The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), has come under severe attack at the Cottington University Colleague (CUC), in the tiny west African Republic of Liberia. The action of the CUC Administration, has resulted into the victimization of Mr. Selma Lomax, who was suspended for an entire semester.
The CUC Administration’s decision to suspend Mr. Lomax was a result of his reporting on the activities of the Cottington University College, which is located in Suakoko, Bong County.
The CUC Administration’s decision to suspend Mr. Selma for his journalistic duties rather than a misconduct as a student is being viewed as a slam in the face of press freedom. Besides being a student at CUC, Mr. Lomax is also the Correspondent for one of Liberia’s leading media institutions, FrontPage Africa (FPA), in Gbarga, Bong County.
The Administration said it was suspending Mr. Lomax because of his decision to write against the institution, an act the Administration said “runs contrary to its revised student handbook page 13 which states: Any student who writes defamatory publication, leaflet, and incites students through riots shall be guilty of fifty hours’ hard labor, one semester suspension or expulsion.”
It may be recalled that in early April this year, FrontPage Africa’s Kennsdy Yangian was among a group of Journalists who interviewed the President of the University College Dr. Hennque F. Tokpa, concerning challenges being faced by him, as President of Cuttington University College.
During that interview, President Tokpa disclosed that the CUC was gradually at the brink of closure as a result of the withdrawal of its main donor, the Episcopal Church.“With over eighty percent of our funds coming from the Episcopal Church”, Tokpah pointed out, “we are worried that their withdrawal might deepen our financial capability,”
The CUC President also disclosed during this year’s commencement of the Cuttington Agriculture Program, that funds coming to the University from government were too scanty to help the administration in tackling its many difficulties.
However, following several months of investigation, it was discovered that contrary to reports of lack of money, the Cuttington University College was a recipient of US$1.1 Million instead of the University’s claims of receiving only the amount of US$ 900.000 as last year’s fiscal budget.
The investigation also discovered many problems ranging from political interferences and plans by some aggrieved lecturers who threatened to quit due to what they referred to as President Tokpa’s persistent culture of marginalization against them.
Following a series of publications including a week-long editorial by FrontPage Africa captioned “Fixing the Mess at Cuttington”, Lomax was summoned to the Dean’s Office to provide reasons for his action.
During the meeting, Mr. Lomax said he expressed regrets saying,: “I am sorry for the inconvenience the story may have caused you people; I wrote purposely to complement the administration’s plea in sourcing for donor aid.”
But the administration in the letter of suspension said “Lomax should not have written such article against the University as it has the proclivity of inciting students against the administration.”
The letter also noted that “as a student of the University, it is always prudent to uphold the integrity of the institution than bringing it into public disrepute.” Lomax’s suspension comes less than two weeks to the administration of final exams, but the CUC Administration remains adamant despite multiple pleas for Lomax’s suspension to be lifted. The administration is determined penalize him.
As a result, two student groups including the Cuttington University Student Union (CUSU) and Bong Student Union (BONSU) have both condemned the action of the administration describing it as runing contrary to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Youth Organizations concluded that Mr. Lomax’s professional responsibilities as a journalist is void of administrative subjection and intimidation despite being a student of the University.
Meanwhile in a related development reports from Liberia say Professors at the Cottington University have begun a major go-slow in demand of salary arrears owed them by the institution.
The Professors’ strike action has reportedly paralyzed regular classes at the University, a situation that is becoming increasingly troubling for students expected to sit their final exams by the end of this month. This comes in the wake of the university’s anticipated graduation of more than 500 students from various disciplines by June 30.
If the matter is not urgently addressed, it could deteriorate into a crisis situation at the university and could result into qualified professors leaving the institution. If this were to happen, it could result into a scenario where BSc degree holders will be lecturing candidates for BSc candidates at the University College.
Government’s subsidy to Cuttington is said to be US$ 1.1 million United States dollars, while students are required to pay US$35 per credit hour. The institution is also said to be generating additional funds from its rubber farm, based in Suakoko District, Bong County.
The University’s colleges including, Business, Agriculture, Science, Education and Peace Study, were without teachers, although the exact number of professors actively involved in the strike is yet to be known.
However, reports gathered indicate that the sticking Professors’ number is estimated to be around at least 30, who have downed their chalks in protest over their one month salary arrears.
“With all these funding coming to Cuttington, we are still short of text books, we have poor laboratory equipment and poor Internet service” Remarked one of the striking Professors.
This professor, who prefers anonymity stressed that some of them, especially those with Master’s degrees, earn US$ 500 per monthly as salary, while those with Bachelor of Science degrees take home US$ 300 monthly.
“We have been underpaid here at the University. This has mainly been the result of a breakdown in information dissemination because we don’t really know how much government and other donors are pumping into this institution,” another Professor, who prefers anonymity, asserted.
“Many of us are not Liberians. We depend on our salaries to sustain our families and ourselves,” declared another.
Prince Teahjay, a student at the University, told a local radio talk show that in 2002, the school’s enrolment stood at 500. By then, he said, students were only required to pay US$ 20 per credit hour. According to him, the current enrolment at the University stands at 2,179.
When contacted the Vice President for Public Relations at the Cuttington University, Dr. Joshua D.B. Giddings, said the go-slow action was only a mere rumour. He, however, acknowledged delay in payment of teachers’ salaries.
Dr. Giddings attributed the delay to “bureaucratic procedures” at the Finance Ministry that the institution is required to go through to obtain checks or cash noting,“ the University normally pays salaries on the 10th of each month.”
Cuttington was established in 1889 in Harper, Cape Palmas, Maryland County. The college was later transferred to Suakoko in Bong County, to occupy government’s donated 1,500 acres of land.
The Cuttington University College continues to receive 80% of its subsidy from government, said Dr. Giddings. but quickly added, “the school is heavily reliant upon students’ tuition for its operation.”
“Imagine the school has more than 100 teachers at its Graduate School in Monrovia, the Junior College in Kakata, Margibi County, and the main campus in Bong County. These teachers are paid with sustainable salaries,” Dr. Giddings added.
He said the institution runs 18 hours electricity with safe drinking water at teachers’ homes and in the dormitories and the administration is currently constructing the Allied Health Sciences where radiology, physician assistants training as well as laboratory technology will be offered and the University will be made the center of Agriculture Excellence.
These initiatives, according to Dr. Giddings, are being sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).He also disclosed that the University has brought in from the People’s Republic of China more than 1500 arm-chairs and it is also building additional classrooms that would accommodate the growing number of students in the institution.
At the same time, Dr. Giddings has called on government to increase its financial support to the Cuttington University College from US$1.1 million to US$3 million to help the institution meet some of its urgent and compelling needs.
Cuttington University is the oldest private, coeducational, four-year, degree-granting institution in sub-Saharan Africa. It issues degrees in the liberal arts and a number of technical studies. It has educated generations of leaders for the nation of Liberia and West Africa. Its roots lie deep within the history of the nation, the relationship between Liberia and the United States, and the Episcopal Church.
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