Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Palava at UL

Our Operations Manager at work says we're not allowed to go downtown today. Some kind of demonstration of university students and faculty. Ma Ellen was warning against hooliganism this morning on the radio. She had an angry conversation with UL professors yesterday behind closed doors. They were threatening to lay down their chalk over pay and benefits issues.

Update: Check out the first comment on this post for a sober and informed take on the situation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I studied at the U.L. for a semester prior to leaving the country before the war. I have been monitoring the situation and this is my understanding of what is happening:

1) The instructors are demanding 10 months arrears owed them prior to the war (1989). They want the arrears to be paid immediately.

2) Also, they are demanding pay raise based on their own recommendations rather than in line with the national civil service guidelines.

3) Additionally, they are demanding something in excess of U.S. $2M for “research allowance”.

I will discuss these three issues:

A) Obviously, efforts must be made to clear the pre-war arrears. However, the U.L. instructors are not the only individuals the government owes. It owes other civil servants some 18 months arrears inherited by the current government. I would also add that two months of these arrears are being paid this month. If everyone demands that all arrears owed by the government be cleared immediately, that would be an untenable situation. Imagine for a moment external creditors demanding that the current government settles the billions of dollars in debt immediately. I don't think that would be possible. The key problems in Liberia today are indiscipline and the lack of understanding of the difficult socio-economic situation facing the country and the impatience of people who should know better. The government needs to let the population know that the country is in a dire situation economically and riots will not solve these problems. When ex-soldier engage in a riot, it is not surprising because they do not follow macroeconomic issues. But you would think that U.L. instructors should know better.

B) The demand for salary increment is a legitimate demand. I understand that this is already being considered for all civil servants (government workers) in the proposed budget. To riot prior to the budget being passed does not make a whole lot of sense to me. I don't see why U.L. teachers, who are civil servants, would want to be treated differently. Other civil servants have up to 18 months of arrears owed them by previous governments and they aren't rioting. My concern is that giving the level of indiscipline in the Liberian society today, many individuals feel that rioting will force the government to bow to any demands whether such demands could reasonably be met or not.

C) The demand for research allowance is absolute rubbish. I don't know of too many universities that pay out research grants to individuals who aren't conducting any research. Research grants aren't entitlements. One usually writes a proposal and based on the strength of one's proposal and the quality of previous research work one gets a grant. Evaluation of a research proposal usually also involves a look at publications in reputable journals in the field of one's expertise. In fact, the grant money does not go to the principal investigator (PI) and other investigators doing the research. It goes to the university and the institution funds research activities undertaken by the investigators. To demand “research allowance” when one is not conducting any research or without a competitive process is to make a mockery of higher education. The research budget usually comes from external sources such as private corporations and government agencies.

Where do we go from here? People often get what they pay for. To the best of my knowledge, there is no law in Liberia that guarantees anyone a free college education. The U.L. must charge students a reasonable fee to meet its operational cost. The government, I understand, currently provides some subsidy. Perhaps, that subsidy needs to be increased. But ultimately, students must realize that there is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to higher education. If the government succumbs to the use of violence or the threat of violence as a means of settling grievances, however legitimate those grievances are, expect to see other groups engaging in acts of vandalism in demand for grievances as well. The government needs to concentrate its efforts on providing good primary and secondary education. People desirous of higher education must pay for it, as harsh as this may sound.

My suggestion is to shut down the University until the faculty and students learn that all the pre-war problems cannot be solved in a day. There are harsh economic realities today - that is what wars bring - but violence does not reduce economic hardship. It exacerbates it. With the thousands of Liberian professionals who have studied abroad who know that a college education is not free, it still confounds me why many people in Liberia believe that (free) college education is an entitlement.

5:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home