Monrovia — Holding no punches and vowing not to back down from her detractors and accusers, Dr. Wede Elliott-Brownell, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of the University of Liberia says no amount of intimidation tactics by forces she describes as 'Criminals' at the University, determined to ruin the institution of higher learning will deter her from ending a "business-as-usual' environment at the university.
Making her first reaction to the controversy which has led to the temporary shutdown of the university at Thursday, Dr. Brownell told reporters at the Terra Cotta Restaurant that she is determined to clean-up the mess despite strong opposition from 'Criminals'.
Winning the 'Corruption war' at UL
Said Dr. Brownell: "The University of Liberia has begun to win the war against academic malfeasance and corruption at our flagship institution. This is evidenced by the results of the 2013 UL Entrance Examinations where the seriousness of the "Education Mess" was revealed to the entire nation and the world. No one was able to enrich him/herself at the expense of our students by selling admittance slots which is an open secret in Liberia. The examinations were protected by my Office to ensure that there were no leaks, bribery, or "business as usual".
The University's troubles began last month when the faculty decided to stop teaching until Brownell resigns. In a letter to the university's president, Emmett Dennis, the faculty association said the school has experienced a drastic decline in academic standards since Brownell's appointment. The faculty also claimed that inconsistencies in Dr. Brownell's reform policy have led to "unnecessary" student failures and overcrowded classrooms.
Faculty Demanding Resignation
Clifford Young, president of the University Faculty Association said at the time that Dr. Brownell does not have the relevant experience to be the Vice President for Academic Affairs. "The faculty met on this 20th day of November AD 2013 to discuss matters relating to the bfackward trend the University of Liberia has taken based on the fact that, since the appointment of the Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Provost, Dr. Wede Elliott Brownell, the university has declined immensely. She lacks the experience [and] the qualifications to head the Vice President for Academic Affairs position," he said.
The faculty's assault came shortly after students protested Brownell's resignation, suggesting that Dr. Brownell's reform policies impacted negatively on student performance.
The students cited "inefficiency" in administering class schedules which they said has led to courses being scheduled on the same day and the same time during regular test and exam periods.
On Thursday, Dr. Brownell fired back, providing clarity over the controversy surrounding why nearly all the students who took the 2013 UL entrance examination failed.
Said Dr. Brownell: "No candidate made the required threshold set by the Faculty Senate of the minimum scores of 50% in Math and 70% in English. There were 316 students who attained 50% and above in Math but they did not make the required minimum score of 70% in English. After a review of the results, the Faculty Senate changed the threshold to the minimum scores of 40% in Math or 50% in English which resulted in 1,681 freshmen for 2013-14."
'Don't Scare Easily'
Dr. Brownell said the University is currently at a turning point and this was not the time to retreat. "We can either retreat, go back to mediocrity - producing graduates who can hardly read or write - or we can surge forward and produce the needed qualified manpower to meet Liberia's socio-economic development agenda. The choice is obvious; there will be no turning back in spite of the difficulties, challenges, and stringent opposition. We will continue the efforts of building a university that will be second to none in the region and will take its place in the world community of institutions of higher learning. We are on the path of academic excellence and there is no turning back!"
Taking a swipe at those she described as "Criminals", Dr. Brownell lamented: "They insist on continuing in academic malfeasance, corruption and other clandestine activities; they resist vehemently any change that will upset their surreptitious ventures. But we will clean up the "education mess" and no amount of threat, intimidation, or loud noise will deter us. Desperation is beginning to set in; these criminals and cowards are turning to intimidation and scare tactics. They send thugs with cutlasses to my home to intimidate me. I do not scare easily."
Gender Politics in Play
Dr. Brownell averred that she strongly believes that had it been a man holding this position of Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, there would not have been such intense violence and intimidation exhibited on Friday, November 22, 2013.
The embattled Provost named what she described as academic malfeasance activities taking place at the university which many of those unwilling to embrace change are trying to prevent by undermining her reform drive.
Full-Time Jobs; Part--Time Professors
According to Dr. Brownell, some faculty are engaging in dual full-time employment meaning they are holding down full-time jobs elsewhere and sending persons (usually unqualified) to teach in their stead without any approval from the deans and chairpersons - at least 25% of the full-time faculty fall in this category. "This makes it difficult to build an academic environment of research and foster scholarly interactions among the faculty and external collaborators, improve students' grasp of the subject matter since there is hardly any interaction between the students and faculty after class. The faculty members involved vehemently resist any change to this arrangement of dual full-time employment; the University of Liberia is not a part-time university," Dr. Brownell lamented.
The Provost also stated that some faculty members are receiving salaries without working and several persons were found on the payroll receiving full-time salaries without ever stepping into the classrooms; some of them have made full restitution to the University. "You teach, I chop" - A chairperson hiring adjunct faculty with the expressed understanding that the adjunct faculty will give some of his/her compensation as kickback."
'Fake Grades System'
The Provost also took a stab at faculty members change of grade. "Most times grades were changed by the faculty without any documented evidence. There is a new policy in place for changing of grades by a faculty which includes providing a grade book to show grades earned by the student, work done to remedy deficiency, and a syllabus. Some faculty complained that this process is too tedious, but no alternatives have been presented."
The Provost also averred that It was discovered that grades are changed at EDP illegally and that she is in the process of developing a system to ensure limited access to grades input and change. "The system will also trace any grade change to a particular individual," she noted.
Continued Dr. Brownell: "Students have graduated from UL without sitting in a classroom: fake grade sheets have been prepared for candidates for graduation by EDP; last year a degree was revoked."
The Provost also frowned on illegal entry at the university, declaring that it is an open secret in Liberia that all you need to enter UL is to have the appropriate amount of money. "You will pass the entrance after sitting or better yet just go through the back door at the Office of Enrollment Management."
Dismantling 'Criminal Enterprise'
Dr. Brownell said the criminal enterprise at the University is being dismantled bit by bit and those involved are fighting back with the only weapons they know - cowardice, intimidation, using students to create disturbances, and loud noises. But the process will continue until these criminals exit the University of Liberia. "The administration and evaluation of the 2013 UL Entrance Examinations dealt these gangsters a tremendous blow and angered them. They will not stand for a repeat in 2014. They did not have the opportunity to exploit our children and they will marshal all their forces to try to get me out, but I am not going anywhere. I will stand and fight back."
Defending her work, Dr. Brownell listed a number of positive changes taking place at the University which includes upgrading the profile of the faculty (40 plus teaching assistants are pursing advanced degrees at various institutions of higher learning all over the world), admitting qualified students, initiating a research agenda, the hiring of a library guru to assess and update UL libraries, developing an IT department, curricula transformation for almost all disciplines, among others.
"I equate the processes (e.g. sticking to registration and exam schedules, requiring a syllabus for each course offered, holding professors accountable, etc) taking place at UL to a mother raising her children. When discipline is meted out by a mother, the children consider it hard and cruel, but after they are grown, they look back and are grateful for the discipline instilled in them. So, I am not deterred.
I implore the Legislature to enact specific laws which will fall under the category of, and I use the term loosely, Academic Felony for "educators" who are determine on destroying the future of Liberia by destroying the minds of our young people."
Dr. Brownell held out hope for a cordial working relationship with the faculty, suggesting that the Faculty, Students, and Administration can all work together to improve standards at the University of Liberia, describing it as a "collective process".
The university remains closed.