By David S. Menjor
Professor Ophelia Inez Weeks over the weekend took over as the new president of the University of Liberia from Dr. Emmet A. Dennis at a ceremony on the Fendall Campus.
Weeks is the second female president of the state run academic institution.
Paraphrasing the biblical text of Mark 1:11 which reads: “And a voice came from heaven,
‘You are my Son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased,” Dr. Dennis said to Dr. Weeks: “You are our beloved in whom we are well pleased.”
Dr. Dennis has served since 2008 as president of the University of Liberia, one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in West Africa.
A native of Liberia, Dr. Dennis is an alumnus of the AFGRAD Fellowship program where he pursued a PhD at the University of Connecticut. He is the founder and director of the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research (LIBR).
Prior to taking the helm at the University of Liberia, he worked in several positions as an administrator and professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA. Dr. Dennis joined Rutgers in 1969 as an assistant professor in the department of zoology and later served as professor in the department of cell biology and neuroscience. He assumed the vice chair of the department of biological sciences in 1985.
The accomplished professor also served as co-director of the BA/MD program run jointly by Rutgers and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and director of the Diversity Advancement Program (DAP) of the Graduate School-New Brunswick. In 1994, he was named associate provost for academic advancement where he oversaw the Educational Opportunity Fund, the Minority Faculty Advancement Program, the Center for Latino Arts and Culture, and the Paul Robeson Cultural Center.
He holds a bachelor’s degree from the then Cuttington College and Divinity School, now Cuttington University, a master’s degree from Indiana University and a doctorate from the University of Connecticut.
“When we came to this university it had only US$4 million. Considering the high cost of living our staff, as any other Liberian group of people thought it wise to lobby with the Board of Trustees (BOT) to beg government to increase the budget of the university. This took effect but on a very slow pace,” Dr. Dennis noted, adding that he consulted with the Board and all administrators of the university to increase tuition to a minimum amount that could subsidize the fiscal national budget allotted to it.
“Little did I know that raising tuition at this university in order to afford quality services and pay improved salaries to all working here, was a mark of getting into trouble. But with all the challenges, we had to do it by (raising tuition) from L$175 to US$4 or its equivalent in Liberian dollars,” he said.
He noted that although some people may think he didn’t accomplish anything during his tenure, the university now has a fiscal budget of US$16 million. “From US$4 million in 2008, this institution now boasts of having at least 16 million in the national budget,” he said.
“Liberia needs enough competent human capital and the integrity of everyone to change things for the benefit of all.”
He added that malpractices have taken over institutions only because those in charge who are expected to do their jobs compromise the interest of those institutions – and in many cases the country, only to satisfy the selfish intents of individuals.
“Under my administration, we have established two departments, the engineering department and the nursing college to train health practitioners,” he noted.
“With all the challenges, we are pleased to say that this university is no longer a ‘come let’s graduate’ without any need to work for degrees,” he pointed out.
He praised Dr. Weeks for being a woman of substance and one ever ready to deal with life’s challenges, no matter their weight.
“Weeks did not apply for this job. I recommended to the BOT that she is the best for now among colleagues of equal values to serve in this capacity. She knows the terrains and challenges at this university,” the outgoing president said.
He admonished Dr. Weeks to be courageous and independent as usual in the discharge of her duties.
“I trust and believe that you will work with all the colleagues here to further improve this great institution of higher learning,” he noted.
The outgoing UL president said he will stay in the country and lecture at the graduate school. Although Dr. Dennis has stepped down from the UL presidency, he will be the second former president of the UL, as Edward Wilmot Blyden did in the 1900s, to remain and divide his time between teaching medical students at the A. M. Dogliotti College of Medicine and undergraduate students of the T. J. R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology.
Accepting the UL presidency, Dr. Weeks said she was filled with humility and consciousness to serve all the different classes of people at the university.
“I will serve within the framework, bylaws and charter of this noble university. I will never, at any point in time, despise the policies that have kept us together as a family neither will
I denigrate anyone, including janitors working here,” she said, noting that she needs the support of everyone to succeed in accomplishing everything in the interest of the UL.
“I am not a difficult person to deal with. All I do on a day to day basis is to be fair with everyone and firm in doing what is right, including the chastisement of the delinquent and keeping off limits those who are not prepared to help us succeed in our efforts to make this university great,” Weeks noted.
Also making remarks, the acting chairperson of the BOT, Sen. Jewel Howard Taylor, said while it is good to celebrate the transition of authority from one president of the university to another, it is worth noting that Dr. Dennis brought the required zest to the UL.
Sen. Taylor noted that nothing comes easy without a price. “We accept all the insults and temptations in the name of the UL because we want to see it go forward in improvements,” she said, adding that the BOT will forever remember Dr. Dennis’ invaluable contributions to the UL.
“We say welcome to Dr. Weeks and we assure you of our support as you steer the affairs of this great institution.” Senator Taylor said.
Before her election, Dr. Weeks, an outstanding neuroscientist, was UL’s vice president for academic affairs. She has held administrative positions in the university since 2012. She was Dean of the T. J. R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology.
Dr. Weeks becomes the second woman to lead the UL since its founding in 1951. She follows the late Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman who, in 1978, made history in Liberia and Africa by becoming the first female president of a university on the continent.
Other women who have served as university presidents in Liberia are the late Dr. Louise York, African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU) in Monrovia, and Dr. Elizabeth Davies, president of the Tubman University in Harper, Cape Palmas, Maryland County.
In his remarks, the acting president of the Liberia National Student Union (LINSU), Jerome D. Bernard, said the student community is prepared to cooperate with Dr. Weeks in making the UL the institution they all want it to be.
“We will miss Dr. Dennis’ leadership role in establishing the student-faculty-centered UL ,” Bernard noted.
He admonished Dr. Weeks to consider students as the most important stakeholder community at the UL and prioritize transparency and accountability.
“Of course, yes, we know who you are but this time is a different time for you. Please be innovative and unpretentious in all your dealings with us,” he said.
The turning over ceremony ended with fellowship and refreshments.