housing providers. It transformed the town and its immediate surroundings, spawning a range of businesses, and generating anything between 30 and 40 cents of every dollar the country earns, according to various estimates.
"That's a major blow not only to Portsmouth but Dominica on a whole," said Washway Douglas, a former mayor and a member of the Douglas dynasty that has governed the town for decades. "We cannot measure the impact." But everyone agrees the impact will be far-reaching, and will touch every sector here, both formal and informal, "even if you are not working for Ross," Douglas said.
Everyone from the handyman, to those who repair buildings, plumbers, electricians, restaurant owners, the telephone providers, the water company, DOWASCO, and the electricity company, DOMLEC, will take a hit.
"You're talking about 1200 to 1400 students paying US$500 in accommodation every month, you're talking about laundry, you're talking about food and beverage, you're talking about electricity, so without Ross that is going to be a serious blow to DOMLEC, and the people of Dominica will be affected, because DOMLEC will have to raise rates. So the people of Grand Bay who had no connection with Ross, their rates will rise," Douglas told The Sun.
"I don't think people understand just what happened here."
Douglas' nephew, Ian, the parliamentary representative for the area, did not take any of our many calls seeking comment, but international development expert Crispin Gregoire said "it will not be easy to fill that enormous gap" left by the sudden loss of nearly 40 per cent of the island's gross domestic product.
"The foremost concern is for the new jobless, and the many people who got mortgages to provide housing for students and professors. There will be a negative impact on banks and credit unions. They are going to have to take strategic preemptive action to prevent large-scale default," he told The Sun.
"It is an enormous setback that will affect many households, and of course, contribute to economic decline."
The anticipated fallout will be all too real for Ashton Riviere, the president of the Portsmouth Hospitality Association, an association of tourism stakeholders in the northern town, formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria "to try to do things in our own interest, to try to advance the state of the industry in Portsmouth".
"I understand thoroughly the implications for the many people who depend on Ross University for their livelihood. While many are focussing on the housing and accommodation, it's the people who provide all the service - the cleaners, the farmers, the families [who will feel it directly]. It's going to have a very, very, very negative impact on the economy and the people," Riviere told The Sun.
Unlike many, Riviere said he was not surprised when prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced on Friday morning that the university would take its business to Barbados. He said there were a number of "red flags", including the absence of a clear statement from RUSM that it was indeed coming back to Dominica when it announced it would leave its temporary home in Tennessee, USA, and the lengthy "silence of the government" on the matter, even as rumours began to surface that the school planned to move to another Caribbean country.
"We have not even begun to fathom the extent of the damage this pullout will have on Dominica. I think the good name of Dominica has been tarnished, I think there is a level of embarrassment attached to this major international institution after 40 years, pulling out," Riviere said.
"There may be repercussions for the hotels that are being built right now . . . the repercussions will be long."
Hours before the Barbadian prime minister, Mia Mottley, and Lisa Wardell, the president and chief executive officer of Adtalem Global Education, the parent company of Ross University, held a news conference last Friday evening to announce the move, Skerrit held a briefing here to break the news to Dominicans.
In 21 minutes and 35 seconds of mostly ramble, rattle and repetition, during which he detoured into subjects such as Dominica Coconut Products, hotels, the Bible, the Koran and Hinduism, the prime minister was at pains to stress that had it not been for Tropical Storm Erika in 2015 and last year's Hurricane Maria, Ross would still be here.
"Had it not been for these two storms, these two weather systems, there would never have been any consideration of Ross' departure from Dominica," a pensive Skerrit said, while recalling the renewal of the agreement three years ago for an additional 25 years.
"Let us make it very clear that Ross loves Dominica and Dominica loves Ross."
But Wardell hinted at the Barbados briefing there was more to it than storms, stating it was her responsibility to position her business for the future, "and Barbados is the future".
"The decision to relocate RUSM from Dominica was complex and one we approached with great deliberation. After careful consideration of multiple options, including a review of our academic and infrastructure requirements and future plans for RUSM, we believe the move is in the long-term best interest of our RUSM community," she said, without making mention of either of the two storms which Skerrit blamed.
Kent Vital, the political leader of the Dominica Freedom Party, charged in an immediate reaction to the announcement that something was amiss.
As far as Vital was concerned, Hurricane Maria hastened the university's departure, but there were other reasons. He pointed to the fact that Dominica last passed an accreditation review in 2007, as confirmed by the US National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation; the absence of an international airport, and the lack of proper medical facilities, issues which had been of concern to Ross University.
"People of Dominica, do you smell a rat?" the DFP leader asked. "I'm actually showing you a rat."
"The absence of the university since the passage of Maria was already having a severe impact on businesses in the Picard area, on the banking system and on the economy of Dominica in general. We are faced with an even more significant crisis . . . there is absolutely no reason we should have lost Ross if we had a capable Government running this country," Vidal insisted.
Or, as Washway Douglas put it, "there were indications that the school wanted more on the part of Dominica. What the school was asking for was a suitable environment for the school to continue and apparently it was not forthcoming."