Challenges for BWI’s New Principal Tarnue

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The Civil Service Agency (CSA) has done a good job recruiting a new Principal for the Booker Washington Institute (BWI). President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had directed the CSA to advertise the position and vet a short list of applicants. The CSA’s first attempt was a bit hurried, but the President requested another try, giving more time. It was from that second attempt that Harris Fomba Tarnue, a 1980 Business graduate of BWI, was chosen.

After leaving BWI, the ambitious young Tarnue went on to take the Master’s degree in Public Procurement from the University of Turin in Italy and a law degree from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia (UL). To his credit, this is his second principal-ship. He served from 1982 to 1988 as Acting Principal of the Bopolu Central High School in his native Gbarpolu County. He later took a stint at politics, serving in the Transitional Legislative Assembly of the National Transitional Government of Liberia under the chairmanship of Madam Ruth Sando Perry. There he chaired the Standing Committee on Education and Co-chaired the Committee on Planning and Economic Affairs and Banking and Currency. Tarnue also taught part-time at the UL’s Department of Public Administration and served as Deputy Director General for Research and Consultancy at the Liberia Institute of Public Administration (LIPA).

His experience in school administration, politics, teaching, public administration and, in addition, his law degree make him eminently qualified for the post of BWI Principal. We pray that he will effectively apply these experiences and skills to his new job, help BWI meet the urgent challenges it faces as the nation’s premier vocational and technical institution that was terribly scarred by the civil war.

Tarnue will find considerable rehabilitation work successfully undertaken by the Interim Principal, Alexander Massey, an accomplished architect, and BWI alumnus, who renovated the auditorium and dining hall, Graham Hall and other boys and girls dorms, some of the shops and the football pitch. Massey also took a shot at curriculum reform and continued the retirement exercises among faculty and staff begun by the previous Principal, Mulbah Jackollie.

These were, however, interim measures. As the new, full-fledged BWI Principal, Mr. Tarnue faces far more serious challenges. He must first complete the retirement process and free some of the housing still occupied by a few of the retired staff members still awaiting their so-called “14-year” retirement benefits, which the Board of Governors has taken serious initiatives to resolve.

He must complete the renovation of the trade shops and accelerate the recruitment of new, young and qualified academic and trade faculty.

The major challenge Principal Tarnue faces is two-fold: finding the money to improve dramatically the academic program, especially in English, Math and the Sciences; and to modernize all the trade shops, which are woefully behind in modern technology and top notch instructional staff.

The new Principal must make contacts quickly with neighboring countries, especially Nigeria, in a bid to recruit competent technical staff to come in and assist in the trade shops. Also, he and the Board of Governors should approach some of the embassies in Monrovia, especially the British, Chinese, German, Indian and others, and seek their assistance in beefing up the technical staff and equipment for the trade shops. This two-fold challenge is one of the institute’s most urgent priorities.

In this, Mr. Tarnue has one serious advantage: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s pledge to turn BWI into “a center of excellence” before her retirement. Mr. Tarnue and the Board must now work closely with Youth and Sports Minister Eugene Nagbe, who is in charge of the “center of excellence” project, and the President to accelerate the realization of this most important objective.

Mr. Tarnue will also find it necessary to employ his legal skills to remove those who have squatted on BWI land and restore the institute’s 1000 acres, which the nation’s Chiefs, on the request of President C.D.B. King, granted the Liberian government during the Executive Council in Kakata in 1928 for the founding of BWI. It is nothing short of criminal for unscrupulous individuals to attempt shortchanging this principal vocational and technical educational institution of the land it was given by Liberian leaders, way back in the past century, to train Liberia’s technicians.

The land must be retrieved.

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