UL Crisis Deepens

Riot police in Monrovia fired tear gas at protesting students of the University of Liberia who have earlier blocked the main street in demand for instructors to return to classes.

-- As Police tear gas and arrest protesting students

-The recent crisis at the University of Liberia concerning strike action by instructors and lecturers for better pay and improvement in working conditions appears not to be treading on the path of resolution but exacerbating.

As the faculty began their go-slow action on September 20, following a resolution last week, students of the university equally began a street protest, calling on the university’s authority to immediately address the concerns of their instructors in order to return to class to teach them (students).

As they usually do, the students took to the main road at Foreign Ministry and set roadblocks, preventing vehicles from plying that route.  All of the vehicles heading to central Monrovia yesterday were compelled to use the Jallah Town route to get to Capitol Bypass, a situation that caused traffic congestion and consequently got people to reach their destinations late.

But as the students blocked the road and impeded others’ right to use it, the Liberia National Police (LNP) wasted no time moving against them, on an order from the higher authority. They fired tear gas on the protesting students and dispersed them while some were reportedly arrested.

Helove Mark, Chairman of the campus based Progressive Students Alliance (PROSA) of the UL, said his student political party has joined ranks with the Student Unification Party (SUP) and all other campus based student political parties to compel government, through ceaseless protests, to do what is right.

“The President of the University of Liberia is more loyal to the President of the Republic than the cause of the institution he serves. We are no longer comfortable listening to sugar-coated words. We want actions that can help change bad situations on campus,” he said.

Unlike other past demonstrations that are led and held by a single campus based political group, yesterday’s  protest saw all of the campus based student political parties amalgamating forces with a single goal calling on the government and the university’s authority to address the situation at hand.

Moustapha Kermal Kanneh, Secretary General of the Student Unification Party (SUP), in addition to PROSA and other campus based political parties, said they have had enough of the challenges but with no redress coming for any of them.

“The free tuition campaign launched by President George Weah is a political game. We want to let him know that his effort is yielding no better result. In fact, it is creating more problems than ever before,” Kanneh said.

Besides concerns of the faculty, the students had said earlier that they were going to stage a series of demonstrations to bring the deplorable conditions of the university to the attention of the government for redress.

The students had said that classes were going to be suspended for three months to get the university’s authority to paint the buildings on the campus and improve the toilet facilities.  Additionally, they said they were demanding the UL authority to bring a stable internet on the campus and improve the laboratories using fees generated from entrance examination and other sources.

Justin W. Jallah Jr., co-chairperson on the Intellectual Discourse Committee of Student Alliance, also said the learning environment at UL is unacceptable.

“We are still moving around with chairs in our hands from one classroom to another. The buildings are leaking and not repaired. We are living in the 21st century as though we are in the colonial era,” Jallah lamented. “The last budget before Weah took office was US$19.5 million. Today, it has fallen to US$16 million. Lecturers are hardly getting their salaries and benefits. You cannot continue to mislead us. This is not the pro-poor we wished for.”

He said education is not about quantity but quality and as such, the Weah led government should stop reducing the budget of the University of Liberia. To the Legislature that appropriates budgets for various socio-economic activities in the country, student Jallah said, “They don’t care because their children are abroad learning. Some of them have their children attending expensive private universities. This is why they are treating us like experimental Guinea pigs. But we reject their draconian actions and we will not rest until the right things are done.”

It is not clear how many students were arrested, but the student leaders said until the Police release their colleagues and government acts to contain the prevailing situations on the campuses of the UL, they will continue to protest. Meanwhile, the President of the University of Liberia, Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson, said the students’ concerns are genuine but they should be patient and wait on the government to respond.

He frowned on the continuous protests by students and appealed that they should calm down and wait on the administration to find a way forward to the problems that are confronting all of them.