Liberia: Making Sense of President Weah's Abrupt Dismissal of UL Prexy Weeks

opinion

President Weah's sudden and abrupt dismissal of UL President Dr. Ophelia Weeks, followed almost immediately by the appointment of Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson as her replacement, has once again drawn into the spotlight, the quality of President Weah's decision making. It speaks to the very poor and shoddy advice being offered to President Weah, a virtual novice to politics and governance.

The unanswered question lingering on the minds of the public is just what warranted or warrants Dr. Weeks abrupt dismissal. To the best of information available to this newspaper, Dr. Weeks was not under sanctions by the UL Board of Trustees. Inquiries by this newspaper into reasons why she may have been dismissed yielded nothing tangible that one could point to.

It is instead being speculated in some quarters that her dismissal is due in part to her ethnicity (Congo/Americo -Liberian) and her relationship to former CBL Governor Milton Weeks, but more in part to widely purveyed allegations by top ranked CDC officials that non partisans holding positions in government are responsible for the country's political and economic malaise.

But what those who old such views fail to understand is that the University of Liberia is an autonomous agency whose head should be appointed through a transparent vetting process. The President of Liberia as Visitor to the University is an ex-officio member of the UL Board of Trustees and he holds the power as titular head of the Institution to appoint its President in keeping with established policies and guidelines for selection of the institution's head.

If, however, the dismissal of Dr. Weeks was for reasons linked to the decision by UL faculty and staff to abandon classes until their wages had been paid, then this newspaper can say without fear of contradiction that Dr. Weeks is simply being scapegoated because there is not an iota of evidence available to suggest that she is directly responsible for UL faculty and staff going unpaid for months.

More to this, the UL Board of Trustees cannot justifiably claim to have been unaware that salaries of faculty and staff were in arrears for several months. Additionally, it is an open secret that the University of Liberia is severely underfunded and, as a result, learning standards have declined as compared to past years, particularly during the seventies and eighties when the student population began to explode.

Currently, the University of Liberia, unlike other universities around the world, lacks an effective research and development (RAND) program. Only recently was a department of research created and its head appointed. Additionally, the UL faces a chronic shortage or lack of teaching materials including textbooks. Classes are generally overcrowded and most students rely on flyers or mimeographed texts for use as textbooks. Even sitting is a problem due to the lack of adequate chairs, desks, etc.

Indeed, the challenges facing the University of Liberia and other public universities are challenges that face us all as a nation, especially considering the fact that the UL population constitutes a microcosm of the larger Liberian society and, for this reason, greater attention and support should be provided to enable and enhance the University's ability to achieve its objectives.

In this regard, the President of the University of Liberia should, under the circumstances, be someone with the knack and creative ability to raise funds to support education at the University of Liberia. But more importantly, and aside from the ability to raise funds, the chosen individual must be a visionary capable of leading the University of Liberia's renaissance. This is why it is important to lay down or follow clearly rules and policies for the selection of the UL leadership and its required conduct while in office.

And it is against this backdrop, that this newspaper has expressed very strong concern at the manner in which Dr. Weeks was summarily dismissed. We recall the situation involving the summary dismissal by President Weah of the head of the secretariat of the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI) and his replacement by a former legislator in which the President was forced to backtrack or face the country's expulsion from the global body.

While the case of Dr. Weeks' dismissal may be a long shot from the LEITI case, yet the principles of transparency apply just the same. At the time of Dr. Weeks' dismissal, the nation was unaware of any search underway at the time for a new UL president. Neither was the nation made privy to reasons for her dismissal, nor were reasons for her dismissal publicly disclosed or whether she was granted due process at all.

However, this by no means suggest that the President of Liberia does not have the power to dismiss the President of the University of Liberia. He has but for cause. Also, the President has the obligation to adhere to established principles and policies governing the conduct of the University of Liberia's affairs. The University should be a secure environment, free of political manipulation and interference in order to encourage a free and unfettered exchange of ideas.

Dr. Weeks, having previously served as Dean of the Thomas J.R. Faulkner College of Technology, had also previously taught courses in neuroanatomy at the A.M. Dogliotti School of Medicine since 2006 when she first sought engagement with the University of Liberia and then becoming a full time faculty member in 2012. She became the second female to head the University of Liberia, the first being the distinguished Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman.

Clearly, from all indications, it is not the lack of competence for which Dr. Weeks was dismissed. This newspaper has yet to see any iota of evidence suggesting that Dr. Weeks had proved incompetent and unfit for the job. Neither is this newspaper inclined to feed on asinine claims of her having come from a privileged background. We all come from various backgrounds and it is the richness of this diversity which should be celebrated, encouraged and not undermined by bogus pretensions to non-existent ethnic or indigenous purity.

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