Beneath the “Resignations” of Cllrs Allison, Gbala -Law School Dean Barbu Paints a Different Picture

MONROVIA: As the credibility of the University of Liberia’s Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law (LAGSL) goes into another tailspin over the sudden resignation of another law professor, this time, Cllr. Lucia Sonii-Gbala for what she termed as the unilateral change of the final grades of the Applied Legal Studies II which she taught; the arbitrary clearance of students who failed ALS II for graduation; and the fact that a request for investigation still remains unaddressed by the University of Liberia. The Analyst has confirmed through an official response from Law School Dean Dr. Jallah Barbu’s reply to Associate Professor Gbala’s letter of resignation that the Law School has exerted all efforts to resolve the issues raised by Cllr Gbala in her letter, but that she remained obstinate in attending any of the meetings called by the investigative committee that was set up to resolve the issue between the professor and her students.

According to Dean Jallah A. Barbu, he was only responding to Cllr. Gbala’s “letter of resignation” to shed light on the three issues that she cited as the basis for her resignation. The Law School Dean said he was quite taken aback that Cllr. Gbala would resign from an institution that she is not employed with, but is rather a contractor whose service tenure had expired since the close of the second semester of academic 2022/2023.

“Let me emphatically state at the onset that I am not responding to your letter per the caption because as far as our records reflect, you are not an employee of either the Law School or the University of Liberia. You were a term contractor for the past semester, whose membership on the faculty depends on renewal of your contract provided you are assigned a course to teach. Your contract ended as you very well know, at the close of the second semester of academic 2022/2023. Therefore, if I were to support such a misrepresentation, I would be acting most unethical and indeed bringing both my integrity and the University’s into question. I certainly appreciate your understanding of the fact that you held a contract with the University through the Law School, that being the basis for addressing your letter to me, but I still cannot understand your assumption that the contract is automatically renewed. However, please understand that as at the end of the semester aforesaid, your contract ended and it has not been renewed. Thus, I cannot entertain your submission insofar as the subject of resignation goes, as both your submission and a substantive response would amount to an exercise in futility.

“While the subject of your letter renders it legally untenable, the rest of its content, especially the issues you raised therein warrant clarification to demystify your assertion which are clearly far from reality. Additionally, I trust that you will swiftly publish my communication to you via all media outlets.

“In the first paragraph of your letter, you gave three reasons for what you describe as your resignation. For your benefit, and certainly the benefit of others who may read my communication, I have restated below each of those reasons and given the facts thereto,” Dean Barbu stated.

Unilateral decisions, Total disregard for Collegial respect

In addressing the first reason that Associate Professor Gbala gave as her basis for resigning, which had to do with the Law School authorities’ alleged unilateral change of the final grades of the Applied Legal Studies II Course taught by her, Dean Barbu cited a litany of instances where, Cllr. Gbala, knowing fully well that she jointly administered the course with another professor (in this case, Dean Barbu), however took unilateral decisions throughout the semester that led to her students finally complaining to the UL authorities after the submission of the final grades for the semester.

“You might need to revert to the semester course schedule as a first fact check regarding the assignment of the course. For easy reference, I have attached a copy to my letter. Evidently, the course was assigned to both you and I and by no means, can you be the senior lecturer or professor in this arrangement. Yet still, to say that you taught the course without adequately disclosing that not only did I teach but I brought clarity to several confusing situations far beyond what you could handle is terrifying. For that, the students in our class, and appear to me, a majority of the law students, will quickly and voluntarily attest. This alone is arguably sufficient reason to inform you that you could not unilaterally evaluate and submit grades for students of that class. So then what went wrong?

“Your submission of grades was the last of the several disregards of the anticipated collegial respect that a colleague would afford the other in such an arrangement. You know clearly the principal reason why I paired you with me to teach the course therefore I will not mention that here. What I cannot hold back is the several unilateral actions that could have resulted in my decision to teach the course throughout the semester while you would only attend the class and do clerical work.

“First, you disregarded my offer that you draft a course outline that we both could then review and strengthen. Without reference to me, you circulated an outline to the students. When I inquired, you apologized and I took it as a sincere act on your part on the one hand, and on the other, we could work through it and yet meet the objectives of the course. I had no idea I had licensed you to indulge in similar conduct until you elected to stay away from class on a number of occasions without notice to me. Again, I had a conversation with you and advised that you inform me whenever you cannot attend. Of course, you are not a student any longer but again, you clearly understood the reasons for my pieces of advice although you elected to ignore them.

