Liberia: UL Caught in Political Web

It is no secret that the smooth operation of the University of Liberia (UL) is tied to politics on Capitol Hill, specifically, at the Executive Mansion. The state-run university is always under the dictate of the presidency that has always decided who heads that institution.

And so, it didn't come as a surprise last week Thursday, 17 October when news broke late at night that President George Manneh Weah, current Visitor to the University, has dismissed the 14th president and second female to head that institution, Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks, a Neurologist.

Dr. Weeks has been replaced by the former Dean of Students, Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson, Jr., a former head of the department of young adult affairs at the Liberia Annual Conference, United Methodist Church.

But the main issue that drew public concern is that President Weah announced the abrupt change Thursday night just as lecturers at the University were poised to boycott classes on Friday, 18 October in demand of salary arrears owed them by the government, which they did despite appeal by the UL administration. Earlier in the week, public school students had protested here in solidarity with their teachers who staged a go-slow in demand of three months' unpaid salaries.

The dismissal at the UL also came days after ruling Coalition lawmaker, Moses Acarous Gray reportedly called on President Weah to get rid of traitors and haters working against the government's interest without specifically naming anyone. Subsequently, Dr. Weeks is purged from the University.

Early Friday, rumor circulated on the Fendell Campus that lecturers and staff's salaries were in the bank, ready for disbursement though not independently confirmed.

However, this we know for fact; since the inception of the Weah-led government, the University of Liberia had never faced any major financial problem that would cause lecturers to boycott classes for pay except when President Weah drove at the UL main campus on Capitol Hill in 2017, while Dr. Weeks was out of the country and abruptly announced a tuition-freed program for undergraduates, a pronouncement that led many Liberians to question where would the government source funding for such program.

That concern has never been addressed by the Executive, particularly the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. The Liberian Senate had concluded definitively after listening to various stakeholders that the tuition-freed scheme at the University is unsustainable.

Dr. Weeks has been purged as the sacrificial lamb in wake of growing dissent both among students and faculty at the UL just as it is among the entire population over general economic situations across Liberia.

Her successor, Dr. Sarwolo Nelson, would perhaps have to perform magic to keep that institution financially afloat because the reality in the country has not changed and wouldn't change in the short-run.

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