— Insist they will not return to class until the University of Liberia President Dr. Nelson is removed
The fate of thousands of students at the state-run University of Liberia now lies in limbo as the faculty members insist that they will not return to class when school opens on June 27 until Dr. Julius Nelson is out.
The faculty members, through their President, Dr. Edna Johnny, said their demand for the resignation of Nelson is a result of their vote of no confidence in his leadership — a decision by which they stand.
The faculty, citing the reason behind the vote of no confidence on June 15, blamed Nelson's determination to implement the decision to delete faculty members from the payroll against their advice — a determination they consider to be an abuse of their rights. They claimed he refused to listen to their advice via several diplomatic attempts to convince him and the UL administration to rescind its decision on removing faculty members from payroll in the name of “double-dipping.”
And while reaffirming that position, the University of Liberia Faculty Association (ULFA) President alleged that Nelson has refused to address their concern, but rather threatened to replace faculty members who failed to return to work on June 27.
“We don't want to cooperate with him. He has promised to reopen the school and if the current staff refused to work, he would hunt for part-time professors,” said Dr. Edna Johnny, an associate professor of economics at UL on OK FM. “He had threatened to replace us if we refused to work. This is an attempt to get rid of ULFA because we ask too many questions.
“When I took office in March 2021, we realized that the issue of social security and Welfare for faculty members was problematic. Some coworkers died or retired and were unable to get their benefits," she said. We then met with Dr. Nelson and his staff and formed a committee of UL and ULFA from April last year to discuss the issues and other matters of concern. We came up with an MOU. In the process, a communication from the Ministry of Finance had been instructed to remove all staff from the payroll who are working elsewhere, quoting section 1.9 of the code of conduct."
The Ministry had claimed that several full-time faculty members of the university were also fully employed with other government ministries and agencies — undermining wage reform efforts and also contravening Section 9.10 of the Code of Conduct.
Section 9.10 of the National Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees of the government, titled ‘Receipt of Double Emoluments’, states: “Public Officials and Employees of Government shall not while receiving or being paid salaries by the Government, at the same time receive or be paid a salary by any other public office unless it is established that such additional employment is in the public interest.
The University of Liberia is a public charter that caters to the vast majority of the country's population and had in the past seen confrontations between presidents and faculty but it was smoothed over before reaching the point of a formal no-confidence vote. An immediate change in Dr. Nelson's status seems unlikely, as he still enjoys the favor of the Visitor of the University, President George Weah, who has the power to fire but seems unlikely to do so.
Slap in the face
The UL Vice-Chair for University Relations, Atty. Norris Tweah, has disclosed that Dr. Nelson has been negotiating over several months with the Ministry of Finance, raising the case that the faculty is important to the university and there should be another way around the double-dipping issue.
However, Tweah said that despite his boss's effort in trying to get the Ministry to let go, he sees the vote of no confidence as a slap in the face “because there were negotiations on the issues they raised.”
“I don’t see how Dr. Nelson is not fighting that he submitted a communication. In fact, he appealed to pay back those costs and the ministry agreed.”
He added that the UL President is also concerned about the social security benefits of employees and has set up a committee to look into the matter, “The faculty is an integral part of the University; students are our stakeholders. What we are saying is the faculty is looking; the students have been out of school for a long time. The faculty raised the issue of renovation. The government has provided the money for the renovation."
Dr. Nelson’s response
Earlier, Nelson, in a response to the faculty’s ‘no-confidence vote’, said he is not thinking about resigning but rather committed to ensuring that all Liberians have access to education.
“We are aware that there will be challenges, but we all have to work together to resolve our issues and make progress. We remain committed to ensuring that all Liberians have access to quality higher education,” Nelson said. “[I] therefore call on all faculty, including both full-time and part-time, to be in readiness and get prepared for the resumption of classes come June 27. The university administration is committed to administering the affairs of this institution in a fair and impartial manner, and will not knowingly ill-treat any of its employees, whether in the academic or administrative departments."