UMU Graduates Stage Protest over Refund of Graduation Fees

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MONROVIA – Scores of aggrieved graduates of the United Methodist University (UMU) have staged a violent protest in Monrovia, demanding the administration refund the payment of their graduation fees which were initially paid prior to the goodwill gesture from President George Manneh Weah.

The university is owned and operated by the United Methodist Church (UMC) in Liberia.

It can be recalled that on June 10, President George Manneh Weah promised to pay all 1,307 graduates of the 18th graduating class of the United Methodist University when he served as Keynote Speaker for the 18th Convocation Program of the university.

In fulfillment of the promise, the amount of over US$400,000 was given by the Liberian leader for the payment of the graduation fees of the graduates.

But since the money was received by the university’s administration, there have been barrage of delay tactics and bottlenecks surrounding the refund of the money to the graduates.

In a Memorandum issued to the 18th Graduating Class of the university on September 15 under the signature of the university’s Chief Financial Officer A. Otto Nabie, the administration, announced that the reimbursement of the graduation fees to the graduates, through the Business and Finance will commence on Monday, September 19.

“The reimbursement to graduates is being processed on a first-to-pay, first-to-be-reimbursed basis and we will be serving graduates 150 persons per week.”

The administration justified that the decision taken to serve only 150 graduates per week is intended to “control crowd for the ongoing registration processes for Semester I of the 2022/2023 academic year alongside the reimbursement crowd.”

“We will immediately increase the number of graduates for the reimbursement process when the ongoing registration processes are concluded. The reimbursed list is published on our bulletin.”

But the aggrieved graduates on Friday. September 16, stormed the university main campus on Ashmun Street in Monrovia and setup road blocks under the heavy downpour of rain, demanding the administration to rescind its decision and guarantee the timely refund of their money.

According to them, authorities of the university are demanding the deduction of US$10 from their graduation fees pay as cost for cheque book from each of them.

The aggrieved students noted that though the deduction of the US$10 is not stated in the memorandum issued by the university administration, the move made by their Chief Financial Officer Otto Nabie to deduct the amount from them beginning Monday is a total act of corruption.

They stated that the move is intended to rob them of their hard-earned money during these difficult times in Liberia.

They wondered while the university, which is being operated by a faith-based institution, will engage into acts which amounts to corruption even though President Weah has lived up to his commitment.

According to them, the decision reached by the university authority to unilaterally reimburse their graduation fees 150 persons per week, is a calculated attempt by the administration to deny some of them, especially those who have already left Monrovia for the rural areas and other countries for work or other opportunities, from receiving their money.

“Our administration has implored draconian measures to ensure that we do not receive our money. We cannot paid our graduation fees and the President, being cognizant of the harsh economic constraints we are going through decided to shoulder the responsibility-but, our administration want to carry on deduction we have not agreed upon. This protest is also intended to draw the attention of the President that his good he did for not only us, but the university also, is about to turn to bad”, one of the protesters stated.

The protest later subsided following the intervention of some of the leaders of the United Methodist Church in Liberia. The graduates later agreed to dialogue with the university administration on the matter.

In a communication addressed to the President of the UMU, Rev. Dr. Yar Dorlah Gonway-Gono, from the aggrieved graduates under the banner: “Concerned Graduates of the United Methodist University”, a conglomeration of members of the 18th convocation commencement which constitutes 1,337 graduates, they  recalled that on August 30, 2022, in the presence of the President of the Republic of Liberia and this august body, the pronouncement of the payment of their graduation fees was confirmed by the university President in the present of the Liberian leader.

“We however applauded you and the president for providing us this life-time opportunity in this fractured economy where students struggled to pay in full US$325.00. Evidently, an amount of US$434,525 was paid by 1,337 students. While we appreciate your effort as President, we want to register our disappointment in the poor communication procedure which precipitated outrage among students from the day of graduation to today’s date”, the communication signed by the group’s Secretary General Moses W. Bai, and Lead Student Advocate  Titus B. Pakalah, which is in the possession of FrontPage Africa stated.

They continued: “We also want to state that a meeting has been held with few faculty members including Dr. Weagba, Dr. Dioh and Mr. Otto Nabie—in this meeting we presented our concerns about a recent notice from the United Methodist University which entails that 150 students are expected to receive their refunds and that based on the payment plan the school might increase the numbers of students per payment.”

