Majority of UCCI Board supported reappointment of ex-President McAfee

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Before the departure of then-President and CEO Stacy McAfee from the University College of the Cayman Islands, the majority of members on UCCI’s Board of Governors supported renewing McAfee’s contract for another 3 years.

Stacy McAfee

However, newly appointed Board Chairman Gilbert McLean said he had no objective evidence by which to judge McAfee’s performance. Faced with contractual deadlines and citing obligations under the Public Authorities Law, McLean and the Board offered McAfee a 6-month extension through June 2022, during which time they planned to advertise the position and allow Caymanians (and others) the opportunity to apply for the leadership role.

McAfee, meanwhile, expressed concerns about not receiving any salary increases during her tenure or potentially in the future, wondered whether the Board or Ministry of Education wanted her to continue, and “questioned whether she was being asked to hang on whilst the Board did its Process”, according to recently published minutes from UCCI Board meetings.

McAfee declined the Board’s offer of a 6-month extension, saying it was “not acceptable”.

McAfee officially joined UCCI on 1 Jan. 2019 under a 3-year contract that expired 31 Dec. 2021.

According to meeting minutes, McAfee said “at the time of her signing her contract, there was a clear understanding that there would be a renewal of three years based upon her Performance.”

Her performance would be based on progress achieved under the university’s 5-year strategic plan, the beginning of which aligned with her start at UCCI.

The UCCI Board approved the plan in March 2019, and as of October 2021 McAfee said the plan still had the support of Board members – but perhaps not from the Ministry of Education.

According to meeting minutes, McAfee said the only Board member who had disagreed with her vision for UCCI was the Ministry of Education’s ex officio member Philip Scott, who is a senior policy advisor in the Ministry.

From September to November, McLean repeatedly stated that he had no basis upon which to judge McAfee’s performance as leader of UCCI.

May 2021 – Board meeting, McAfee letter

On 19 May, the UCCI Board held its final meeting under the chairmanship of Mark Scotland. At the time, the Deputy Chair was Shomari Scott, who has since been appointed Chair of the Education Council.

In addition to the Chair and Deputy Chair, there are 5 other voting members on the Board, plus 3 non-voting members (including Philip Scott), in addition to the UCCI President and CEO and a Board Secretary.

During the 19 May meeting, there was no recorded mention of McAfee’s performance or upcoming contract renewal.

On 31 May, in line with the terms of her contract, McAfee sent a letter to the Board’s Executive Committee, consisting of Chair Scotland, Deputy Chair Shomari Scott and member Jared Awe.

Her letter expressed her intention to continue employment at UCCI beyond 31 Dec., and to seek that the President and CEO job description be revised and the compensation be “brought to international norms”.

According to her contract, the Board had until 30 Sept. to give her a written response whether or not they wished to continue her employment into 2022.

September 2021 – New Board, special meeting

Effective 1 Sept., the PACT Cabinet appointed 3 new members to the UCCI Board, in conjunction with the departure of Scotland, Shomari Scott and Matthew Tibbetts (the non-voting representative of the Ministry of Finance).

New member McLean was named Board Chair. Existing member Awe was named Deputy Chair. The other new voting member was Nichelle Scott, and the new non-voting representative of the Ministry of Finance was Ronnie Dunn.

In total, 5 of the 7 voting members of the Board remained unchanged, with the new Deputy Chair Awe returning as one of the members of the Executive Committee.

New UCCI Board Chairman, Mr. Gilbert McLean, with Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, Katherine Ebanks-Wilks (right) and Deputy Chief Officer Mr. Joel Francis (left).

On 27 Sept., the Board met for the first time under the chairmanship of McLean.

The primary item of discussion was the consideration of the renewal of McAfee’s contract. According to the minutes of the meeting, the Executive Committee had not responded to McAfee’s 31 May letter and at this point had “less than 3 days” to do so.

“The new Board found itself in an untenable position to consider a renewal without having before it a Performance Evaluation, nor supporting documentation in support of Dr McAfee’s achievements as set out in her letter of renewal of 31 May [2021] to the Executive Committee; in addition to the Board having a short period of 3 months to advertise the position of President and CEO to meet the compliance provisions of the Public Authorities Law (in order to allow Caymanians the opportunity to apply),” according to the minutes.

The Board resolved for McLean to seek legal advice on whether it would be possible to offer McAfee a 6-month extension, for the Board to “receive evaluation assessments of the President’s performance”, for the Board to “follow up on the ongoing alleged financial fraud investigation” and for a ‘special panel’ of the Board to meet with McAfee in respect to her 31 May letter.

On 30 Sept., the Board sent its offer of a 6-month extension to McAfee, giving her a deadline to respond by 14 Oct.

October 2021 – Special panel, McAfee’s refusal

On 13 Oct., the ‘special panel’ of the Board – comprising new members Chair McLean, Nichelle Scott and Dunn – met with McAfee. (The other member of the panel, returning Board member and new Deputy Chair Awe, was absent with apologies given.)

According to the minutes of the meeting, the Board sought her thoughts on the 6-month extension and her performance as President and CEO.

McAfee provided the panel with UCCI’s ‘Operational Plan’ for 2021 and the ‘Strategic Plan’ for 2020-2021.

