MONROVIA : There is a popular Liberian proverb that says the fish usually starts to rot from the head. Liberia’s tertiary education has always been regaled and heralded through the prism of the University of Liberia, which remains to be exalted as the nation’s premier institution of higher learning. But going by the recent developments of alleged academic fraud in the country’s only Law School wherein some students reportedly failed to meet the requirements for graduation but were allowed to go through the process based on the influences of “big hands”, many believe that the education system in this country could very well be messier than the 2013 projection of the past administration. As The Analyst reports, the nation’s prestigious Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law might no longer be seen as the epitome of academic excellence for not only the country but the subregion as well, based on what Professor Frances Johnson-Allison sees as the gravest violation of the standard and ethics that once glued this particular profession school within the University of Liberia.
“What does it say about Liberia’s modern day education system, when the nation’s highest institution of learning condones academic fraud by graduating students who did not meet the requirements for graduation but who used money to influence the professor’s secretary to change their failing grades to passing grades in order to graduate, even when this was brought to the attention of the authorities? Truly, the education system is at its lowest ebb. So, what kind of lawyers do we expect Alimatu Nuri and Ebenezer Wilson to be? An addition to the integrity deficit or what?”
Frustratingly, this was what UL Law School professor Frances Johnson-Allison wrote on her social media feed recently to vent her anger over what she sees as an academic travesty of justice perpetrated by students who failed her course but used the secretary in her office to change their failing grades to passing grades.
According to Liberia’s first former female Chief Justice (1997); former Justice Minister; former Commerce Minister; and former Chairperson of the National Elections Commission of Liberia, Professor Frances Johnson-Allison who now teaches Legal Ethics and Children’s Law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, revealed during a recent exclusive interview with self-proclaimed academic watchdog Martin K.N. Koiie, that after she administered her final exams sometime in April 2023, she sent her grades electronically as she usually does, through the assistance of her secretary who would type the grades which she signed and then send them to the Law School.
“The same thing happened but this time with a different staff member. When I did that, I thought I had concluded my assignment at the Law School for the time being. But when I travelled here to the United States, I kept getting calls from back home from some whistleblowers saying, ‘Prof, there is a lady we know who failed your Children’s Law course, but we are hearing that she has applied for graduation and they are about to grant her clearance.’ When they called the person’s name, I said no, that person cannot be trying to get clearance to graduate because they did not make it in the course. In fact, the lady came to my office while I was still in Liberia and begged me to reconsider the failing grade she had gotten. I remember it was Alimatu Nuri Hutchinson who came to my office to reconsider because she was supposed to be graduating. So, I told her that this is not what I do. My job at the University is to teach, evaluate students, and send my grades out. I told her I could not consider changing her grades from failure to passing. I cannot justify that because the multiple students who took the exams made straight “As” (100 over 100). So, if I were to change her grade, what would I add to the grades of the people that made 100 percent?
“I also told her about the policy at the Law School wherein students are issued exam numbers and not names. So, in other words, we are anonymously grading students. There is no way for bias in the grading system because the professor doesn’t know who they are grading. So, when I grade a student, whatever grade you get is what you deserve. Therefore, I could not change her grade.
“I further told her that her graduation was not my responsibility, rather my job is to grade her and send the grades over to administration. I don’t bother or care about a student’s status, rather the student’s performance is what matters to me.
“After I told her how I felt, she told me she wasn’t going to leave my office. But I told her to leave because I was going out of my office. I told her there was no justification to assist her because, had all the students made below 70%, then I could say it’s my fault. But in this case, so many people made straight “As” so I told her there was no way I could consider changing her grade. The two students had “D”, so obviously they could not pass.
“At the time I was speaking with her, I didn’t even know that my secretary had been induced to change her grades and that of another student as well. Later on, when I decided to call in the police to investigate my secretary, he confessed to changing not only Alimatu Hutchinson’s grade, but also the grade of another student called Ebenezer Wilson,” Professor Allison said.
