The rift has intensified between the administration of Ricks Institute and the Minister of Education, George Werner, owing to the allegation the latter made against the institute last Friday, October 23 on the national radio station.
Minster Werner made three allegations on ELBC Radio insinuating that the motives of the parents of Ricks students were not clear; that “one or two” students at Ricks have been abused; and that Ricks receives significant government money and, therefore, should be in compliance with every mandate from the Ministry of Education (MOE).
In a sharp retort issued yesterday, Ricks Institute Principal and Chief Administrative Officer, Dr. Olu Q. Menjay, said Minister Werner’s allegations appeared to be an attempt to smear Ricks Institute “because of our action on October 18, to celebrate the academic success of our students and the ending of an academic year in spite of the challenges of the Ebola crisis and its lingering effects upon the country.”
The statement read further: “Rather than addressing the confusion caused by the Ministry’s post-Ebola pronouncement of mandating a further school closing and a postponement of restarting a reasonable academic schedule, the Minister chose to attack, through innuendoes, the motives of the parents of Ricks’ students.
“If Minister Werner believes that Ricks receives significant government money, and therefore should be in compliance with every mandate from the MOE, we wish to state distinctly that with or without government money, Ricks has and will continue to operate in the confines of the laws of the Republic of Liberia.
“We are sanguine in our response; therefore, we are confident that every person who explores the Minister’s allegations objectively will discredit his allegation.”
Dr Menjay wonders whether the parents of Ricks’ students send their daughters and sons to the Institute because they do not have the time to care for them.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “this is the Minister’s critical thought, because he seems to think so, and that such a blanket assessment is an insult to every parent who seeks the best for his/her children.”
“Does the Minister actually know of parents who have sent children to Ricks? Would he say to their faces: “You don’t care enough about your children to raise them at home; therefore you chose to send them to an institution that offers your children no gain?”
According to Principal Menjay, “The truth is that parents have sent their children to Ricks because the school has a long and respected history of success in post-war Liberia.
“Ricks Institute has provided benchmarks for excellence in education and, too, for creating a context for reconciliation as a component of forward-looking education of the next generation of Liberian leaders.”
As to students being abused at Ricks, Dr. Menjay challenged Mr. Werner to offer proof, adding, “It is easy to raise suspicions, but it is hard to address primary issues.
“We believe that the Minister is finding it very difficult, if not impossible to explain and convince the Liberian people of his profound educational policy. Rather, he chose to castigate and make reckless allegations towards our noble institution.
“We offer two responses: where is the evidence of and proof of his so-called allegation? If the Minister knows of allegations of abuse that need to be explored, why did he wait for a national radio microphone to offer a challenge?”
Menjay said if the Minister knew of allegations of abuse before his Friday pronouncement on the ELBC Super Morning Show, he should have raised the issue with the school administration or the proper national authority by requesting an investigation. He added that Minister Werner did not, and if he had, he would have had the full and objective support of the institution.
“We state categorically that no abuse has occurred on our campus,” Menjay maintained.
He said if the Minister believes he has credible evidence and proof of his allegations, “he has been derelict in his duties by not making it known to the parents or the public.”
Significant Financial Support
Dr. Menjay wanted qualification of the Minister’s claim that Ricks has received significant financial support from the government, noting, “Can the Minister support his claim? What constitutes significant financial support?”
He said carefully listening to the Minister’s statement will distinguish between formal support from the government and individual support for Ricks by parents and guardians who pay required school fees for students.
“The institution,” he said, “does not discriminate on whether sponsors of students are government officials or non-government officials. They are all Ricks’ parents and guardians. The government does not, in fact, provide any fund to the school. Parents choose to send their children to Ricks because of the excellent record the school has.”
Menjay said Minister Werner obscures the issue to his own peril, adding, “The fact that government officials – all the way from employees in the ministries and agencies to elected officials and the Executive as well as marketers – choose to support students at Ricks is a testimony to the excellent work of the school.”
Ricks should not be penalized for doing well, and the Minister should not assume that private support of Ricks is the same as government support of the school, he said.
“We note, too, that the Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare arranged with the institution for 30 under-privileged Liberian girls to attend Ricks as part of a private/public partnership. With this partnership, Ricks Institute has committed to the education of these girls at the expense of Ricks to the tune of US$375,000 over five years, while the Ministry Pays US$10,000 annually for the upkeep of their dormitory,” Menjay disclosed in the statement.
He said contrary to the Minister’s declaration, Ricks is not an elitist institution, but a school for all because it is comprised of students from all socio-economic status.
Meanwhile, Dr. Menjay has clarified that Ricks Institute is not for sale to the whims of the MOE, industries, or even the church. He added that since 1997, Ricks has had a clearly-focused commitment to provide the best education possible, saying, “We will not deviate from this historic commitment even in post-war and post-Ebola Liberia.”
The rift between the two men came about when Ricks Institute on Sunday held its first post Ebola Convocation exercise with 42 12th graders receiving their high school diplomas.
Although Ricks Principal and Chief Administrator Menjay, described the ceremony as a thanksgiving ceremony, it brought together several high profile personalities some of whom said they were there to celebrate as parents with their children who were leaving the walls of the institute.
Dr. Menjay said his action to host the closing convocation was not a challenge to the government or any legal authority on educational matters, but added, “We owe no apology for doing what is right.”
“We make no mistake or do not have to apologize to anyone for keeping our students in class for a longer period of time in order to complete our well defined and standardized curriculum which we continued and successfully ended in October, as evidenced by the closing convocation today,” Dr. Menjay told the audience to a deafening round of applause during the convocation.
His statement might have angered Minister Werner, who last Friday on the ELBC Morning Show made the accusations that led to Menjay’s sharp rebuttal.