A Rejoinder to "In the Interest of the University"

By Frederick G. Varney

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 27, 2004

I read with interest Mr. Yuoh’s opinionated article [In the Interest of the University dated 24 August 2004 - The Perspective magazine] over the controversial appointment of Dr Al Hassan Conteh as UL president. Following my reading of that article, I mustered the courage to respond in view of the attending impacts that article would have on readers who may not know the subject under discussion. My position on this issue is not about the appointment of Dr Conteh, but it is about the skewing of Dr Kollie’s sacred records of professional service to our society.

Mr. Yuoh claimed in his article that he was not in the business of passing judgment as to who was fit for the job of president of the University of Liberia since both Kollie and Conteh have Ph.Ds, but he could not nurse his feeling by deprecating the former and praising the later for his “managerial skills”. He further lamented the sad state at the Graduate school of Regional Planning, which he attributed to Dr Kollie’s lack of recourse in emulating development attained at the sister graduate school, the Law School of Arthur Grimes.

By the very account of his mea culpa, Mr. Yuoh flagrantly spewed the judgment that he would no longer withhold, perhaps out of his own professional incontinence, by referring to Dr Kollie as one who, in his words, “lacks the required external relationship credentials needed for the presidency of the University at this time”. Adding, “The appointment of Dr. Conteh, therefore, is in the best interest of the University of Liberia, given the options available to the Search Committee”. He did not even mention the options that were given the search committee. And I guess he was not speaking for the “search committee”.

I am still in the infancy stage of fully understanding this word-- “External relationship credentials”. If ever it exists in academia, I do not know of any Liberian who has one. I think if it were the case, I would prefer the opposite - “internal relationship credentials” - the real people skills that CEOs seek. A skill that comes from within the nucleus of a corporate entity is even more revered and tested for success than one that is often superimposed. No wonder ULFA is vehemently opposed to such imposition.

Now, let me tell Mr. Yuoh what I do know about Dr Kollie but certainly would not reach the conclusion that he is better than Dr Hassan Conteh whom I least know. Unlike many of our PhD holders who would quickly run home to fight for ministerial positions following the completion of their studies, Kollie spent nearly all of his adult life in the United States. Spending about thirty unbroken years in the United States, Kollie obtained his academic credentials at the University of Oregon where he also served as professor until he relocated to the North African nation of Libya. Dr Kollie’s going to Libya came as a result of a research work, which the University of Oregon had sent him to conduct at the University of Tripoli. Following that research, Dr. Kollie struck a deal with the University of Tripoli to take a teaching position there. While in Libya, Dr Kollie was convinced by his cousin, Mr. Isaac Randolph, to return to his “own” and render the service he was rendering in Libya, which Dr Kollie has been doing since his return to Liberia.

Dr Kollie is not one of our “job seekers/ politicians” whose only contributions to Liberia are manifested in the ambitions for the Liberian presidency. He is not one of our many educated Liberians who can only be part of a process if they are placed as heads of such a process. He chose teaching as a career, which has earned him a place of honor in the hearts of many Liberians. To suggest otherwise that this man lacks the requisite credentials - “external relationship credential” - is very demeaning to his person.

We all once held the same notion that certain Liberians had exceptional credentials to effect changes at the university. We had the notion that Dr. Seyon would had turned UL into an Ivy League school once he took over the University, but this was not the case when Dr. Seyon was in control. Not even his friend, Dr Sawyer, who put him in control of the University, came to the rescue of the University.

On the question of Kollie’s failure to effect meaningful development at the Regional planning, in the opinion of Mr Yuoh, I think infrastructure development of the nation’s highest institution of learning is the responsibility of the government, and not a poor teacher who barely survives on his meager salary. Unlike regional planning that recently came into existence, the law school is nearly a century old, and has produced many graduates capable of financially contributing to its existence. Most of the alumni rally to the cause of the Law school. One, therefore, cannot attribute the lack of development at Regional planning, which has had fewer graduates, to the inability of a particular individual.

We had a president of the country whose priorities were promiscuities, good times, luxurious cars, and war. How can anyone fail to attribute society mediocrities to such a failed leadership, but choose to blame the poor teacher for the woes of underdevelopment at a particular school?

Mr Yuoh analysis of the current protest over Dr Conteh’s appointment is very sad indeed and perhaps the faultiest analysis I have ever read in intellectual arena. It is biased and psychobabble, to say the least. How dare could anyone be so oblivious of political appointment and its attending factors in Liberian politics, particularly one that emanates from a callow visitor to the University.

The appointment of university president comes from the board of regents or board of trustees in the developed world. However, in Liberia, the president owes everything in the country even the wives of his subordinates. We saw this practice in William Tubman, Sgt. Doe and Charles Taylor regimes, where the president appoints and dismisses anyone at will. The country itself becomes the property of the president. No wonder why everyone seeking that office. The interim president sits and appoints a “search committee” to search for what? A university president outside of Liberia? Are there no competent Liberian in Monrovia now? Where is the board of trustee? This is sad.

Let us see whether manna will fall from America with Dr Conteh being president.

There is a fundamental dichotomy between a teacher and a politician. The former breeds the later, and divorces it, after maturity, on ethical grounds. One aims at molding the minds and the other masters the art of manipulations. This is one reason, perhaps, why Dr. Kollie does not stand up and tell people “read my lips - I hold PhD from the prestigious University of Oregon or I taught at the University of Tripoli, I am consultant at UNDP” - typical of the Liberian flamboyance style.

Similar but unrelated situation occurred at the ministry of finance in Taylor’s regime. A commissioner of customs who was too meekly and straightforward for the status quo became a victim of a concocted scheme. This man could never afford to take a bride; come what may. He is one of the finest Liberians I have ever known, but many rascals found it difficult to work with him. The man could never afford to put his hands in the “cookies jar”. Imagine in Taylor’s government, there was hardly one person of such character. Nothing could make this man falter on ethical and religious grounds. To many of his superior and subordinate officers, he was like a spy on their activities. Since he could not bend at all, some staff, who had strong relation with president Taylor, designed a scheme to whisk him off from their midst. They forged a letter of resignation to the president on his behalf. The president, not realizing what had happened, immediately replaced him the next morning. In such a case, who became the victim, society or the individual? Liberia needs dedicated people who look beyond their individualism - People who dedicate their lives to the service of others and society, such as that commissioner of customs and the likes of Dr Kollie, and not someone whose destiny is tied to a particular position.

I believe our country would have been completely blessed if we had many more types of Dr Kollie. This man has truly dedicated his life to the service his people even at the peril of his life. He has proven this character in time of war and now in time peace. He, like many Liberians of this nationalistic character, deserves our place of honor and respect. As my grand father used to say, “If you don’t like the color of the crawfish, you need to let it remain with its symbolic pigment which is reflective of God’s handiwork rather than pouring palm oil to alter it” This is true. One may not be an admirer of a particular person, but that does not make one to subject that person to factual distortion.

Finally, one thing I can say of this man, Dr Kollie, is that he will never founder in his strives to uphold the noble ideals of the teaching profession. He will not turn his back on the University simply because he is removed from the presidency, as others do. He may not be the flamboyant type, or a politician, but he is well principled and committed to the service of our society.