Liberia: Tubman University President Resigns

The President of Tubman University, Dr. Elliott Wreh-Wilson, has resigned amid complaints that he has done too little to address huge salary disparities among instructional staff and other ugly incidents on campus.

In his resignation letter, Dr. Wilson said he was constrained to resign because he does not view violence as a means of order, following adversity after adversity on the campus of Tubman University.

Before Dr. Wilson's resignation, students and the university faculty said they asked his administration to combat the issue of suffering and oppression as a result of his alleged “iron fist and jackboot approach to administration, poor learning conditions for students and to correct salary disparities.”

Dr. Wilson was accused by the students and faculty of ignoring their concerns, a situation which they claimed forced them to protest as means of demanding his resignation. The protests then stalled learning at Liberia’s second-oldest public university for weeks with faculty and students boycotting classes, paralyzing learning at the university.

Founded in 1978 as the William V. S. Tubman College of Technology, the school originally offered associate's degrees in architecture, civil engineering, electrical engineering, electronics, and mechanical engineering. 

Tubman College was also one of the main schools in Liberia to produce secondary school teachers. In 1990, the college was accredited to offer Bachelor of Science degrees in those fields but soon closed following the outbreak of the First Liberian Civil War. The school remained closed through the 1990s and the end of the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

In 2008, the college was reopened by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, with Dr. Elizabeth Davis-Russell appointed that year as the first female president of the university. In April 2009, Sirleaf signed a bill elevating Tubman to university status, and the newly renamed and renovated university opened on 14 September 2009. The nation's first female mechanical engineer graduated from William V. S. Tubman University in 2016.

The final straw that ended that Dr. Wilson's presidency came when the university students extended their protest to Pleebo Sodokoen District, the commercial hubs of Maryland County, in demand of his immediate resignation — as some private schools and public schools closed earlier as a means of expressing solidarity with the movement.

While Dr. Wilson responded to the faculty claims, the two sides did not find much common ground.  His response came a week after the protest had gained momentum.

Dr. Wilson’s four years at the University were marred by an issue of protests — with students complaining of a poor learning environment, leading to a call for his resignation.  In most cases, he could go pointing accusing fingers at the lawmakers of Maryland County for allegedly supporting student uprising against him at the university.

Faculty Complaints 

The Tubman University Faculty, in a complaint, alleged that Dr. Wilson was in the habit of deducting money from their salaries in the name of social security, but the money was never remitted. They also claimed that Dr. Wilson's administration did little to guarantee quality education for students in line with the mission of Tubman University, which among other things seeks to provide quality educational experiences that transform the lives of individuals for worthy service.

“Unfortunately, learning at the university under the leadership of President Elliot Wreh-Wilson has become, at best mediocre. Since Dr. Wreh-Wilson became president of the university, he has continued to create for himself imaginary enemies both within and outside the university. His paranoia is reflected in his bitterness and hatred even towards students, calling them dogs,” the University faculty said in a release, unveiling the reason behind their protest action.

“Our struggle or go-slow action is therefore about highlighting our plights; about the magnitude of suffering and oppression that we have had to endure under his iron fist and jackboot approach to administration hoping against hope that things will get better. This struggle is about providing better learning conditions for our students. This struggle is about correcting salary disparities. 

"This struggle is about providing us permanent employment status instead of contracts that Wreh-Wilson uses as weapons. It is about addressing the backlog in Social Security Remittance for affected employees/contractors. It is about addressing the bad fiscal policies of this administration where they live in comfortable houses while at the same time dishing among themselves more than US$90,000 in so-called research allowance.  This struggle is about addressing all of our concerns. This struggle is our way of saying, we are tired, we are frustrated, and we are saying no to further oppression. 

But Dr. Wilson, in countering the faculty’s claims, denied all the allegations and said none of them are true. His response to these allegations came weeks before his resignation.

He further said that, as a matter of best practice in higher education the world over, the faculty, not administration, normally organizes promotion and tenure committees. “Regrettably, despite constant reminders by the administration, the faculty is yet to establish said committees.”

Meanwhile, President Weah has appointed Dr. Emmanuel Leon Sie-Wreh as Acting President of Tubman University, pending the vetting of candidates by the Board of Trustees for subsequent appointment of a new President of Tubman University.