Even though academic activities at the state-run University of Liberia over the last four years under Dr. Emmet A. Dennis have been highly admirable, 2013 was a rigmarole year with good and bad mixed up for the faculty and students.
Besides the normal students and faculty exchange programs that have led many instructors and students including student leader Patrick Suah to travel to the United States of America, one major event of concern at the UL for 2013 was the cancellation of the May graduation.
When Dr. Emmet A. Dennis took over as president of the University in 2009, he introduced a bi-annual graduation system: one in May and the other in December of every year.
However, students became one way or the other annoyed during the May graduation of this year when the administration announced that graduation in May was cancelled. Those who felt that they have stayed long in the institution displayed their annoyance by discussing in groups and expressing discontentment.
At the same time those who imagine the euphoria of year-end graduation in December consented with administration because they want to form part of the event.
According to the administration, they were spending more money on the bi-annual graduation in a year, when there were other activities to direct money to.
One major improvement the Dennis administration continued in 2013 was the administering of entrance every year, and this began in May of 2010.
This has provided many Liberians the opportunity to remain in high school to sit entrance with the assurance that upon graduation they would enter the University to pursue their careers.
Nevertheless, the hope of Liberian students was dashed in 2013 when the administration announced on August 21, 2013 that all 25,000 candidates who sat last year’s entrance for undergraduate degree failed.
According to Vice President for Academic Affairs & Provost, Dr. Wede Elliot-Brownell, the UL administration set passing bench marks as 70% for English and 50% for Math to enable a candidate be successful in the entrance, but no candidate met the bench marks, she had said.
On the basis of scaling, the Provost also stated they had to reset 40% for Math and 50% for English, which enabled over 1,600 candidates to be selected for enrollment last year.
Since the announcement of that result, normal academic activities had not been forth going as students’ continual demonstration stalled normal learning process.
Beginning October to November, disruption of classes by a handful of students became the order of the day for various reasons.
At one point, students who could not meet up with the registration deadline for the new academic year in October grouped and disrupted classes, situation that led to the administration giving additional one week to students to process their registration and be fully registered.
The process continued until it collided with time for the mid-term examination. When schedules were placed up for mid-term, students again demonstrated against the schedule and called for additional two weeks to be given them before sitting for tests.
Vice President for Academic Affairs & Provost Wede Elliot-Brownell in response to the demonstration refused to adhere to students’ demand and said the schedule would stand.
Coincidentally, the Faculty Union of the University of Liberia met and decided to lay down chalks. They further called on the Provost to resign.
The union led by Mr. Clifford Young, accused Dr. Brownell of arbitrarily dismissing instructors without observing the Labor Law of Liberia.
The union went further to demand increase in salaries for instructors and accused Dr. Brownell of interfering with the duty of the Vice President for Fiscal Affairs amongst others.
Students on the next day of the go-slow action of instructors joined the fray, with their leadership drafting a release calling on the Provost to give up the post and vacate the university, describing her Doctorate degree as fake without backing.
On November 22, the situation turned violent and students surrounded the administration. They threw stones at the building. One of the UL security officers sustained injury.
Administration immediately called the Liberian National Police and a troop of Police Support Unit (PSU) was dispatched to the campus to bring the situation under control.
Dr. Brownell and Dr. Dennis were rescued by the Police to a different location, and since then the University has remained closed with the first semester of 2013/2014 in complete predicament.
Following the accusations against Dr. Brownell and suspension of classes at the University, she (Dr. Brownell) held a press conference for the first time on December 12, 2013 and referred to those calling for her resignation as “Academic Criminals,” who are fighting back because their cartel established to extort money from students had been blocked.
She disclosed that many people were on UL payroll but were not working in the university, and from the method employed to curb the situation she was able to collect LD$20 million for the university.
She said department chairpersons were making business by contracting unqualified teacher assistants to teach in their places to be paid by them (chairpersons).
In her position statement to the call for her resignation, Dr. Brownell said she will not leave the University of Liberia but will stay there to clean the system for better future of Liberian students.
Despite the suspension of classes with investigation pending to ascertain the facts surrounding accusations from both the Provost and faculty, the University of Liberia carried on the December 18 graduation scheduled earlier.