Prof Allison said she did not discover the change of grade until she later traveled to the United States, when some whistleblowers brought the matter to her attention. “So, I told them, because I was not in Liberia, they should go to the Dean of the Law School and raise the issue. After a while, I didn’t hear from them. Later on, they forwarded me a petition that they had written to the UL administration. But I had my reservation. I told them they should have taken up the matter with the Dean of the Law School instead of the UL administration that they forwarded their petition, a copy of which is with me.”
Prof Allison said she wrote to the Dean of the Law School after discovering the academic fraud, knowing fully well that the lady in question had gotten her clearance and was said to be graduating. “So, I authorized the person I left in charge of my office to report the matter to the police. When they reported the matter, the police said they needed formal communication from me. So, I wrote on WhatsApp a complaint, forwarded it to the person I left in my office, and asked him to pp for me and sign because I am not in the country.”
She said the letter dated May 26, 2023 came from her because after the officer in charge had signed the first one on her behalf, according to him, the police said they wanted a letter with her own signature, not a letter that was signed by someone else. She said she rewrote the complaint, signed and scanned it, and sent it directly to the CID branch of the Liberian National Police.
On whether she had ever informed the University authorities about the alleged academic fraud, Professor Allison said in fact, the Faculty Senate had earlier spoken with her because they wanted to know whether she was the one who wrote the complaint, and to clarify the issues surrounding student Nuri Hutchinson’s grade. “I understand that the Faculty Senate established an investigation, and during that time they called me on a conference call to ask what happened. I told them that the particular student you are trying to graduate did not pass my course. In fact, she came and begged me to reconsider, and I said no.”
The Faculty Senate Involvement
Interestingly, this paper has been informed that during Faculty Senate meetings, the Dean of the Law School is usually present because he is a member of the Faculty Senate. The Dean of Students of the University is also a member of the Faculty Senate. The President of the University is also a member of the Faculty Senate. The Board Chairman of the University is also part of that Senate.
“They all sat in the meeting after I had explained to them that this young lady Alimatu Hutchinson failed my course and they still allowed her to graduate,” Prof Allison said.
She said when the Faculty Senate condoned such travesty of academic justice, she was forced to send a complaint to the police to investigate because, “when the administration decides to graduate someone who has not met the full requirement for graduation, I have no control over that, but my complaint was against my secretary who did this fraud in collaboration with students Alimatu Nuri Hutchinson and Ebenezer Wilson. I am going to deal with them. It was at that point that I told my office in charge to send this complaint that I wrote.
Continuing, Professor Allision said the last time that she interacted with the police, it was the Inspector General who she spoke with and he asked her to give her office in charge a power of attorney to represent her in the fraud case.
“In fact, I did write a power of attorney at the same time I was writing to the police, that my officer in charge was the one to represent me in the fraud case. But the IG said I should notarize the power of attorney that was given to my officer in charge. But I said to him that under the law, if one Liberian is giving a power of attorney to another Liberian, there is no need for notarization of that power of attorney. I told the IG that what I had given was sufficient under the law and that the police could proceed with their investigation on the basis of that. It was then that the police said they would continue the investigation knowing that the complaint came from me. So, I left it at that. I expected that they would proceed and take the guy to court for prosecution for this vicious crime that he had committed.
“When I later asked about the status of the matter from my officer in charge, he said ever since they should have taken the accused to court, but he did not know what was happening, and in fact, they had released him.” According to Prof Allison, the police arrested her secretary, took a statement from him, and he confessed committing the crime.
“But a few days ago, I learned that the investigation had been stopped allegedly by some big hands who had injected themselves in the case. This is a shame. How can this kind of crime be committed and somebody is investigating, and then some so-called big hands step in and stop the investigation? So, I said, well, this thing cannot be swept under the carpet. This is very serious and of grave concern to me. I am going to let the public know, let the world know what has happened. This society has to be cleaned up. We can’t do this. I am disappointed that the Faculty Senate called me and said that the grades came from my email and with my signature, as if to say they have never heard about cybercrime or people hacking people’s accounts,” Professor Allison lamented.