After some time of suspense to know who would succeed Dr. Emmet A. Dennis following his retirement as President of the University of Liberia (UL), the Board of Trustees finally announced last Thursday that Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks, an outstanding Neuroscientist, has been named as the new UL President.
Interestingly, Dr. Weeks’ profile shows that she has been serving as UL’s Vice President for Academic Affairs, succeeding Dr. F. Momolu Gataweh. It is interesting to note that Dr. Weeks has lived on the UL and other university campuses throughout her life, something that assures anyone that she is thoroughly grounded in academia.
It is evident that Dr. Weeks has a personality of conscientiousness—the tendency to be careful, scrupulous and self-disciplined. When she returned from the United States and took over as Dean of the Science and Technology College, it was difficult for many students and even faculty members to know her because of the kind of person she is. Dr. Weeks in 2014 admitted that she is not interested in making political or public statements. She would rather always be totally committed to thinking of how to solve scientific problems. With this principle and personality trait, we do not expect much to be heard from the new UL President as to where she intends to take the university in years to come. Her achievement will come through deeds—hard work, not words. Nevertheless, the acceptance speech of one appointed to such a lofty position may give the Liberian public and the world an idea of where she intends to lead the UL, its faculty, students and staff in the years ahead—what will be the UL’s role in society under her leadership?
Let us reflect on a few of the successes of her predecessor, Dr. Emmet A. Dennis. When he took over in 2009, Dr. Dennis introduced a system that called for two graduations yearly in order not to waste too much of the students’ time. This did not succeed because the students were sentimentally attracted to a December graduation.
Secondly, the Dennis Administration brought in a staff development plan which enabled many UL staff members, probably over 60, to travel abroad for their Master’s and Doctorate degrees. This has brought to an end first degree holders teaching and preparing other students pursuing their first degree. He also brought an improvement in staff salaries and reduced the students’ violent street protests. There are reports that some of the laboratories at the Fendell campus have received new equipment.
There has also been put into place serious monitoring to track instructors who were in the habit of extorting money from students for grades. This has worked well, especially in Teacher’s College and the Department of Mass Communication, where there has been absolutely no report of bribes in recent years. Bribing entrance examiners to pass is no longer a financial burden for incoming students, as this practice has been discontinued, hopefully for good. The Dennis Administration also evicted illegal squatters from the Fendell property and put an end to illicit sex and drug abuse that were taking place on that campus.
However, there remain many challenges facing UL that need to be addressed. The systemic corruption in the Electronic Data Process department and the Business and Finance Office (BFO), where duplicated UL receipts are reportedly issued students that bypass the registration process, is a serious problem. Students have from time to time demonstrated against increment in the US$4 credit hour fee, on ground that the increment does not bring with it improved facilities. For example, the library lacks updated textbooks, the campus has no Internet facility, while structures, including the Academic and Science buildings, remain unpainted since the 1980s, etc. There are also other administrative issues, one of which is employment status for part-time instructors. The UL registration process can be very chaotic and irritating, as only two branches of Ecobank are usually opened for over 25,000 students.
Meanwhile, on two occasions Dr. Weeks, herself a serious, lifelong scientist, has spoken of the need for students to prioritize the sciences, with specific reference to Information and Communication Technology (ICT). How does Dr. Weeks intend to attract more students to the sciences? All stakeholders of the University of Liberia and the general public, most especially her students, are hopeful that given her immense wealth of experience that she brings, Dr. Weeks will help UL to put out more highly qualified scientists each year.
And speaking of science, it is hoped that Dr. Weeks, who has herself done extensive teaching in the UL’s A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine, is familiar with the very serious difficulties facing that college, including adequate teaching staff and facilities, medical library and improved dormitories, and will swiftly address these problems at the nation’s only first degree medical college. She is also expected to help the Liberian College of Physicians and Surgeons to accelerate its postgraduate College of Medicine, and help find its own campus.
Welcome aboard, Dr. Weeks! We wish you Godspeed as you face these and other challenges facing Liberia’s leading institution of higher learning.