Many Liberians who attended American universities in the 1960s remember the academic threat that reverberated throughout academia there.
The threat embodied only three words: “Publish or perish.” But many saw it not simply as a threat but a rallying call to the leaders of academia—college professors and instructors—to set a critical and wholesome example to their students and the entire academic community by engaging in scholarly research and publishing books to enlighten and elevate the college and university community, and the society at large.
Harbel Community College President Dr. Syrulwa Soma was probably not yet born when this challenge was thrown to American academia. But that is exactly what he told his faculty at HARCO last week.
Our young reporter, David Menjor, captured the essence of Dr. Soma’s remarks during Harbel College’s formal opening. Reporter Menjor needs to return to Harbel, interview Dr. Soma and look deeply into his background to determine what inspired him to think ‘out of the box’ in the preparation of his remarks last week. For the young community college president could have gotten up there, in the presence of Deputy Education Minister Romelle Horton, and simply thanked President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for his preferment, then pledged that he would work hard “to justify the confidence reposed in me.”
But he went much further to throw out a serious challenge to his faculty: Publish or perish! In other words, if, within a few years, you can’t do research and write a book, consider yourself out of a job on this campus.
That threat, or challenge, was strong enough to send shivers down the spines of HARCO faculty members. But we hope it did not. We trust that the HARCO faculty accepted it for what it indeed was—a challenge to do research and start writing books.
For example, how many students in the Firestone educational system know the real meaning of Harbel?
Well, Harbel is simply a combination of two names—Harvey, founder of Firestone Plantation, and Annabel, his wife. The first syllable of his name—Har—was added to the third of his wife’s—bel—Harbel.
When teachers become conscientious, disciplined and patriotic enough to research, write and publish books, they inspire their students to do the same. This is very important, for we all know that Liberians do not like to write. That is why most of what passes as Liberian history has been written by foreigners, a majority of them white people, but also some black Americans and Europeans.
In his Commencement Address at the University of Liberia (UL) in 1982, Sierra Leone’s Dr. Edward W. Blyden III, grandson of the eminent Liberian scholar, Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden, challenged Liberians to “Go write your history.” It has been over three decades since that address, but how many of us have written books on anything, even our history?
Two years ago, the Governance Commission, under the leadership of the noted Liberian scholar and politician, Dr. Amos Sawyer, launched the Liberian History Project. Dr. Sawyer was Dean of the UL’s Liberia College when Dr. Blyden spoke in 1982. But what has become of that Project, which was headed by another Liberian historian, Dr. William Allen? Like so many other Liberian dreams and aspirations, has the History Project died a natural death because of “no money?”
Just think of how a little of the considerable financial resources once held by the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and the Liberia Maritime Authority (LMA) could have been allocated to the History Project. Alas! The question may be asked, what happened to these resources? These are questions that MUST one day be answered.
Another question: What is national leadership for if not to harness the nation’s resources for the overall good of the nation?
We fervently hope that HARCO’s faculty will heed and take seriously Dr. Soma’s challenge and go do the research, write and publish! We also hope that the Firestone administration will help provide funding to make this dream a reality.
If this happens, hopefully within the next few years, it will compel the faculties of Liberia’s two leading institutions of higher learning, the UL and Cuttington University, whose faculty members, with a few exceptions, are too inept or lazy to write books—or even extensive articles—about anything, not even the history of their institutions.