Liberia: Revisiting the UL Trustee Board's '4G' Confirmation of New Prexy, Dr. Julius Sawolo Nelson

The announcement by the University of Liberia Board of Trustees unanimously endorsing the nomination of Dr. Julius Sawolo Nelson with "4G speed" is raising eyebrows in the public all for the wrong reasons, firstly because of the haste with which Dr. Nelson's nomination was approved. Secondly, it is because the appointment was not done on a competitive basis as should have been the case.

Normally when a vacancy does occur in the UL leadership, a search committee is constituted to review and vet applicants for the post. Then a shortlist of qualified and competent candidates is prepared in descending order of preference and submitted to the Board for approval and subsequent submission to the Visitor of the University, who is the President of Liberia, for appointment. The fact that this important process was sidestepped by the UL Board raises questions about the integrity of its decision.

Moreover, it appears Dr. Nelson's appointment was done without consideration of the fact that the three top posts (President and two vice Presidents) at the University of Liberia are occupied by individuals hailing from virtually the same county and ethnic group.

Granted, Dr. Sawolo Nelson has served the University of Liberia for years, did that obviate the need for adherence to established selection procedures and processes? And just why was the Board insensitive to issues of ethnicity, especially in view of such a polarized environment, is perplexing given the caliber of individuals comprising the UL Board.

If the UL Board of Trustees can compromise standards, set policies and procedures and set aside those requirements for political expediency, then the future of academic freedom and excellence at the nation's largest institution of higher learning appears uncertain.

Judging from the past, under the dictatorial rule of President Samuel Doe, University professors perceived to have held or have expressed critical opinion about the government were summarily dismissed, while others were imprisoned. The 1984 armed assault on university students led by then Defense Minister Gray D. Allison sealed the fate of academic freedom and signaled its demise.

Given current growing levels of official intolerance to opposing and divergent opinion, there are strong reasons to believe that academic freedom at the University of Liberia may become ill-fated, taking into consideration several previous unsuccessful attempts by University authorities to ban student politics on the various campuses of the University of Liberia.

Currently, the University of Liberia is confronted by a plethora of problems stemming mainly from severe underfunding and it has generated a host of related problems. A recent threat by University lecturers to boycott classes for unpaid salaries was averted at the eleventh hour by government, which provided some cash to ease the situation.

According to sources, former UL President Dr. Ophelia Weeks was wrongly blamed for this situation, which some believe was orchestrated in order to demonize Weeks and have her replaced by President Weah's kinsman whose nomination the UL Board was approved even before 40 gods put together could skin a flea.

The Daily Observer is reliably informed that Dr. Julius Sawolo Nelson, who is also a Methodist pastor, had once before vigorously campaigned to become Bishop of the United Methodist Church and, according to sources, for unknown reasons failed miserably. Efforts by the Daily Observer to confirm whether Dr. Nelson had ever before been shortlisted as a candidate for the post of UL president has proved futile so far.

However, this newspaper remains interested in uncovering whatever facts or available information because such would help speak to his competence and ability to lead the University through these challenging times of its existence. Further, the UL Board of Trustees should speak to this also, out of its duty to remain answerable to the public.

After all, the University of Liberia is a public institution and its governors are accountable to the people of Liberia. UL Board members should be reminded that theirs is not an exclusive preserve or privilege. They have a duty and obligation at all times to act in the best interests of the institution.

When they give their blessings to flawed selection procedures, processes and the circumventing of established policies by even the Visitor to the University, they are not serving the best interests of the University of Liberia, neither that of the nation. Lest they forget, they ought to be reminded that they bear a sacred trust which they cannot just trash or violate at their whims and caprices or those of others.

Out of the blue, Dr. Weeks was sacked for no apparent reason and without a whimper of protest from the Board about her dismissal without its mandate. And the speed with which Dr. Nelson's nomination was approved, absent established processes and procedures, was non transparent and it undermines whatever claims or pretensions to integrity Board members may claim to have.

It is indeed unconscionable that men and women of respect and integrity would surrender their authority and make compromises that would prejudice the national interest. It is indeed in the national interest for the University of Liberia to become a true beacon of learning and academic excellence because, at the end of the day, graduates of that institution will constitute a pool of qualified human resources required to rebuild the nation.

It is the considered opinion of this newspaper, therefore, that the acquiescence of the UL Board to the bastardization of its recruitment and selection process is regrettable and replete with implications difficult to fathom, for they remain unknown.

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