Members of the University of Liberia Faculty and Staff Association (ULFA) have declared a strike action that is anticipated to bring learning activities to a standstill at the country’s oldest institution of higher education.
The strike, which is expected to start today, Friday, comes as no surprise to many, as it marks yet another episode in a series of repeat occurrences that have frequently resulted in the prolonged closure of the university.
Eric Patten, the Secretary-General of ULFA, which represents the interests of educators and professional staff at the university, announced that the strike comes in response to long-standing grievances related to inadequate pay, working conditions, and benefits.
He claims that the university administration has consistently ignored their demands, leaving them with no choice but to resort to industrial action.
“They [the UL Administration] were given one week, as of September 1, to ensure that those actions are taken. In that resolution that was passed, with over a thousand persons in the general assembly, it was stated that the failure of the University of Liberia administration to meet up with these demands will amount to the complete discontinuance of staff and faculty's respective duties on all campuses of the university.
“One director earns less, another earns more,” Patten said. “And that did not happen at the finance ministry; it happened right here at the University of Liberia campus.”
Other areas of concern, according to Patten, are the official rescinding of the appointment of the Vice president for academic affairs and the Dean of the Romeo Horton College of Business and Public Administration.
He also disclosed that ULFA, during its joint assembly on August 25, came to the conclusion that when none of the requests are met, the strike action will continue.
Patten then blamed the University administration for manipulating the payroll set up by the Ministry of Finance, which was intended to ensure that faculty members and staff were paid according to qualification.
“When the payroll was turned over to the University of Liberia, something else happened,” he said. You find out that people are in the same position, with the same qualification, some are sometimes even qualified more than the person, but that person earns far more than the person with the same qualification.”
However, Cllr. Norris Tweah, the UL’s Vice President for University Relations, denied Patten’s accusation. He said salary disparity is not squarely under the domain of the school administration but rather the Ministry of Finance, which is responsible for that. He said that the faculty’s demand has been communicated to the ministry.
Tweah added that the administration is working with the Board of Trustees which was set up by President George Weah to address the faculty’s demands.
“The Board has instructed the president of the University of Liberia to place a hold on these appointments. The president has abided, and the president will, of course, not disrespect the board,” he said.
According to him, the appointees have been informed about the board’s decision and it would be publicly announced.
“We have no intention to close the University of Liberia down. We remain committed to finishing this academic semester, but issues that have risen have been addressed, to remit their dues back to them,” he said.
Student Groups to Resist
Meanwhile, some members of the Student Unification Party (SUP) and the Progressive Students Alliance (PROSA) disagree with the faculty on the grounds that “it is their duty to teach, therefore they cannot halt learning activities at the state-run University.”
The student group’s fear comes as, in times past, similar strikes have led to the closure of the university for prolonged periods, severely impacting the academic calendar. This recurring pattern has raised concerns as to why resolutions to these ongoing issues have not been reached.