It was Robert Fulton Cutting (1852-1934), an American philanthropist and staunch Episcopalian, who made a gift of US$5,000 to the Episcopal Church of Liberia that led to the founding, in 1889, of Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University).
And, you guessed it, the visionary first Liberian Episcopal Bishop, Rt. Rev. Samuel David Ferguson, the church’s preeminent Education Bishop, named the School after Robert Cutting in gratitude for his pioneering donation to higher education in Liberia.
There are two other men besides Bishop Ferguson and Robert Cutting who played a pivotal role in the life of Cuttington. The first was Bishop Bravid W. Harris who, on his arrival in Liberia in 1945, following his election as Bishop of Liberia, befriended the other man, President William V.S. Tubman.
They both lived across from each other, at the corner of Ashmun and Randall Streets. Tubman was in the Executive Mansion, now occupied by the General Auditing Commission (GAC), while Bishop Harris lived in Bishop’s House on the same corner, where ECOBANK is now located. The one-story building in the early 1960s was transformed into a beautiful, modern multi-storied complex by New York’s Chase Manhattan Bank. The building became known as The Episcopal Church Plaza.
Bishop Harris did something daring and historic. He pleaded with and convinced President Tubman, himself a Marylander and devout Methodist, to relocate Cuttington from Cape Palmas, Maryland County to Suakoko, in then Liberia’s Central Province, now Bong County.
Bishop Harris promised the President that, should he agree, Cuttington would establish an Agricultural program to train Liberian farmers.
Tubman agreed, and the rest is history. Bishop Harris got immediately to work and by 1949 the first buildings were erected in the middle of the dense Bong forest, and classes commenced. The first graduating class came out in 1952.
The course work started very well. One of the first graduates, Melvin J. Mason, won admission to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, one of America’s top 10 universities, where he took the master’s degree in Science Education. Mason later earned the Ph.D in Curriculum Development from Michigan State University.
In the late 1970s Cuttington was transformed into a University College; and in the 2000s, it became Cuttington University.
But Cuttington today is in trouble. Our Bong Correspondent Marcus Malayea reported last Tuesday that 800 Cuttington students are threatened with discontinuance of their education because of lack of tuition.
Two reasons: First, the Liberian government drastically reduced its subsidy to the university. According to Correspondent Malayea, the GOL subsidy to Cuttington from 2009-2011 was US$1.1 million. But this was cut in half, to US$550,000 in 2014, due, they say, to Ebola.
The second problem is that many scholarship donors, especially the Ministry of Education and other GOL institutions, have not been meeting their financial obligations to Cuttington.
This has been going on for quite some time. Remember that in 2009 Cuttington President Dr. Henrique Tokpa prevented some of Cuttington’s top graduating students, including the dux, Dokie Mulbah, from marching. Mulbah, who majored in Chemistry, Physics and Math, was graduating summa cum laude.
The reason: the GOL had not paid their scholarship fees.
Seven years later this woeful situation has NOT changed. The GOL spends its money on many things, but sadly, tragically, Education is not one of them. We know not why. This is one of the reasons our education, by President Ellen Sirleaf’s own admission, is “in a mess.” It is, we now know, far, far more serious than that.
BBC World Service announced last Thursday that several Asian universities are now ranked among the top in the world, with America’s Harvard still being number one. With our two oldest institutions of higher learning wobbling in dire financial straits, when will a Liberian university ever get on that list?
But we should definitely aim for that.
The UL students last week ran to the Capitol Building to appeal to Legislators to help stop the US$4 per credit hour increase. Yet, given its equally or even more serious financial difficulties, the Cuttington administration has increased its tuition by 25%, far higher than what UL is asking.
We appeal to the GOL to make the sacrifice and fulfil its pledges to UL and Cuttington, first by immediately meeting its scholarship obligations; and by restoring its basic subsidies to our two oldest universities.