No Principal in the history of the Booker Washington Institute (BWI) has ever departed the campus under a hail of bitter criticisms such as happened last Friday to Harry Fumba Tarnue.
The BWI Board of Governors, led by Chairman John Youboty, held an emergency meeting on campus, dealing with very critical matters regarding Mr. Tarnue’s stewardship as BWI Principal over the past three years. Pivotal to these matters was the presentation to Mr. Tarnue of a letter from the Minister of Education, Mr. Ansu Sonii, Ex-Officio member of the Board. In his letter, Minister Sonii reminded the Principal that the BWI Board of Governors had passed a “vote of no confidence” in Mr. Tarnue’s leadership as BWI Principal.
In his letter, Minister Sonii further told Mr. Tarnue that without the knowledge or permission of the Ministry of Education, or even the Board of Governors, Principal Tarnue had sent forward 11th graders to sit the National Examinations, contrary to the regulation of the National Examination Council or the Ministry of Education! This, said Minister Sonii, “overrides the varying other [offenses leveled against you by the Board], particularly being an embarrassment and a dire affront to the governing authority of the Institution, which cannot go unpunished.”
In his letter, the Education Minister told Mr. Tarnue that he, Principal Tarnue, was, with immediate effect, being suspended “indefinitely” from being principal of BWI.
Another presentation made by the Board was a letter to Mr. James Walker, appointing him as Acting BWI Principal. Mr. Walker is also a graduate of BWI, Class of 1986, the class from which hails the eminent President of the BWI Alumni Association of North America (BWIAANA), Mr. Eric Harris. Mr. Walker, the Acting Principal, has served as a BWI faculty member for 19 unbroken years.
Immediately following these presentations to Mr. Tarnue, the Board of Governors sent for Mr. Walker to inform him of his appointment as Acting Principal.
As soon as the BWI students learned of this—the appointment of Mr. Walker as Acting Principal—they began demonstrating, singing, jubilating and carrying placards calling Principal Tarnue names. Among the names were “Dictator,” “Tyrant,” “Bad, Incompetent Manager,” “Divider.”
Many of the students and some faculty members told reporters who covered these events on campus that Principal Tarnue had “spies” all over the campus listening or watching to see who would say anything critical of Principal Tarnue, in order to report it immediately back to the Principal. This would be followed by swift retribution (revenge) by Principal Tarnue, in the form of immediate removal from a post, demotion, or even dismissal.
Former Principal Tarnue has meanwhile described his suspension as a “witch hunt” and “illegal”. But how can it be illegal when the Education Minister, appointed by the President of Liberia, following the Board of Governors’ “vote of no confidence in Principal Harry Fumba Tarnue, acted on the consent of President Weah, and this decision was communicated to Mr. Tarnue by the BWI Board of Governors?
Who was the “witch”? Was it the Board, who had engaged in the nepotistic act of appointing several members of Mr. Tarnue’s family, including his wife, to the BWI payroll?
Was it the Board who told Mr. Tarnue to send 11th graders, instead of 12th graders, to WAEC, something that no school in the Republic has ever done?
Was it not the Board who, after taking a recent tour of dormitories and finding all the bathrooms, including the girls’, in a total mess, advised Principal Tarnue to engage the Plumbing Department to fix them—something he never did?
Was it not the BWI Principal, Mr. Tarnue, who last week sent his paid agents to the airwaves in Kakata to tell the radio audience that the Board of Governors “could do nothing” to him and insulting the Board, including by name its oldest member, alumnus Kenneth Y. Best, Class of 1959?
Mr. Tarnue three years ago was called, following a vetting process conducted by the Civil Service Agency of Liberia, headed by its then Director General, Counselor Leona Bernard, to be the new BWI Principal, succeeding acting principal Mr. Alexander Massey, an architect.
When one is called to lead any institution, in this case BWI, the nation’s leading technical and vocational high school, one is given the necessary powers to do the job, under the guidance, of course, of the Board of Governors, as stipulated in the BWI Charter. The Charter accords the BWI Principal two titles—Principal, and Secretary of the Board. But no sooner had Mr. Tarnue taken the job than he gave himself another title—“Chief Executive Officer (CEO). When the Board, during a meeting on campus, questioned him about this, he tried to say the authority had been given him by the Charter. But when asked to cite that article in the Charter, he could not, and had to drop the title.
Mr. Tarnue, like so many Liberians, is a Christian. But how many of us Christians take seriously and emulate the way Jesus used power? Remember, He was the most powerful man that ever walked this earth. But Jesus used not an ounce of that power on Himself. He used ALL of it to help other people. And why did He insist on washing Peter’s feet? He wanted to set the sterling example of humility, and to demonstrate in practical terms what He meant when He said, “He who is greatest among you must be a servant.”
Unfortunately, so many of us human beings allow power to go to our heads, and start misusing it. Remember, it was Abraham Lincoln who once said, “Nearly All Men Can Stand Adversity, But If You Want To Test a Man’s Character, Give Him Power.”