When Hurricane David tore across the Caribbean island of Dominica last August, it blew the University of Dominica medical school out of the Castaway Hotel there and onto the campus of American University in Washington.
The school, the brainchild of a New York-based grain trader, offers a medical education to American students who have been denied admission to accredited U.S. medical schools.
Like the University of the Caribbean in Cincinnati, the University of Dominica has never held a class in the Caribbean.
In 1978, its owner, Robert Ross, tried to locate the profit-making institution temporarily at the Pennsylvania College of Podiatric Medicine in Philadelphia, while his tropical campus was readied.
That deal fell through. The school was to have begun operations this fall at the Castaway Hotel in Dominica, a former British colony of fewer than 100,000 people, until Hurricane David came along and wrecked the Castaway and the school's plans for a home in the Caribbean.
American University agreed to provide a haven for the school this semester but officials at AU are quick to point out that this doesn't mean the university suddenly has a medical school after 86 years without one. They say they are simply teaching four graduate-level science courses to 54 nondegree students who have paid tuition to the University of Dominica.
"We never had, do not now have, and never will have any relation with the University of Dominica," said Donald Trienzenberg, a special assistant to AU's president.
"We found ourselves, at the beginning of the semester with their students on our campus as a result of a hurricane. In order to collect some of the tuition money they had paid to Ross, we entered into a formal contract governing this semester, and this semester only. Frankly, we considered and would not have done it except for the fact that the students involved would have been left high and dry," said Triezenberg.
Ross said that before the hurricane, he had an agreement with AU to take 20 of his students for the semester, while the rest settled into the Castaway Hotel on the island. When the hurricane struck, he said, he moved the entire operation to the Ward Circle campus.
American University, said Ross, entered into a contract to supply a single semester of instruction to four groups of students over the next two years, a contention denied by Triezenberg.
"AU has 1,200 employes," said Triezenberg. "I don't know whom he talked to, who was enthusiastic, but the people who have the responsibility for entering into contracts were not at all enthusiastic," and never made a two-year deal.
"We're not going to get into a discussion of the relative merits of the University of Dominica medical school, except to say we conducted our own investigation and the facts speak for themselves: we turned down all of Ross' offers except the one to collect the tuition for one semester."
AU's move to provide the students with a home is not causing it any economic hardship. Triezenberg said the university is collecting about $2,000 of the $2,700 each student paid Ross for the semester -- or a total for AU of $108,000.
Triezenberg said the Dominica students at AU "are getting the best semester of education they are going to get" during their days as students of the island school.
Ross is a bit vague when asked who will be teaching the courses at the Castaway Hotel. The dean, he said, is a "Dr. Aichleman; M is the first initial."
Asked for background on the dean, Ross said, "I don't want to go into my faculty at this moment, I want to give you the basic facts on this situation." f