The UL Administration Must Rethink Its Ban on Student Politics

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The UL Administration’s suspension of student political activity on campuses of the University of Liberia for whatever reasons is, according to observers, more likely than not to engender popular resistance from the student body which could result in a standoff between UL authorities, the Government of Liberia and students of the University of Liberia. This newspaper warns against pursuit of such a policy replete with conflict-inducing potential and must, therefore, be brought to a halt.

The action taken by the UL administration to clamp a lid on student politics at that state-run institution is not anything new in the annals of student politics at the University of Liberia. Several governments in the past have tried it but only with ephemeral success.

This goes back to the reign of Liberia’s longest serving President, William V.S. Tubman. This newspaper recalls that during the late sixties the University of Liberia had become a hotbed of political discussions on the future of the country. This newspaper recalls the experience of young Calvin Cole, then newly elected President of the student body.

Cole’s remarks critical of Government policies under Tubman during a program at the University of Liberia sparked Tubman’s ire and he responded sharply with the expulsion of student Cole from the UL and the banning of political activities on the campus of the University.

Tensions were further heightened by the 1968 treason trial of Ambassador Henry B. Fahnbulleh which was attended daily by students of the UL, some of who, on occasions during the trial, would cheer lawyers defending Fahnbulleh. Government secret agents flooded and swarmed the institution’s campus in search of incriminating evidence of foreign indoctrination. Even doors of the institution were taken down and transported to the headquarters of the National Intelligence Security Service(NISS) for physical examination of graffiti with political under or overtones.

In the seventies, then UL President Advertus Hoff placed a ban on students holding hands on campus. This sparked protest demonstrations, which eventually resulted in the quashing of the ban. By the latter part of the same decade, UL students had by then propelled themselves unto the national stage and immersed themselves fully in the national discourse.

But it also came at a price.

During the decade of oppressive military rule, it was again students of the University of Liberia that stood up and challenged dictatorial rule. And they paid a heavy price; they were jailed, tortured, shot at and several lost their lives at the hands of state security forces. Yet they persisted.

Under Charles Taylor’s bloody, fascist rule, it was yet again students of the University who stood in the vanguard and challenged his dictatorial rule which on one occasion, prompted his notorious remarks: “if your ma ain’t born you good get on the streets” threatening violence against protesting students.

This brief narrative is intended to provide insight to our national leadership on events of the past, which they could use as a guide to action and to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

It is against this backdrop that this newspaper calls on the UL administration as well as the UL Board of Trustees, including the Visitor to the University, President George Manneh Weah to rethink its decision placing a ban on student political activity.

The UL Administration should take into account provisions of the Constitution of Liberia which guarantees the right to free association.

Article 17 says: “All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations.”

Article 15 (a) “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.

(b) The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.

(c) In pursuance of this right, there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries.

(d) Access to state owned media shall not be denied because of any disagreement with or dislike of the ideas express. Denial of such access may be challenged in a court of competent jurisdiction.

(e) This freedom may be limited only by judicial action in proceedings grounded in defamation or invasion of the rights of privacy and publicity or in the commercial aspect of expression in deception, false advertising and copyright infringement

An overriding question which arises is, can the ban be legally enforced given its potential to violate the Constitutional provision of Article 17? Further in the face of deteriorating economic conditions and increasing hardships on the Liberian people, how will the Liberian public countenance violent repressive action by state security forces (Police) against students?

Should such a situation develop, will the military stand down and remain passive onlookers unaffected by difficult economic conditions and hardships people of this country are currently experiencing?

Looking back on April 14, 1979 and the chain of developments unleashed in its aftermath, this newspaper is constrained to warn that the UL Administration is treading a dangerous path, a slippery slope replete with unforeseen and unknown consequences. Movement along this path must therefore either stop or be reversed.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Rethinking suspension of student politics on UL campus isn’t the proverbial elephant in the room; instead, whether authorities should continuously sit supinely when such acitvities become disruptive to teaching and learning, the purpose of a University. As expected, this editorial based its argument on history and recent past: Previous attempts had failed because the I986 constitution guarantees free speech and rights of association.

    Notwithstanding, Chapter 111, Article 11, c), says, “All persons are equal before the law and are therefore entitled to the equal protection of the law”. It hearkens to “the law of equal liberty or the law of equal freedom …, a fundamental precept of classical liberalism” which underpins American constitution, the source of ours. Enlightenment thinker Herbert Spencer, a major proponent, puts it more succintly: “Each has freedom to do all that he wills provided that he infringes not the equal freedom of any other”.

    In other words, the fundamental rights of students shouldn’t ‘infringe’ on others (students or faculty) by being disruptive. Perhaps, we should remove the masks and admit that during times of apprehension for those rights – particularly, under TWP’s One Party State, or PRC’s Military regime, or Taylor’s authoritarianism – the adversarial bent of a radicalized student movement had utility in attracting international outcry. However, for some elites, few politicos, and foreign interests to allegedly invest in students disruption in pursuit of political ends poses security distress.

    It is our well-thought-out professional position that before resumption of students political activities on UL campus, all stakeholders should confer to work out modalities in order to recapture the quietude expected in a citadel of learning. Not every student, by any stretch, wants to be a carbon copy of a Senator Comanny Wisseh, or a Che Guavera, in a postwar fragile country. And those who would hide behind college kids to foment confusion should be ashamed of themselves.

