When influential politicians and decision-makers, along with businessmen armed with money and connections, sit before a university lecturer uncertain of his protection, academics take the backseat while influence runs ahead.
This is the story of a young University of Liberia lecturer, Mr. Romeo Gbartea, contracted to teach aspirants for MBA degrees. He soon discovered the uniqueness of Liberia, where politics prevails over all things.
Amongst his students is the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Edwin Snowe, who graduated Summa Cum Laude from the university in 2009. Another student is a Lebanese businessman, Nicholas Fayad, once jailed at the Monrovia Central Prison for attempting to give Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis, a carton of Johnny Walker whiskey.
They all want the respectability that they believe a graduate degree bestows, except that, according to their professor, they have no time for the luxury and discipline of studying or listening to the lecturer. “If you mess with me, you will never have a job in this country,” the lecturer quoted Mr. Snowe as once threatening him.
“Snowe is a very indisciplined student. He eats in class and is constantly on the phone,” the young lecturer said.
Efforts to contact Mr. Snowe on the issue for comments were unsuccessful.
But Mr. Snowe is not alone and this is not unusual. The Lebanese businessman, the lecturer said, threw test papers back at him with blanks, saying he had no time for test because the President, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was sending him on a mission.
When this paper contacted the Lebanese man, he said he has been warned by the UL authorities not to comment on the issue.
This is not surprising because, according to the lecturer, the Lebanese man claimed he failed the exam for not offering the lecturer a bribe, claims disputed with the blank test paper as part of the evidence. But even with the blank test paper as proof, university authorities still went ahead and cancelled the course.
Frustrated, the lecturer struck back, he told reporters at a press conference: “The University of Liberia Educational Reform in Post Conflict Liberia is not by talking, but by sincere implementation of programs. Let the record go straight that Nicholas Fayad, Edwin Snowe, Satta A.M. Mckay and other disrespectful students were seriously disciplined in compliance with the Handbook of the University of Liberia (and) nothing more than that. I will always discipline, monitor & evaluate my students properly so that they can be good future leaders. I have done no educational wrong to train students of the University of Liberia. When Politics takes the course of academic issue on this matter, then the state education system is in trouble.
“Whatever the case may be, it will always encourage my students to study well, and be disciplined at all times. Let me tell the Faculty Senate of the University of Liberia that I will always make the right academic decision for the betterment of our education system,” the professor said.
The professor explained that students Fayad, Snowe and others are indisciplined students who intend to tamper with his good character, saying, “Student Nicholas Fayad with I.D. No. 51052, commonly known as ‘COUSIN’, who claims to be a Lebanese business merchant, could not write a word or make presentation in any of the PADM-648 class activities, but preferred to get an ‘A’ as a passing grade.”
He said student Fayad always gave excuses that he was on errands for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He said he recorded “I” for Student Fayad because he scored zero on a test recorded over 75%, and because he also did not complete the 25% requirement of the course which is in conformity with the University of Liberia Handbook.
Mr. Gbartea said he informed student Fayad to repeat the course this semester, but he refused on ground that he has been appointed to some position somewhere by the President of Liberia; therefore, he needed a quick assignment to ensure him pass the course before traveling to where the President of Liberia has appointed him.
The lecturer said Fayad asked some personalities of the University to beg him, but he told them that there was no compromise.
Meanwhile, Student Fayad is not the only student to repeat the course.
There are four other students repeating the course, but Lecturer Gbartea refused to identified them due to ethical reasons, posing a series of questions: “Why has the University of Liberia Faculty Senate taken this anonymous release so serious against my decent character? Why did the author refuse to write a formal communication? Why did they refuse to call me for questioning when I signed a contract with them for the semester? Why has the Faculty Senate of the University of Liberia reduce academic matters to politics? Are you sure that the President of Liberia will ever support any academic fraud?”
The lecturer also revealed that Student Snowe insulted him and threatened that he would ensure his ejection from the university and that there would be no one to rescue him.