Once again the University of Liberia (UL), the nation’s oldest and largest university, has shut its doors for all too obvious but good reasons going by information available to this newspaper.
Unlike previous occasions where protest action by students had shut down the UL, this time it is the entire faculty protesting in demand of better working conditions and pay.
“Wherefore, the refusal of the UL Administration to address the concerns of ULFA, the association has announced that it will disengage from all academic activities on all campuses beginning Monday, September 20, 2021 for alleged refusal of the UL Administration to improve the wellbeing of its members,” declared the President of the University of Liberia Faculty Association(ULFA), Dr. Edna G. Jonny recently.
Prior to the faculty action, students had been threatening to shut down the University until its administration improve sanitary conditions and upgrade facilities at that institution. Apparently, those expressed concerns have since gone unaddressed. Only recently, UL students led by the Student Unification Party(SUP) had staged a protest action against the administration’s decision to make e-learning mandatory and abolish direct classroom instruction.
When the UL administration first mooted the idea, it immediately drew harsh criticism from the student body and from the wider public. Despite admonitions from several quarters, UL President Dr. Nelson persisted. In the face of protest action by students, Dr. Nelson invited the Liberian National Police on campus to quell the student protests. The affair turned bloody with several students receiving serious injuries.
This was the first time ever in the annals of the UL long history, according to some alumni and former students, that a sitting President of the UL had invited state security on its campus to quell student protests.
Now President Julius Nelson and his team find themselves in a predicament, some of his own making and others. For one thing, it appears according to a former UL professor (name withheld) that Dr. Nelson has been engaged in a game of self-deception that appears to be catching up with him. Further, according to the former professor, the national government has not provided adequate resources needed to run the institution effectively, but Dr. Nelson has remained quiet apparently out of fear of ruffling the feathers of President Weah.
When for example, President Weah declared his tuition free-policy for UL students, Dr. Nelson should have politely informed the President that such was not a feasible option given the fact that the UL was being grossly underfunded. More to that, according to informed sources, there is a leakage of funds generated from registration and other fees. Probably this can explain why students are demanding that the administration accounts for those funds.
But just how long the UL faculty are going to persist in their action remains unclear at this point. Finance Minister Tweah responding to the strike action has since made promises to address faculty concerns.
“When, how or whether this will happen at all is debatable to say the least,” said a faculty member (name withheld) who spoke to this newspaper. But from all indications, the faculty appears to be sticking to their position.
But truth be told, the Government of Liberia has not done enough to ensure that learning conditions at the nation’s largest public university remain ideal and conducive to learning. Wasteful public spending, extravagant and ostentatious lifestyles of public officials easily give away the impression that all is well when all is indeed not well.
And according to some faculty members, they feel convinced that Nelson is not making a strong case to the Visitor of the University of Liberia, President George Manneh Weah. According to them, he should realize that official support for the University is an obligation on which the government cannot renege. They further noted that when Dr. Nelson was a student at the UL, books, and tuition were subsidized by the state although not fully.
Sadly, this is not the case especially under a government whose economic is Pro Poor. The facts show that most UL students are from very poor families which means many of them are self-supported and have to struggle to maintain themselves in school by some means.
President Weah’s declaration of a tuition-free policy had raised so many hopes initially but which have since faded owing largely to the government’s failure to meet basic obligations such as a sanitary environment with adequate toilet facilities, amongst others. In a strong sense, according to a faculty member (name withheld), the current leadership of the UL headed by Dr. Nelson is not only inept but incompetent as well noting that proper vetting was not carried out in the selection process.
Further, according to him, Dr. Ophelia Weeks was by far more capable and visionary and since her abrupt removal by President Weah and replacement by Dr. Nelson, the UL has since been going downhill.
He is assisted in his duties by several vice presidents including Norris Tweah, M.A (brother of Finance Minister), Weade Kobbah Boley, M.A,(former LPC Secretary-General and Vice Head of State) and Moses Zinnah, PhD. Of the three, according to reports, Dr. Zinnah is an experienced academic having served teaching stints at several universities in West Africa.
Whether this corps of officials can turn things around remains to be seen. That said, President Weah ought to be reminded that the support for the UL is not only mandatory but critical to the development of trained manpower resources to face tomorrow’s challenges. He must and can only fail to provide answers to striking faculty members and as well provide resources required to create a conducive learning environment at the nation’s oldest and largest university.
The Challenge is Yours Mr. Visitor!