What's Happening at the University of Liberia?
By Dehpue Y. Zuo
September 23, 2002
I was not too surprise when a friend called me from Monrovia the other day and told me that in spite of the present high rate of unemployment, soaring salary arrears due civil servants and severe poverty levels in Liberia, authorities at the state university, the University of Liberia, have decided to hike tuition fees to a whopping US$40.00 or 2,800.00 Liberian Dollars per semester across the board (a fee equivalent to nearly four months of the average civil servant's salary at L$800 per month). And the reason given for insensitive tuition hike is 'cost sharing method', an ill-defined and unexplained "accounting method" introduced by university president Dr. Ben Roberts sometime ago.
During the conversation, I could sense how frustrated my friend was with news of the tuition hike so I was forced to switch the conversation to other issues of mutual interest so as not to mentally torture my comrade about the learning environment he now finds himself. I could just imagine his potential and ambition for learning are being undermined gradually by lack of political will for education by the government of President Charles Taylor. Here, I know I could be taken to task by some government supporters for using "lack of political will" to describe the state of public education in Liberia today, but I stand to be proven wrong by anyone who has followed events at the University of Liberia and the Ministry of Education in Monrovia since the seating of the NPP-led government.
However, after the conversation with my colleague, many questions lingered on my mind about the University especially the poor suffering students. If at present, many students cannot afford to pay the L$25.00 per credit because of economic hardship, then why increase tuition without critically looking at the prevailing situation? While it is true that the L$25.00 per credit is unrealistic to run the school, on the other hand, the US$40.00 is unreasonable. Where will these students get US$40.00, especially when room leakages in this September month and the landlords' arrears are getting them hypertensive? How many of them will afford to pay tuition with "Gold Dust" when they are not ATUs, NGOs and UN workers to make United States Dollars? How many of them can visit Western Union for 10 digits (money transfer control number)? How many of them have parents or relatives employed with Firestone or LAC to make little US to buy with a bag of rice? How many of them are gainfully employed in the private sector? Majority of these students are jobless and the few who are civil servants are making less than US$20.00 per month. Even at that, they are owed about 10 or more months in salary arrears. And it is this very condition that has caused many UL students to bear another name 'BETTER DAYS AHEAD' by Monrovia girls.
Moreover, how is the government discharging its responsibility under the Act creating the University requiring government's 80% support? We know that the government is constrained by war in the country but has the government ever given her 80% support to the University since Taylor's inauguration in 1997? Has the government surrendered the OTC taxes promised? Has the government made current the Research Allowance promised the poor professors? What has the government done to make the University run two effective semesters per year? If she has reneged on her responsibility and now "sharing cost" with poor students, then where is the NPP manifesto?
It is disheartening to see the generation that had every learning opportunity to subject another potential and charismatic generation to frustration in their academic sojourn. Why would Dr. Ben Roberts, who benefited from UL dormitory nourishments, concoct schemes with the University Board and Visitor to subvert the education process of the younger generation?
Why has the government abandoned public institutions and continue to support private institutions? The Cuttington University students were provided buses for evacuation and provided accommodation during recent Gbarnga attack while BWI students and instructors were starving in displaced camp. The Tubman National Institute of Medical Arts (TNIMA) closed for almost a year while government was making donations to private institutions. The powerful Tubman High's instructors are gapping at "95 rate" while the president is giving JJ Roberts school bus. I am not against these institutions but government subsidies must be appropriated to benefit all and not few. The University is like a rich man's wife who goes out begging neighbors while neighbors come to her husband for food.
In December 2001, the government paid for a month research allowance and two months salary arrears to the professors for them to submit grades for graduation and promised to pay the balance after the convocation. After the program, the balance salary arrears became a controversy between UL and the Ministry of Finance but President Taylor earnestly appealed for resumption of duties and promised to make current the Research Allowance during the semester. These distinguished professors became victims of "sanction and war strangulation" right after resumption of classes while government officials and their concubines are riding US$35,000.00 cars with potable generators in their residence. They in fact refused to administer final exams for the previous semester because of 9 months salary arrears, which was compromised later for the sake of the students. If the government that's having car models' contest can't pay salary arrears, why should Dr. Robert s sacrifice the downtrodden peasants?
In other developing countries, the government policies are debated and reviewed by university professors and scholars to identify problems and make recommendations. Even in the Great United States, professors and students are researching and debating the war with Iraq and the impact on the Americans. Conversely, the University of Liberia students and professors are being considered anti-government because of their analytical views. It is unfortunate to note that President Taylor and the generation that are suffocating the youths of Liberia to divert their plans were opportuned to benefit from the resources of Liberia over the years and are currently using the knowledge against themselves and the younger generation.
In order to execute this concocted plan against the student populace without opposition, Dr. Roberts suspended the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU) leadership that are now languishing in exile for fear of their lives and subsequently, he refused to restore political sanity on the UL campus to enable him to succeed in administering his despotic policies. To date, the students are like snake without head. It is about time that UL students irrespective of their political differences march against their foe for social justice and academic freedom as enshrined in the ULSU Student Constitution.
To me, it is not surprising for the Taylor Administration to increase tuition for students to drop from the University of Liberia, because his followers believe that educated people are troublemakers. Let Dr. Roberts and the Visitor know that Liberia needs men of knowledge and wisdom that's why this generation continue to accept every condition in order to make Liberia a better place for all. It is our dream to return and contribute to the reconstruction on our war-torn country, which cannot be built by the illiterates but the educated men.
My passion for education had me subjected to many unbearable conditions in Liberia for 12 years, the period whose accounts posterity will read about and wondered how we survived. One day, Liberia will rise and boast of men of knowledge and wisdom. LET THE CHILDREN LIVE!