“The Panel queried some details relating to the documents and noted that an attempt to go into the details, without prior knowledge at this time, would not be possible,” according to the minutes.

“It was noted, however, that although significant achievements had been reported by Dr McAfee, the new Board of Governors had little knowledge of such achievements; and that the current timeframe to have fruitful discussions with her and the Ministry was insufficient. However, she was informed that steps were being taken for an HR Audit which should provide some objective information.”

During this meeting, McAfee expressed her concerns about lack of an increase in pay, and the possibility that she would not be eligible for a pay increase in the future, as her pay was limited by a civil service salary band, and that her salary scale had been downgraded during a broader Portfolio of the Civil Service review.

McAfee said “there is a strong possibility that she might not continue [as UCCI President and CEO] without a pay increase”, according to the minutes.

McAfee also said that donors she had been able to attract to UCCI were “nervous as they know her contract is coming to an end, and she did not know if they would continue if she was not there”.

According to the minutes, “Dr McAfee wondered whether the Ministry wants her to continue or not. She also wondered if the Board wanted her to continue. She informed that all [former] Members of the Board were in agreement with her vision for the UCCI, with only one Member, the representative of the Ministry, disagreeing.”

Additionally, “The Panel asked that Dr McAfee, if she did not accept the six-month extension if there was some way in which Dr. McAfee could assist with the transition to prevent any major disruption or shortfall until such time as a new President is appointed. Dr McAfee intimated that the organization has an organizational structure in place that is working and that would assist with such a transition.”

McAfee said she would not respond to the Board’s 30 Sept. letter by the (next day’s) deadline of 14 Oct, but would take the weekend to think about it.

“Dr McAfee expressed her appreciation for the frank discussions and grateful that she received a response to her letter of 31 May 2021, which she thought was not going to happen. She expressed that, regardless of what transpires, she will remain both professional and supportive,” according to the minutes.

On 18 Oct., McAfee informed the Board she would not be accepting the offer of a 6-month extension.

On 27 Oct., the Board met to consider McAfee’s refusal.

According to the minutes, “It was noted that Members of the former Board of Governors had not seen Dr McAfee’s letter of 31 May 2021 to the Executive Committee at that time” (although current Deputy Chair Awe had been a member of the Executive Committee, and only 2 of the 7 voting members of the Board were newly appointed since that time).

The Board resolved ‘expeditiously’ to advertise the UCCI President and CEO position, and to draft a response to McAfee’s 18 Oct. letter.

November/December 2021 – McAfee’s departure 

On 10 Nov., the Board met to prepare its response to McAfee’s letter.

Included in the minutes is a 4-page summary by McLean of the events that had occurred since McAfee sought to renew her contract on 31 May.

The “requirement to advertise [the President and CEO position before the contract renewal] was not carried out during the period from 31 May 2021 up to September 2021. Thus, it fell to the responsibility of this Board,” according to the summary.

“Dr McAfee also listed a number of achievements, changes and innovations which she said were accomplished during her term as President and CEO. The Board did not have available to it an assessment review on which to rely.”

“In the meeting of 27 September 2021, it was considered that the short period available to the current Board to advertise, receive applications, do short-listings, interviews, and decide on a candidate most suitable to fill the role of President and CEO, and to meet the deadline of 30 September 2021 to reply to Dr McAfee as required under her contract, posed a challenge towards the time required,” according to the summary.

“As a means of the Board complying with the time-frame of 30 September 2021, the Board agreed to offer Dr McAfee a six-month extension to her employment which would end on 30 June 2022. The three months remaining in her contract, together with a six-month extension, gave the Board a period of nine months in which to complete the advertisement for the job and to allow the Board time to receive and process other applications, including that of Dr McAfee.”

As of the date of the 10 Nov. meeting, a majority of the Board did not agree with the response letter drafted by McLean to McAfee.

Additionally, “A majority of members have made it clear that they support the reappointment of Dr McAfee and believe she has given a satisfactory performance in office. I, as the new Chairman, can make no assessment as I have only been in the position approximately sixty (60) days and have not seen any form of objective review of the President’s performance,” according to McLean’s summary.

McLean advised Board members that they “would do well to consider their objective and neutral position in the process involving the re-employment of Dr McAfee” in case they have to decide who is “the most suitable candidate” among those who might apply for the President and CEO role.

“Also, to be borne in mind is that FoI is a reality and information gleaned by whomever can be used for helpful or mischievous purposes, and if the latter prevails it could have a bad reflection upon the institution and the Board collectively and/or individually,” according to McLean’s summary.

The Board deliberated and agreed upon a letter of response to McAfee and also noted that although her contract ends 31 Dec., her work permit expires 30 Nov.

On 1 Dec., the Board met in regular session. It was noted that McAfee had ‘demitted’ her position on 30 Nov. and had been paid for accumulated vacation leave up to 31 Dec.

McLean “confirmed that Dr McAfee had been provided all monies due to her under the provisions of her employment contract, including those relating to relocation costs to the USA for her and her family”.

At the meeting, the Board confirmed the elevation of Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs J.D. Mosley-Matchett to the position of Acting President and CEO.

McLean also said the Ministry had approved the outsourcing of the recruitment process for a new President and CEO, and that he had provided to “various entities” the ‘Procurement document for the recruitment services’.

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