Friday, November 22, 2013 was one of the worst days in the history of the University of Liberia.
Since its creation by President W.V.S. Tubman in 1950, and even its founding as Liberia College by former President J.J. Roberts in 1862, the only day that might be comparable was August 22, 1984. On that day, Head of State Samuel K. Doe dispatched highly doped and murderous soldiers on campus, under the leadership of his Defense Minister Gray D. Allison, to strip naked, brutalize, rape and some reports say even kill students, faculty and staff. This violent assault on the nation’s highest institution of learning was in response to a weeklong demonstration by UL students following the arrest of their Political Science professor, Dr. Amos Sawyer, charging him with a “socialist plot” to destabilize the government.
There were also reports that the soldiers pursued some of the wounded in various hospitals and escorted them to unknown destinations, never again to be seen. But when the Daily Observer invited parents to report their missing children, not a single parent came forward. One highly placed American official, who was here unknown to most people, told the world at the time that if the Daily Observer did not report anyone missing, then it could be concluded that there were none.
Many citizens became afraid for the Daily Observer when the following day we carried photos of several brutalized students and a courageous and forthright editorial, quoting Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Bleed, Bleed, Poor Country: Great Tyranny.” People said we were looking for more trouble with the military government.
That was then. Two Fridays ago it was not a ruthless military dictator that brought the UL into national and international disrepute, but the institution’s own students and faculty. With the tacit backing of the faculty, UL students staged a demonstration on the UL main campus, carrying a coffin and announcing the demise of their vice president for academic affairs, Dr. Wede Brownell. Had she been on campus or at her home on UL’s Fendall campus, which they forcibly entered by breaking down the doors, she might have been killed, just as Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman, then UL president, would have been killed on August 22, 1984, had she been on campus.
The students vandalized Dr. Brownell’s home and committed other acts that cannot be printed here.
Why this violent outburst against this woman? Simply because she was brought in by UL president Emmet Dennis to help clean up the corruption that had for many years become endemic at UL, involving the faculty, staff and students, obliterating whatever standards the school had developed over the years and plunging its reputation to an all time low.
The corruption had begun in the very admissions office, where hardly any student could enter the institution without paying money under the table. President Emmet Dennis himself told the Daily Observer that shortly after taking office, a faculty emissary presented him a brown envelope containing his “share” of the booty (ill-gotten gains) extorted from students wishing to enter the institution.
That the faculty and staff had the temerity to offer the UL president a share of their loot—an academician and scientist who had spent over a quarter century in senior positions at Rutgers, one of America’s leading universities—was a tacit indication of how brazen, endemic and widespread corruption and criminality had become at UL.
The faculty has also long lost interest in building and maintaining an efficient library at UL, because they wanted to continue selling their “pamphlets” to students. No wonder it is commonplace to find UL “graduates” who can neither read nor write.
These were the same faculty that stood solidly behind the students in calling for the dismissal or resignation of Dr. Wede Brownell.
In her defiant press statement last Thursday, she said she would not be resigning, but was rather determined to stay and continue her efforts to clean up the system at UL. She called it a criminal den and urged the Legislature to pass into law a bill to declare academic felony a criminal act.
The Board of Trustees and the Visitor to the University are faced with a very serious crisis. Can they muster the courage to rescue UL from further corruption, criminality and decay?
That remains to be seen.