The third Commencement Exercise of Tubman University (TU) passed off peacefully and successfully last Tuesday, despite threats of disruption from TU students and others against the election of Nimba-born Dr. Edward Wonkeyor as its new President.
Dr. Wonkeyor, current Provost of Cuttington University (CU), was elected by the TU Board of Trustees in April. The Board then submitted its recommendation to the Visitor of the University, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who met with the nominee, Dr. Wonkeyor, and approved the recommendation.
But no sooner had he been confirmed than TU students, backed by Maryland’s Legislative Caucus, started demanding that the job be given to a Marylander, or someone from Liberia’s southeast.
The TU students went further to threaten that should their demand not be met, they would disrupt the impending commencement exercises, scheduled for last Tuesday, May 31.
Unfortunately, both the TU students and the Maryland Legislative Caucus were totally ignorant of the TU Charter, which states that TU is Liberia’s second State University, after the first, the University of Liberia (UL). The Charter further states that the university – founded in 2009 – elevating the W.V.S. Tubman College of Technology, is established to extend higher education throughout Liberia and the world.
Even though President Sirleaf did appoint Maryland-born Dr. Elizabeth Davies Russell, daughter of eminent Marylander and former Associate Justice O. Natty B. Davies, as TU’s first President, there is nowhere in the Charter that stipulates that a TU president should be a Marylander or south-easterner.
It was in the face of that threat by the TU students to disrupt the third commencement exercises that the editors of the Daily Observer newspaper decided, in an Editorial published on Monday, May 30 and read on several radio stations around the nation, to dissuade the TU students from that action. The newspaper wondered whether the TU students and the Maryland Legislative Caucus had forgotten the man after whom TU is named—none other than President William V.S. Tubman, who did more than anyone else to promote unity and unification in Liberia.
The newspaper appealed to the TU students to decide, out of respect to President Tubman, to listen to the voice of reason, accept Dr. Wonkeyor as TU’s new President and call off their threatened action.
We here applaud both the TU students and the Maryland Legislative Caucus for listening to the voice of reason, and paying homage to President Tubman, who made it possible for any Liberian from any part of the country to serve in any position anywhere.
None of these TU students—probably even some of their parents—were yet born when in 1964, Liberian educator, Mrs. Elizabeth Kadae Collins, a Marylander married to another Marylander, Samuel Sie Collins, was elected one of the first two Senators of Nimba County.
Remember, too, that one of Lofa County’s first elected Senators was Senator Ernest Liberty, who hailed from distant Edina, Grand Bassa County. Senator Liberty, who served for many years in the Interior Service, becoming Provincial Commissioner stationed in Voinjama, was so loved by the Lofa people that when he died on December 5, 1979, Lofaians demanded that he be buried in Voinjama, their capital. The family bowed to this wish.
So much for unification, which we pray that the current Maryland students and students throughout the country will study more deeply along with Liberian history as we move toward the future, especially the 2017 presidential and general elections.
We challenge Education Minister George Werner to reintroduce Civics into our school curriculum, so that our youth may learn more about the country’s history and the progress we have made in unification and democratic governance.
Now to the new TU President, Edward Wonkeyor, we say you have a historic challenge and opportunity to lift TU to loftier heights. Your predecessor, Dr. Davies Russell, has done much to put TU on map as one of Liberia’s outstanding institutions of higher learning. You must now carry it further by building up its high caliber faculty, enhancing its academic and professional offerings, generating more financial support from government and elsewhere, and recruiting more students from Liberia’s southeast and from all over the country, Africa and the world.
One of your first challenges is to help all the high schools in various southeastern counties, which are TU’s primary feeder institutions, to produce better students, fit and ready to enter TU. In this effort, you will need to intervene in each school by offering tutorials to build up their academic standing.
You already know that Marylanders are not easy to deal with. See how they treated their own daughter and sister, Elizabeth Davies Russell. Work hard, be fair-minded and prudent (shrewd, farsighted, practical) in all you do, and stay in touch with your base constituency—Maryland and the rest of the southeast. Help in whichever way you can to improve the lives of these long neglected people.