Cuttington University Shuts Down; Students, Faculty Demand Removal of President
Suakoko, Bong County – Students at Cuttington University’s Suacoco campus started a fire in front of the university’s entrance and barred vehicles from entering as part of a protest against the administration of Dr. Herman B. Browne.
Report by Selma Lomax, [email protected]
Bong County police redirected traffic from the Suacoco campus as students blocked the entrance.
The students demanded Browne’s resignation on grounds that he has failed to live up to the task since he became president of the University, a year ago.
They accused him, a 1986 graduate of Cuttington, of bad labor practices, poor management and dictatorial leadership.
They marched across campus carrying signs that read: “Browne must go” and “No school until Dr. Browne resigns.”
The students’ action began on the day when senior students were expected to begin taking final exams.
Everlyn Shilling, a graduating senior, said she was disappointed about the students’ action. “The strike action could delay me,” she said.
Austin Brown, a student, said conditions at Cuttington have declined since Browne took over a year ago.
For example, electricity on campus dropped by four hours a day, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. during the day and from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. during evening hours, the student said.
Under the leadership of Browne’s predecessor, Dr. Evelyn Kandakai, electricity ran from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m., the student said.
FrontPage Africa was unable to reach Browne on Tuesday. His phone was off. Kwashie Tehteh, the university’s director of communications, said he could not comment on the situation.
But in the past, Browne attributed Cuttington’s financial woes to the drastic cuts in government funding. In the last budget cycle, Cuttington received US$500,000 from the government, but that amount dropped to US$300,000 in the 2017-2018 budget.
The university is owed more than US$700,000 in arrears for scholarships sponsored by the Liberian government including the Ministries of Education, Health and the Bong County Legislative Caucus.
Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor also has not paid her debt to the university for scholarship students when she served as Senator of Bong County.
In February, Howard-Taylor donated US$2,000 and donated eight hundred gallons of fuel to help ease the crisis when she attended the university’s homecoming.
Back then, Browne said the university appreciated the gesture because it alleviated part of the problem, but Cuttington’s problems are complex.
It costs US$1,050 a day to run the generator on a regular schedule from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Browne said.
Howard- Taylor’s donation represents 20 percent of the required usage per a four-month semester cycle and only 10 percent of what is needed for the full year.
The university needs 20 gallons of fuel an hour to run its 410 and 510 KVA generators.
The government’s subsidy is sometimes delayed and it has a ‘disastrous impact on the quality of teaching and learning and thereby affecting the excitement, creativity and focus that should accompany such learning experience at Cuttington University,’’ Browne said in February.
Cuttington administration, alumni and board maintain that the university cannot survive on tuition that is why they have been pushing for an increase in the budgetary allotment and for government ministries and agencies and the Bong County lawmakers to pay the arrears for scholarship students.
This semester, Cuttington registered a little over 1,000 students. Last semester, the university had an enrollment of 1,450.
Cuttington’s instructors also joined the striking students, starting a go-slow action because they have not been paid for three months.
They started a go-slow action. The faculty distributed fliers describing Browne as “intransigent, belligerent and insensitive.’’ Lerpolu Torlon, head of staffers at Cuttington, said they will not abandon the strike until Browne resigns.
“We have not received salary for three months,” he said.
Student Bill Vankpanah said the students’ action is aimed at drawing the attention of the government and the Episcopal Church.
He criticized the university’s decision to outsource the cafeteria to a private company.
With the drop in government subsidies and low enrollment, there was no need for hiring a private company to run the dining hall, he said.
Back in March 2018, the University students had raised similar issues and called on Dr. Browne to address them and that if nothing was done they would institute a strike action.
“We cannot have an increment in tuition and other fees, and then we have only one hour of electricity during the day and two hours of electricity during the night. How does Dr. [Herman] Browne expect us to study and do laboratory projects without electricity? This is unfair to us because our parents are paying a lot of money for us to learn,” said a female student. This student had asked that her name is kept privy fearing that she might be expelled or suspended indefinitely if her identity were known. This was back in March.
Earlier before the March incident, Dr. Browne, in an interview conducted on the main campus of the university in Bong County, had disclosed that money owed by the government and others is too huge to be ignored.
“We are not talking about five or ten thousand; we are talking about US$750,000 in debt. That amount of money can run an entire semester and do other things. We have pre-financed their students or wards; we fed and sheltered them. Now, it is time to pay what they owe us, but they are not doing so. This goes to the Legislature, the Judiciary and other agencies, including the Ministries of Education, State for Presidential Affairs, Health, etc,” said Dr. Browne.
Speaking on the subsidy the institution receives from the government, the CU president added that the government has reneged on its goodwill for more than a year.
He disclosed that the government’s subsidy was used to provide fuel to run the generator which provided the electricity, but the fund is not forthcoming.
“The subsidy used to be a million dollars; it was later reduced by half. It is still being reduced, and this reduced amount is not forthcoming at all. To crown it up, institutions and individuals who owe the university, have just refused to pay their debts. We are stranded. They keep promising to pay, years after years. We have been pleading with the Legislature and others including the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to consider us with some urgency. The whole issue is not about getting the money to run the university, it is also about paying the instructors as well,” he stated.