  2. One must never lose sight of the fact that the University of Liberia’s student populace is but a microcosm of the larger Liberian society and what affects the society also affects them. They will of course agitate and campaign for what they stand for. In this they are simply being themselves and not attempting to be carbon copies of Conmany Wesseh or Che Guevera.as is being suggested. Conmany Wesseh had long since left the University of Liberia and was in fact living in Ghana when Doe issued his notorious “Move or be removed” command to General Gray D. Allison ordering him to shoot, kill rape and do whatever to clear the UL campus of protesting students in 1984.

    In that same year UL students were arrested whipped and jailed at the Post Stockade and Bella Yalla.,Did that stop student militancy-No! Did Taylor with all his might and prowess stop student militancy? No of course.A citadel of learning is a place where ideas compete freely and people associate freely. Clamping down on student political activities will not help if government officials continue to exhibit corrupt and predatory behavior and disregard for the rule of law. Great indeed is the security distress caused to society.by corrupt officials which is greater by far than that caused by those students who dare raise their voices against corruption in our country.

    Who therefore needs to hide behind college students to advance their political agenda in this day and age of the internet, social media and above all, the political space and freedoms so thoughtlessly enjoyed today by many but which was achieved by the hard and bitter sacrifice of patriots who placed life and limb second to the national interests. Through their conviction and selfless sacrifice Liberians now enjoy today, freedoms which were only heard of but never tasted of. Those pushing for a clamp down on student political activities should.be warned that they are playing with fire. Government must do and be seen to be doing the right thing or else, it will come in for criticism of the harshest kind.. The seeds of freedom planted by patriots and watered by their blood have sent down deep roots which have weathered many storms and can certainly weather the current storm.

  3. Nobody sacrificed more than our forbears who fought and died yet kept the dream of freedom alive elsewhere. Little wonder, then, that Didhuo Tweh always had a safe haven in Freetown with veterans of a different struggle whenever a dictatorial oligarchy was hunting for his scalp. My parents, whom they escaped with as kids from Sinoe County, returned with grey hairs and grandchildren only for my mother to die in a senseless war because she refused to run again.

    We all have our scars, be they on the body or mind, but they shouldn’t be an excuse to coax commotion and confusion.

    The truth is that other college campuses in Liberia and elsewhere in Africa are also microcosms of a larger society. Frankly, from the fire and fury of the above comment, it would seem a gargantuan load has been placed on the small heads of students, but why? Of course, no one would believe that they are reservists to save Liberian democracy.

  4. My dear brother the UL has indeed come a long way since emerging from the passivity that characterized student life on that campus in preceding years, particularly during Tubman’s imperial presidency.

    As a very high school student in 1966, my late mother and I always rode to school together-she at the UL and I at St Patrick’s. I recall my mother dressing up every Friday in a Lappa suit which was compulsory attire for all female students while males were required to don African gowns or similar garb. UL students at the time accepted this and complied without a whimper of protest.

    During that period pregnant unmarried female students were barred from campus. Open display of affection between male and females was strictly disallowed. Perhaps the nation was, at the time, still reeling from the effects of Tubman’s brutal assault on his political foes during the 1955 elections.

    But all that was to change with the passage of time as students grew increasingly aware of the contradictions in society some of which impinged on their rights guaranteed under the Constitution. I was personally in attendance at a compulsory mass rally of high schools and university students at the ATS in 1968. And the rally was intended to pledge loyalty to President Tubman who had become bestirred by the presence of UL students in the Courtroom during the treason trial of Ambassador Henry Boima Fahnbulleh in 1968..

    UL students have since come a long way particularly under the leadership of SUP. Unlike those who share a belief that a “gargantuan load has been placed on their heads, the students if the UL are continuing a proud legacy inspired by Patriots in the likes of Blyden, Porte, Twe, Bracewell, Coleman, Horace and others including the likes of Irene Nimpson, Tonia Richardson, Wuo Garbie Tappia Peace be to their ashes

    And we also recall the prolonged detennnntionnn of Dusty Wolokolie by the military dictator, the incarceration of James Fromayan. Christian. Herbert, Lucia Massally, Ezekiel Pajibo Ann’s Dempster Yallah at the nnnnotorious prisons. of Belle Yalla and Post Stockade in 1984 and 85. Tiawan Gongloe, tortured and imprisoned by Charles Tayllor.

    Where were the likes of Martin Kollie then? They were most probably in diapers. But here they are today proclaiming and advocating for those same ideals and for which their colleagues paid the ultimate sacrifice. Long after Martin Kollie leaves the UL, there will be yet new leaders who will step in to continue a great legacy.

    True it may be a gargantuan task they have placed on their heads, I remain confident they can bear this “Jah heavy load”

  5. I found this article…similar to this case “https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/354/234.html”

    In 1957 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a plurality opinion by Chief Justice Earl Warren, held in Sweezy’s favor and in so doing authored a ringing endorsement of academic freedom. “The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident. … Scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding, otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.” In recent times, however, this broad statement in support of academic freedom has come under increasing attack, and ironically that attack has come from the liberal side of the political spectrum that the Supreme Court sought to protect in Sweezy.

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