“You recall fully that it was a decision that we will finalize the semester exam although I offered again to allow you to develop the draft. It was baffling that you ignored that arrangement and did not show up despite my repeated follow-ups until the day of the exam when without notice to me, I found out that you were already in the exam hall and had distributed exam papers. You quite recall that I was about to cancel the exam but for the intervention of a few persons who advised that it would send a wrong signal to the students. Certainly, you recall that it was at that point that you gave me a copy of the exam questions, and that in my review with you I made a few observations to which you responded that the exam was an “opened book”. Yet still, I advised that we will jointly correct the papers which without any reason to belabor, you flatly disregarded and proceed to undertake your unilateral correction.

“If this is the basis upon which you regard the grades as yours, it is wrong. Both you and I are responsible for the final outcome of the course ranging from the preparation of the course outline to submitting the final grades. This is why I remained engaged at every stage.

“Despite my persistent engagement, without regard to the arrangement, you singlehandedly corrected the exam papers and submitted to me the setoff copybooks with indications never before used in the law School. Marks of “P” and “V” are foreign to our system of grading Cllr. Sonii-Gbala. That prompted my inquiry to you on what they meant and your answer was that student plagiarized. Then my next question was how many and your response was quite concerning: “almost the entire class.” My experience in the classroom immediately triggered the next question, and that was whether you identified the specific contents in each copybook that suggests plagiarism. Then your response that almost everywhere gave me greater reason to review the copybooks myself because of the magnitude of the allegation and the resulting penalties.

“Although you left the copybooks with me, the students, including one whose copybook had neither “P” or “V” indication, complained to me. My immediate response was that they revert to you for clarification since they were uncertain about the basis for your action and what the indications actually meant. They did and the response I received was that you had taken your decision and would not change it. With the uproar and what appeared to be a potential crisis, I gave more attention to the matter. First, I met with the students and informed them that we will launch an investigation and second that I invited you to a meeting.

“My intent for inviting you was to, in a subtle and respectful way, let you understand that you were in error, and I thanked you for attending. At that meeting, I informed you that I had a lengthy meeting with Dr. Moses M. Zinnah, Vice President for Academic Affairs the previous evening and that he certainly would, if he had not already, inform President Nelson. I was clear that the University is concerned about this matter as the students had reported the same. I further advised you that we give students grades, except an ‘NG” when they are alleged to have committed academic fraud and for such a grave allegation, the Student Handbook, which I believed you had read at least in part, mandates an investigation. If the allegation is found to be true, the penalty is suspension or expulsion. That therefore means we cannot act arbitrarily or contrary to the University’s established rules. Thus, I entreated you to reconsider your decision as a colleague to avoid a situation of embarrassment which ultimately would arise.

“I was not deterred by your insistence to maintain your stance, arguing that you informed me earlier and I asked you to send in your grades. Of course, I reminded you that you had marked the papers alone and therefore I could not determine a score or final grade. That triggered your response that you will not and will defend your integrity, a response which I countered by asserting the joint responsibility we shared for the course result. Not reaching any resolution despite my advice that the matter would require an investigation most probably by an independent committee, you indicated your preference for an investigation. That prompted my immediate communication via WhatsApp immediately to Dr. Zinnah, with notice to you, that the professor maintains her position and insists on an investigation.

“I must note that the University administration at the highest level was magnanimous in dealing with you on this matter. Vice President Dr. Zinnah invited you to a meeting, but as informed at a subsequent meeting with President Nelson residing, you rejected the invitation. Notwithstanding, the administration decided that a further effort be made to reach a logical conclusion. That led to the decision to submit the matter to a committee to investigate. Of course, the committee was established. The office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, the office of the Vice President for Legal Affairs and an Independent observer was appointed. Again, when you were contacted for the investigation, you refused to cooperate, asserting that you had no complaint against you. That paralyzed the committee which had also invited the students. Despite this unfortunate reaction, when I was informed, I immediately reported to Vice President Zinnah. What else could have been done at that point?

“At this point, the University authorities at a meeting with President Nelson, instructed that I, the senior lecturer of the duo, undertake a review of the books and report accordingly. I reasoned that I could not do this alone. Therefore, I asked Associate Dean Sumo and together, we undertook a detailed review of each copybook. Our findings were interesting. First, you had made very positive comments in students’ copybooks, commending them in most parts for their answers. A notation of excellent or very good signals an acceptable work product. How could that lead to disqualification? Further, not a single copybook had any comment of academic malpractices such as spying or plagiarism. No copybook contained a single comment referencing another copybook for similarity of answers. On the other hand, the grammar, analysis, and general content of literally all the copybooks do not reach close to any publishable material. One wonders how this could be plagiarism?

