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Friday, August 19, 2022


Though there may be more important factors in passing legislation and winning elections, when it comes to college, senators in the 23rd Legislature range from part-time students to masters of public administration to doctors of law.
Of the 14 senators who provided information for this article, one has a doctorate in law, two have master's degrees in public administration, six others hold B.A.s, and three have associates' degrees.
Two others, who attended various institutions part-time, have yet to attain a degree.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen did not provide her educational history for this article despite numerous requests over a period of several weeks. Hansen attended the Inter-American University in Puerto Rico and the University of the Virgin Islands but further details were not offered.
Whatever the level of their education, however, senators interviewed agreed having a degree does not mean being a better legislator, even though there are some advantages.
"You cannot conclusively say that having a degree lends itself to someone being an effective legislator," said Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus, who earned a master of science in public administration from Central Michigan University in 1989.
Petrus attended UVI from 1982-1983 and received a B.A. in psychology from Kean University in New Jersey in 1985.
A degree may help a person be "a more critical thinker," Petrus said.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, however, said having a degree was often "irrelevant" because senators, no matter what their educational background, do not make always the "right" decisions, but rather opt to make "political" ones.
Berry majored in business administration while attending UVI in the '70s but did not complete a degree.
What matters more than a degree, she said, is whether a senator understands the needs of his or her constituents, is well-read and has been exposed to a "little bit of everything." When it comes to financial analysis, for example, senators have technical staff to do the actual computing, Berry said.
The only doctorate in the Senate belongs to Sen. Judy Gomez, who obtained hers in law from Howard University in 1983. Gomez also attended UVI, but received a bachelor of science in elementary education from Morgan State University in 1977.
Like Sen. Petrus, Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole has a master's in public administration, which he received from UVI. Cole earned a B.A. in social science from Kent State University in 1982.
Other graduates: Sen. Gregory Bennerson, B.S. in criminology from Florida State University, 1981; Sen. Adelbert M. "Bert" Bryan, an A.A. in police science and administration from College of the Virgin Islands in 1975 and a B.A. in social science from UVI in 1988; Sen. Violet Anne Golden, B.A. in business administration from Jacksonville University in 1981; Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste, B.A. in Spanish and secondary education at the College of the Virgin Islands, 1976; Sen. David S. Jones, B.A. in history and political science from Mercy College; and Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, B.A. in foreign languages from Inter-American University in Puerto Rico in 1974.
Golden pursued a master's degree in general administration at the University of Maryland and is now working toward a master's in education technology at UVI. Liburd also did graduate work in education at UVI, in 1985-86.
Sen. Roosevelt David received an associate's degree in accounting from UVI in 1992, and has since earned certificates from various banking programs, including a three-year program at the University of Texas.
Sen. George Goodwin got an A.A. in hotel management from the College of the Virgin Islands in 1968 and has also taken courses at Monmouth University and George Washington University.
Senate President Vargrave Richards attended the College of the Virgin Islands and Antioch University part-time from 1969-73.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who received an associate's degree after attending several colleges, said a degree did not necessarily help a senator understand the desires of the community.
"An idea to serve the common good is not driven by whether or not you have a degree," Donastorg said. The "right" attitude, integrity and principles are more crucial, he said.
Donastorg studied business management part-time at Fullerton College and Mount St. Antonio College from 1982-83 and at the College of the Virgin Islands from 1983-87. He earned an A.A. in business from the University of Phoenix via Internet correspondence in 1998.
Attending college, he said, has helped him, "relate to the experiences of students."
Other senators said having attended or received a degree from UVI made them more sensitive to educational needs and other issues at the territory's only university. "I know a lot of students here who do not want to go to UVI, not only because it is in the V.I. but because it is a tough school," said Liburd.
The fact that UVI is his alma mater influences university-related legislation, he said, because he has seen the school's strengths and weaknesses first-hand.
"It has not developed into the kind of institution it ought to be," Liburd said. The university should provide more hospitality training and offer specialized courses for skills needed at Hess, or "any business or industry that comes in here," in order to create a labor pool, he suggested.
His experiences as a student seeking financial aid prompted him to develop legislation that is now law, Liburd said: all Virgin Islands high school valedictorians and salutatorians receive full four-year scholarships to UVI.
Almost all the senators said higher education was critical to the success of residents and the progress of the territory.
"At the level of the Senate, one has to have not only common sense, but also a degree of knowledge of the needs of the university in this community," Goodwin said.
Cole said a degree was not a "barometer for measuring success," but that it "exposes one to certain runnings of the government" and "enhances" a Senator's ability when it comes to complex decisions like assessing cost-benefit analysis, program evaluation and budget issues.
"One has to understand the priority of higher education and funding the institution to make sure that priority is carried forth," Cole said.
More important than a degree, however, are practical skills and insight, he said, quoting his grandmother: "Study-ation beats education."
Commissioner of Education Dr. Ruby Simmonds, a former senator, said having a degree helped her in her field and should also help senators.
"The job of a senator is not specialized — you have to be an expert in everything," Simmonds said. A liberal arts degree was perhaps one of the most valuable, she said, because "part of the process of getting a degree [in liberal arts] exposes you to decision-making, critical thinking, negotiating, debate and public speaking."
Liburd said although senators have technical staff to help analyze budgetary issues, they cannot compensate for education.
"The bottom line is that you have to make a decision," he said.

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