Since the indefinite suspension of Harris F. Tarnue as Principal of the Booker Washington Institute (BWI), the crisis on the campus of that premier vocational and academic institution seems far from ending.
It can be recalled that in May this year, the Board of Governors of the institution, headed by John S. Youboty, Sr., recommended the suspension of Mr. Tarnue on allegations of corruption, nepotism and other malpractices, and President George Weah through the Minister of Education suspended him indefinitely.
However, the action, instead of bringing cohesion among workers, has divided staffs and students with each group taking sides, supporters of suspended Principal Tarnue on one hand and on the other, supporters of Acting Principal James Walker.
When Board Chairman Youboty and a few members along with the Daily Observer visited the campus on Wednesday, June 13, 2019, they observed that normal academic and vocational activities had been stalled, owing to what was observed as opposing activities of both groups. The pro Tarnue group was urging students and staffs to stay away from school and work while supporters of acting Principal were also observed urging students and staffs to ignore those urging them to stay away from school and work.
Foday K. Rogers, spokesperson of the discontented workers union, said their contention is not about the “illegal suspension” of the principal and replacing him with an “illegal” Acting Principal, “but we are concerned about doing the right thing.”
Rogers added, “The board headed by Youboty is not a serious board; BWI is not an ordinary high school that you will just come and carry out any illegal suspension.”
He said when the President of Liberia, who is an ex-officio of the BWI Board makes a decision to dismiss and appoint, there is no question about it because it is the President’s constitutional power suggesting that the Board lacks the authority to dismiss although the Board has the appointing authority.
According to Mr. Rogers, the current board is making no effort to impact the school, but its members are allegedly engaged in demanding increment in gas slips and sitting fees.
He said while they are concerned about the right procedures being followed, they cannot hold back praises for the suspended principal because of the impact he has made at BWI.
“Mr. Tarnue has brought improvement here; he met this place at a low grade, and he is concerned about workers’ welfare, Mr. Roger said.
He also acknowledged that Principal Tarnue brought them close to the administration to the extent that he increased salaries for workers. Kitchen staffs, according to Rogers, were earning L$8,000 monthly, but Mr. Tarnue increased the amount to $11,000.
He said Tarnue brought what he described as “Economic factor” that, as an instructor, he could receive L$19,000, extra from his salary. Foday noted further that Mr. Tarnue included every staff on food rations that allowed each worker to have two bags of rice and five gallons of vegetable oil during the festive season.
He added that under the leadership of Mr. Tarnue, many staffs have gone for study abroad on condition they return serve the school upon completion of their studies.
He accused the BWI Board of having sinister motives to disorganize the good work of Tarnue without anything from the very board to offer the institution.
Roger said they shall continue the go-slow for as long as they can until the right thing is done and, if the acting Principal, and the Board incite the students against them, they will use the same students against them too. He noted that that they are related for to the very students, and can equally build mutual understanding with them to accomplish similar objectives.
Board Chairman John Youboty, attributed the crisis on the campus to incitement by someone (not named). He clarified that faculty staffs have no business in who comes as a head, but have to dedicate themselves to the work they are assigned to do.
Youboty said the board and authorities at the Ministry of Education took a decision to make a change in the school’s administration, and the faculty and staff have “no fish to fry in the decision.
Reacting to praises showered on Mr. Tarnue by the workers union, Mr. Youboty said they received a lot of complaints with documentary evidence about the suspended principal that informed the Board’s decision, and is not a “witch hunt as perceived by detractors.”
“Mr. Tarnue was engaged in malpractices, nepotism, and corruption, and could not listen to the board as evidenced by his decision to send 11th graders to take WAEC Exams,” Mr. Youboty said.
He dispelled accusations that the board demands money, gas slips and scratch cards as Mr. Rogers had alleged, but said “We are products of BWI, and we use our own money to do whatever we can for the institution. The Board does not receive money.”
Youboty said the Board will meet this week to decide on how they can bring a lasting solution to the problem prevailing at BWI.
A foreign instructor (name withheld) backed the Board’s decision, and said the Tarnue Administration was involved in corruption at the highest level.
He said Tarnue employed his wife, who was seen nowhere teaching or working in the school; he increased salaries for some staff members, while others were left out, and allowed the procurement officer to have 10 percent on every purchase made in the interest of BWI.
He said the campus lacks water and other basic necessities for students and workers, and that the only thing Tarnue Administration was involved with was to paint buildings on the campus.
A few board members, learning of the unfolding development considered embarrassing by alumni of BWI, had gone with peace messages to call on students and workers to abandon protest or go-slow to commence work.
Stressing a line in the institution’s ode which states, “To work for your interest and good;” a member of the board and alumnus of BWI, Kenneth Y. Best, said “We could not sit to see the situation to worsen, and we have brought a message of peace for the good of BWI.”
Adoley Sonii, another board member and alumna, told the gathering of students and instructors that noise and confusion on the BWI campus did not represent the image of the institution. Sonii called on the faculty members to commit themselves to the work they are called to do.
Madam Sonii encouraged women attending BWI to adopt determination to forge ahead in learning as she did. She said besides her education, she has four children, who are all educated and holding prestigious positions in the private and public sectors; something she said cannot only be unique to her, but to others.
Officers of the Liberia National Police were on Thursday morning deployed on the campus to restore sanity among the aggrieved parties.
Margibi County Superintendent, Jerry Varney said as head of the county, BWI falls under his control, and therefore instructed the police to deploy on the campus to curb any act of violence.
Varney urged the instructors to put the interest of Liberians first as they have a delicate responsibility to mold the minds of the youth and not to allow politics to interfere with the commitment they have made to their country.
Other Board members and stakeholders who met the students and instructors on June 13 were Mulbah Jackollie, BWI former Principal; Abraham G. Samuels and Benjamin Banto, who called on the instructors to remain peaceful and exercise restraint as the board and the government exert efforts to resolve the unfolding issues.