Last Friday and a portion of this week have recorded another protest at the state-run University of Liberia (UL) and the nation’s leading institution of higher learning. The UL is supposed to be a place of refinement, training Liberians to drive the country to a better and brighter future.
The UL was formerly Liberia College until 1951 when President W.V.S. Tubman transformed it into the University of Liberia. This is the school that since 1862 has trained most Liberian leaders.
Just think of the legal and other professional luminaries that over a century walked through its hallowed walls. They included so many of Liberia’s Presidents, including Arthur Barclay, Edwin J. Barclay, William R. Tolbert, Jr. and Samuel K. Doe, Vice Presidents, including H. Too Wesley, Secretaries of State and of the Treasury and other Cabinet members, so many Chief Justices, including Louis Arthur Grimes and H. Nemle Russell, Attorney Generals, including Nete Sie Brownell and C. Abayomi Cassell, even the first African woman to head a university, Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman; Dr. Rocheforte L. Weeks, the longest serving UL president, M. Kronyah Weefur, the renowned principal of the Booker Washington Institute (BWI) and musical luminary Agnes Nebo von Ballmoos.
But today’s UL students have turned into a bunch of belligerent beings, bent on causing widespread disturbance in Monrovia and elsewhere. Last Friday they barricaded the entrances to not only UL itself but the seat of the Liberian presidency, the Foreign Ministry, and even the Legislative and Judicial branches of government, stopping not only Legislators but also the Chief Justice of Liberia and other judicial officials and lawyers from accessing the Temple of Justice.
As reported in the Daily Observer and other local dailies, today’s belligerent students on last Friday, also blocked the Monrovia-Kakata Highway where the UL’s Fendell campus is located.
This protest denied thousands of people their constitutional right to free movement while some traveling abroad found it impossible catching their flights.
Why? First, the UL students insisted that registration remains in progress until they all get registered. Most of them, especially those on the UL Student Union (ULSU) financial aid, usually insist that registration continues throughout the semester without a deadline because their “scholarship” listing kicks in at the end of the semester.
The other contention is that UL had received fees from some students without registering them in the system; thereby denying them their semester academic results. Based on this, they are insisting that the registration process that had already ended be reopened, to enable them to complete their registration.
They accuse UL president Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks of being unwilling to adhere to their demands, while Dr. J. Sawolo Nelson is accused of corruption. Some students who graduated last December say under Dr. Nelson’s watch, they could not receive some of the academic materials they had paid for.
The involvement of national government in the UL crisis is essential for two reasons: First and foremost is the fact that the government is allotting huge budget to the UL from taxpayers’ money. This is done to support quality education for Liberians in compliance with their right to education. Instead of meeting this goal in the appropriate way, the UL campus is always a ground of hooliganism, where academic activities are hindered every semester.
Secondly, reports of rampant corruption at the University of Liberia need to be thoroughly investigated and appropriate actions taken to root it out.
A highly placed UL administrator has told the Daily Observer that there are old guys in this institution who have established a financial cartel to generate excess money from students for personal enrichment. One major source of this cartel is the Electronic Data Processing (EDP), where workers there deliberately delay the registration process so that time will go against them to pay excess money.
Previously the Department of Enrollment had the problem whereby students applying for admission would be charged extra amounts before passing the entrance examination.
This is an institution that should be preparing people to uphold the values of the society for the betterment of all. If corrupt practices are taught there, it is essential that the Government of Liberia investigates the matter and orders an immediate and comprehensive audit.
We understand that President George Weah has ordered that registration at UL continues. That, we submit, Mr. President, is not the answer to this problem that recurs every year, causing havoc in the capital and beyond.
We think the President should work with UL President, Dr. Ophelia Weeks and members of her team as well as the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and others to get to the bottom of this annually recurring problem.
The government owes it to the future of our country to find a permanent solution to this problem.
Otherwise, when will the UL ever again be able to turn out such academic and professional luminaries as mentioned earlier in this Editorial?