The aggrieved graduates noted that the modality being used by the university to reimburse them is “time consuming as new and old students are expected to begin a new semester, and it is also an attempt to delay the payment procedures to all graduates.”

They, however, called for the number of graduates to receive refund to be exceeded to 500 students per week to enable smooth payment plan in line with administrative proceeding and in the best interest of them.

“That US$5.00 be deducted from our fees given the rationality of how our University struggled with banking institutions to secure cheques on our behalf. While the notice did not indicate how much will be deducted, the Chief Financial Officer, Mr. A.  Otto Nabie informed us that US$10.00 will be deducted for processing new cheques on behalf of graduates. We categorically reject this deduction (US$10.00).”

They called for a dialogue to be held between them and the faculty to consider an effective term other than deducting US$10.00 from their fees.

“We appeal that the payment should be suspended until a negotiation is made between graduates and faculty members between now and Monday (September 19, 2022) before 12:00 noon. We have no intention to protest afterward but intend to keep engaging.”

Administration speaks

Speaking in an interview with FrontPage Africa via telephone on Sunday, September 18, the President of the UMU, Rev. Dr. Yar Dorlah Gonway-Gono, disclosed that the action taken by the graduates to stage a protest was based on “lies and misinformation.”

She added that barely a week after graduation, the alumni sent their representatives to inquire about the status of the reimbursement in fulfillment of the commitment made by the Liberian leader.

She pointed out that the delay in the reimbursement of the money to the graduates, who are now alumni of the university is due to multiple plans put in place by them.

According to her, the administration was previously dealing with Ecobank for the payment of the money to the students, but has moved the payment to the United Bank of Africa (UBA) Liberia Limited.

She said the graduates will have to be properly identified before refund is made to them.

“When that money was allotted, we put it in a restricted account. We are also going through registration and normal activities at the institution, so we have to make plans for distribution of the money. In other to get the money to any student, it has to be students who paid their money; they have their receipt with their ID cards. I told the students that we are working on it so that it can be right because, this is money issue and we cannot just rush.”

Dr. Gono disclosed that as a result of the ongoing activities on the main campus of the university, the Finance Office has arranged the payment of about 150 students per week.

She maintained that the high level of distrust the graduates had in authorities of the university prompted their action.

According to her, the amount of US$10 deduction from the fees paid by each of the graduates was intended to shoulder the cost for cheque book at the bank.

“They (graduates) don’t trust anyone. To take US$10 for cheque book was a suggestion to them. If they disagree with that, that can be discussed. Why will that be a problem? Who is going to pay for all those cheques and we are not getting anything free? If they have problem, they should have come so we can discussed that which we have always done at the university.”

She expressed surprise over the graduates’ action to bring the university to public ridicule though she has been people-centered, caring and standing in the interest of students and others and not taking into consideration that the institution is a faith-based university.

“The graduates just listened to news and they are acting upon it. These graduates were good students I worked with at the university. But their action is unusual. I’ve always shown interest because I know that they want to graduate and if we train them well and make their contributions even to the institution and to the country.”

Dr. Gono maintained that the aggrieved graduates should bear in mind that they are no longer students, and as such, they should act and govern themselves accordingly.

 “They (graduates) should be the ones telling the students coming in to do this, do that? So, you want to tell me that they do not have attachment to the school, commitment or they don’t care for us. Many of them have not paid tuition and we have not taken pay for three months. But we still sacrificed to work.”

“Why students cannot look at the people who have helped you? As long as they have needs, don’t they care for us also? I was like ‘wow, I can’t believe my graduates in the streets there trying to block roads. These are people who supposed to be working, coming for recommendation to go to school or travel. Who’s going to give it to them if they treat us like that?”

She, however, pointed out that her statement should not in any way be misconstrued as a threat to the graduates, nothing that, “the university is a faith-based institution; people have freedom to do what they do.”

Dr. Gono, however, assured that the university comprises of people who have integrity in authorities, and as such, the administration will live up to its commitment to ensure that every graduate receive the reimbursement.

“We will do it in an organized way beginning Monday. Maybe, we will pay about 35 people at the time. We promised them that it will be done, but it will be organized. This is not the place to come and cause trouble.”

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