U.S., Foreign Higher Education Institutions Unite To Help Haiti

American educators have put together an international consortium of colleges and universities to help their Haitian counterparts, many of which had institutional weaknesses even before the January 2010 earthquake toppled campus buildings in Port-au-Prince.

Two dozen schools—large and small, public and private—have joined the Consortium for Rebuilding and Improving Higher Education in Haiti. Boston-based educators with roots in Haiti spearheaded the creation of the consortium this month after a year of planning. Early on they consulted with Olin Robison, who directed a similar collaboration to improve universities in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Haiti consortium members include Harvard, Syracuse and New York universities as well as City University of New York and California State University-Sacramento. From other countries, the University of Quebec at Montreal in Canada and the eight-member Association of Catalan Public Universities in Spain have either joined or expressed interest.

“I think it’s wonderful that people are coming through, because there are great needs in Haiti,” says Dr. Carole Berotte Joseph, the Haitian-born president of Massachusetts Bay Community College and a consortium organizer.

Academically, many of Haiti’s 160 colleges and universities follow an outdated French model. The impoverished country lacks an accrediting agency and few schools have garnered international recognition for their academic accomplishments. Poorly paid faculty hold down multiple teaching jobs and do little research or student mentoring.

The earthquake compounded those institutional deficiencies by destroying or damaging the physical plant of the more than 30 colleges concentrated in the capital. They have reopened, holding classes in temporary quarters, tents and even outdoors.

Consortium members will form partnerships with Haitian schools to work on specific academic and administrative needs those schools identify.

“Some institutions (in the consortium) are known for certain things,” Berotte Joseph says. “I think they will pair with an institution in Haiti that needs that kind of development.”

The matchmaking will benefit from “the very healthy mix of institutions” in the consortium, adds Dr. Alix Cantave, another organizer born in Haiti. Cantave currently serves as associate director of the Trotter Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

According to Cantave, Bentley University in Massachusetts has offered the State University of Haiti assistance on business education, curriculum and faculty development and effective administrative practices. Harvard is providing executive fellowships at the Kennedy School of Government and the Graduate School of Education.

CSU-Sacramento has offered its expertise on educational technology for distance learning and online coursework.

Berotte Joseph, who will become president of Bronx Community College this summer, wants to transplant American-style community colleges to Haiti, where students at two-year technical schools are unable to transfer academic credits to four-year institutions.

Consortium members will finance their activities on their own or by raising grant money, Cantave says.

Support for a coordinating staff, Berotte Joseph adds, may come from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund or private foundations.

So far, no historically Black college or university has joined the consortium, a void that Cantave hopes will be filled.

“I think that’s very important because there is a historical relationship between Black institutions and Haiti,” he says. “A lot of the early folks in Haiti that were trained were trained at Howard and Tuskegee.”

Other colleges that have joined the consortium include Saint Michael’s College in Vermont and Wheelock College in Boston.

Berotte Joseph expects the consortium’s work to be “long term and long run.”

She says it is important to upgrade Haiti’s colleges and universities even as government and international aid agencies struggle to rebuild the country and meet the basic human needs of quake-displaced people.

“This is part of the rebuilding process. As we rebuild, we want to build something that is better than what we had,” Berotte Joseph says.