FPA’s Mae Azango Shares Experience on Challenges Within the Walls of Liberia’s Premier University


MONROVIA – Walking out of the walls of an institution should be joyous. I mean after a very hard and successful work, who doesn’t enjoy the rewards? Sadly, that was not the case with the 99th graduating commencement exercises of the University of Liberia, at least some batches. I wish I could say that I had a joyous experience.

By Mae Azango, [email protected] 

Initially, I didn’t wish to write this story but the persistence of others and the sad realities of what we experienced were more than enough to convince me otherwise. Particularly when I consider that in just nine to 11 months, a new batch of learners would be coming out and would most likely face same or worse situation. My conscience would not permit me to allow them undergo anything near what I/we underwent.

I am convinced that if we do not speak out about it, incoming students would, out of fear of repercussion, accept it as everyone else before them. We can’t allow this mistaking perception to survive anymore.

I call the UL a boot camp, while others call it the ‘three D’s,’ which means: “difficult to enter, difficult to stay in and difficult to leave.” The reason is that, the system is such that everything is difficult to get, even if it is your entitlement. Some administrators find ways to make extra money on the side. For instance, on the Fendall campus of the UL, where all of the commencement activities were done, I had to pay L$50.00 to a lady manning the Liberia College’s desk before she signed and stamped my receipt to get my graduation gown. 

Mind you, I had just paid US$350 as graduation fees, which should have entitled me to not only a gown but all the other souvenirs. Just imagine L$50 times the 600 and more candidates that graduated from Liberia College; this means she walked away with nearly L$30,000 in the end. If for a moment, you think that was the end of our woes, you’re mistaken. Every other room I entered, I was asked to leave something on the desk. It was a request made in such a manner that implied you had no choice. When I began protesting, some of colleagues in the queue made issue out of it and backed our exploiters. They just wanted to be done with the process. The more I tried to protest, the sooner I learned that I would be kicked out or asked to step aside and allow others who wanted to ‘proceed’ with the graduation process to do so. By the time I argued my way to the end of the line [I had been in the queue since 10:00 a.m.] it was now 2:00 p.m. as if we had not suffered enough, I arrived at the desk only to be told the gowns were finished, so we should come back the next day.

The next day, I had to leave from central Monrovia by dawn just to get an early spot in the queue. To my surprise when I reached, the queue was twice longer than the day before. Those who hadn’t received their gowns had heard about had happened the day before that the gowns were finished and feared they may not get a gown. No one trusted that the administration would deliver timely enough if it ever ran out of gowns. This led to a mad rush.

After much tussle, and four hours later, I received my gown. Any relief I should have had vanished when I understood that only the gowns were there. We were told that the rest of the package was on the on Capitol Hill campus of the UL. This seemed like the biggest joke of the day, sadly, it wasn’t. Convinced that this was true, we rushed there only to spend the rest of the day [this was November 28] and be told the package wasn’t there. It was due into the country from China but the plane delayed, so they said. And that they even had some officials at the airport awaiting the package for pickup. Again, we were told to check back on Thursday, November 29, which was a holiday, only to receive nothing. The frustration extended into the next day, the 30th. We received only the medal and the tassel.

Now note this, I was graduating from Liberia College, which was the first college slated to graduate on Monday, December 3, 2018. I had only received the gown, hat, a medal and a tassel. One can imagine my anxiety on Sunday by noon when I had not received the rest of the package. By five in the evening, I was ballistic. I was crawling out of my skin an hour later. 

The administrators insisted on sharing the packages in some manner we could not understand. Despite several suggestions to distribute to those colleges that were graduating the next day, they went about serving other colleges that had graduation days further from Monday like on Friday. This made no sense to me and others. Luckily, by nightfall, I received my package finally. 

Thinking that the US$350 I had paid was for me to own the gown and all others that were a part of the graduation package, I then learned that I was expected to return the gown upon graduation. In fact, I was strongly warned that my diploma will be withheld if I fail to return the gown. This warning was sent across to everyone.

Now, this was the biggest load of rubbish/news of the night, in fact, of the entire process. Some graduates paid US$350 as graduation fees, while others paid US$310 and the graduation gowns were to be returned? 

However, the University said it made a mistake when it wrote US$350, and that every graduate was to pay only US$310, instead of US$350. They also promised to refund US$40 that was there for a bag, which didn’t make it as a part of the full graduation package.

The most painful part is that we were paying that huge amount of money to rent the gown. You mean for someone, who is earning US$50, this is seven months’ salary that we were just to give for only a single day? I’d not mind returning gown if the amount was reasonable or if we were to be given back some of the money upon returning the gown. 

In these difficult times, we paid so much and we are told to return the gown? The normal rates of renting graduation gowns in Monrovia are less than US$75. So why should a medal, a t-shirt, a cap, a sash and a diploma be charged at US$350? Oh and the diploma is not even presented on the same day. They don’t even have the courtesy of ensuring that the diplomas we spent more than four years or more and thousands of dollars for, are ready upon graduation.

Someone who graduated last year Liberia College, out rightly told me that we should not expect to receive our diplomas anytime soon. This person said up to now, she hasn’t received hers even after putting in for it on few occasion.    

Did the Package come from China?

Throughout the process, it became clearer every day that passed that something was fishy about the process. The story that the graduation package was being made in and printed in China became suspicious. A well-placed source at the University of Liberia told me that the packages were being produced right on 9th Street in Sinkor, Monrovia. 

For example, the graduating class of the Sociology Department, for their class night, paid US$50 each at their department to undertake a project. Out of that amount, they were able to make medals, t-shirts, caps and lappa for thanksgiving service and organized a class party.

Cogent sources told me that the Sociology Class’ medals, caps and t-shirts were printed and prepared at the same place the 99th UL graduating class’ souvenirs were prepared. I was shocked to see the evidence to that effect at the back of the medals and the symbol flag for the class, which has in print. There is a local number of the printer on the back instead of a Chinese phone number or a foreign number.

The source further said it is usually done this way, in order for certain group of people working at the university to always make extra money. “They usually put in a huge budget, so they can come up with the China story.” 

I hope this will claim the attention of Dr. Weeks and other good staff within the UL administration to improve the system for which many smaller Universities are moving ahead of the state-owned university.