The Ban on Student Politics Cannot Stand
An institution of higher learning is a social laboratory, where the next generation of leaders
Abdoulaye W Dukulé, PhD, Former Assistant Professor and Department Chair, University of Liberia
A few weeks ago, the administration of the University of Liberia decided to suspend or ban student political activities. Whatever the reasons may be, this move is very counterproductive, it goes against the freedom of speech and freedom association enshrined in the Constitution. It deprives young men and women who are preparing to take up
Students of the university are not children who need to be taught how to and when to speak, they are adults who graduated from high school and earned the right to be in a professional learning environment. Being in that context should in no way obliterate their social rights. The university cannot arrogate itself the power to stop its customers – the students – to assemble and discuss issues relative to their wellbeing.
Shutting down campuses because of student’s behavior or demands is far from being a sign of strength. If there is one place in the world where people should be free and able to discuss their differences and arrive at peaceful resolution of conflicts, it must be the university campus. Depriving future leaders of the nation of their freedom of speech and assembly sets a bad example, it is like telling them that the best way to deal with dissent is to shut down people. That is what they would do when they get into leadership position, using force not dialogue. It was not too long ago when people had to hide and read or distribute leaflets. The ban creates an atmosphere of fear and suspicion that gives birth a dangerous atmosphere.
People who stood up to tyranny and autocracy, sacrificing their wellbeing, must not now sit and quietly watch this new development. Politics on a university campus is national politics. Politics is not a privilege but a right for every citizen. The university provides a service -learning – that students buy. Students are not accountable to the university authorities about their political views and the university should pose no constraints on the expression of student’s political views, except when it interferes with overall learning environment.
It is an illusion to think that one can stop students from engaging in politics. It would be much safer for all to allow them to do it in public and in the view of all rather than go underground and start circulating new versions of ReAct. Then government security would get involved and people would be arrested and mistreated. And we fall back into the same pit we thought we had gotten out of.
Those who were around Presidents Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor should read the writing on the wall. The tragedy is not that they did not advise those leaders properly back then but that they are allowing the same situation to reappear under their watch… to paraphrase Minister Tweah.
Let the students do their politics, because you can’t stop student politics. It always backfires.