Dr. Emmet A. Dennis, President of the University of Liberia (UL), reflecting on his six year tenure at the institution’s helm, enumerates major changes under his leadership. Key among them are the reduction in academic wrongdoings; improvement in academic profile and a a complete shift in student enrollment. The attraction of external grants; the creation of an Honors Program; the establishment of two new colleges; and most recently, the reacquisition of more than 5,000 acres of the UL Fendall land in Louisiana, outside Monrovia are also among significant accomplishments attributed to the hard work and persistence of Dr.Dennis and his administration.
Despite these accomplishments, Dr. Dennis, who has decided to retire early next year, likes to downplay what he has achieved, especially when he talks about the challenges facing the institution, saying, “The glass is half-empty.”
He repeated the expression at a three-day retreat last week when he presented on the topic, “The University of Liberia, Then, Now and Tomorrow.”
He said when he ascended to the UL presidency in 2008, the university had only 13 terminal degree holders and not a single faculty in the Department of Chemistry had an advanced degree in the subject. He said the university was plagued by serious academic malfeasance with students purchasing their admissions resulting in an explosion in student enrollment (in one academic year alone, 8,000 freshmen were admitted.)
“For many years we were doing the wrong things, but did not recognize that,” Dr. Dennis admitted, adding, “It is to right some of these pervasive wrongs that still continues to occupy my time even more so when I enter my transition.”
Subsequently, he has substantially reduced the blatant, widespread academic malfeasance. Dr Dennis said he abolished the issuance of library slips and financial clearances required before graduation and simplified the issuance of graduation clearance for the entire student population.
“No more test fees or pamphlets must be purchased to register for a course. No more purchase of admission into UL. Instead admittance must be based on entrance exam results and merit. Large classes with the propensity for academic malfeasance made optional, others declared persona non-grata,” Dr. Dennis told the retreat audience.
These initial reforms were a harbinger for more ambitious ones that followed. The evidence is out on how many faculty members have received advanced degrees during the presidency of Dr. Dennis versus prior to his ascendancy.
Comparatively, he said the university produced 33 doctoral degrees between 2009 and 2014. The same can be said of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, which had only four Law Faculties with Masters in Law (LLM) from 2001 to 2007, but now has 22 Law Faculties and counting with a Masters in Law.
But it is in producing medical doctors to close the patient-doctor gap in the country for which Dr. Dennis and his administration must take a bow. For example, between 2000 and 2007, the University’s medical school, A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine, graduated 32 doctors. However, between 2009 and 2014, the school graduated 84 doctors. Last December, the University graduated 35 doctors while this December, an astonishing 42 new doctors are expected to graduate, making it the highest the School has produced since its founding.
Additionally, a paradigm shift in student enrollment has occurred at the University in favor of the National Sciences, according to the UL President.
“During the initial stages of Liberia’s and the University’s recovery from conflict, enrollment in the College of Business and Public Administration overwhelmed enrollments in all of the other colleges, essentially because of the availability of faculty to ensure graduation within a reasonable time (compared with disciplines such as the sciences, engineering and agriculture, which had insufficient qualified faculty and virtually no laboratories),” Dr. Dennis said.