“The above were not sufficient to allow us to make a final determination. We reviewed the quality of the answers as against the questions in order to make a determination. From our overall work, the students were graded and a report submitted to Vice President Zinnah. Is this a unilateral action? Absolutely not. On the contrary, it is the rationalization of an unjustified and deliberate action by an individual exercising control over a group of persons to deprive them of what is justly due them. In law, this is due process and that is a standard jealously upheld by the Law School,” Dean Barbu said.

No Arbitrary Clearance

Touching on the second reason that Cllr. Gbala provided for resigning from the Law School, Dean Barbu clarified that ALS II students were never given clearance arbitrarily, rather, a painstaking process of evaluation was undertaken in line with the standard procedure of the University of Liberia.

“I appreciate your admission by this assertion of your separation from any other activity of the Law School except to teach. It is important however to give you the details of the open and transparent clearing process each student is subjected to for graduation. Not only does there now exist a standing and active Admission and Records Committee; there is also a robust oversight administrative process in place to double check each file, not because of lack of confidence but to enhance quality assurance. This is why applicants for graduation are served a letter detailing the academic credit hours they have completed, the outstanding credit hours they have to complete, the current grade point average (GPA) and the aggregate points for which the GPA is determined. Additionally, the applicant is advised to register any disagreement with the letter for correction. Even then, a faculty meeting was called for a final review but only a few members attended. I appeal to you to revert to your email on this point.

“The intensive nature of the review is not limited to the Law School. A full report is submitted to the Vice President for Enrollment Services whose staff undertake a second level review that witnesses a back-and-forth engagement for clarification and verification purposes. Then a third-tier review is at the level of the Faculty Senate. This is not a perfunctory activity. It is quite intense as well. Each department’s report is scrutinized by the entire Senate and if satisfactory, approved. If it is not, the appropriate comments are made and the department is required to act accordingly. Those who have participated in this process including the current Minister of Education of the Republic of Liberia understand and will confirm my narrative. Yet let me note Cllr. Sonii-Gbala that the University appreciates that everyone in this process is not infallible and there could be mistakes. This is why the University reserves the right to review a record either upon receiving an inquiry or based on its own finding. In academia, there is no statute of limitation on post-graduation academic malpractice, much so in a professional academic institution. If these do not negate any arbitrariness, what will?” Dean Barbu wondered.

With regard to the third reason for her resignation, Dean Jallah said Cllr. Gbala had rather indicted herself when she elected to take the matter to the court of public opinion rather than go through the grievance mechanisms and processes of the University of Liberia.

“Is this reason not an indictment of yourself as to the social media publicity and other approaches you adopted long before the University itself reminded you and the entire world that it has not altered the mechanism and processes for filing diverse grievances or complaints with the University? Was your grievance outside the circles of the University or were you not aware of the mechanisms or processes? If the latter is the case, then it is not forgivable because the Handbook is available and accessible without asking. In fact, you could simply have asked as a matter of humility because no individual knows everything. Notwithstanding, the University forgave your misstep, allowed you to file a complaint, and then set up an investigation committee. That committee certainly started its work because I am notified by it of a scheduled investigation. I cannot state with certainty that you have been informed but I surmise that it is probably the scheduling of the investigation that has caused a panic and has caused you to serve me what you described as a letter of resignation. Permit me to avail myself of the opportunity to inform you that I will submit unconditionally to that and any other investigation on this matter.

“I note in your second paragraph you delight at sharing your knowledge of law with “97 students whilst instructing the course of Labor Law, Legal Methods, and Applied Legal Studies II.” Thank you for your service and please accept my exceeding joy for being amongst the thousands of students I have taught with distinction at the same Law School that I now serve as Dean, in several courses, a few being Legal Research and Writing, Civil Procedure, Tort Law, African Law, Admiralty/Maritime Law, Administrative Law, Applied Legal Studies I, Applied Legal Studies II, and my signature courses, Constitutional Law, Constitutional Design and Moot Court. These justify my satisfaction at seeing you and the batch of my products excelling from being students to Attorneys-At-Law and Counsellors-At-Law. Did I give you a free ride in any of the courses you did with me? I am still the same as I was then, if not better.

“For the record, I must conclude that all that I have narrated here took place before the 103rd Commencement Convocation of the University which enjoyed the presence of distinguished academics, officials of Government including the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and the Minister of Education,” Dr. Barbu emphatically said.

The real story behind Cllr. Frances Allison’s resignation

Meanwhile, Dean Barbu appeared yesterday on OK FM Morning Show to provide clarity on Cllr. Frances Allison’s unceremonious resignation from the Law School a fortnight ago, and to buttress his response to Cllr. Sonii-Gbala’s resignation.

Regarding the resignation of former Chief Justice and Law Professor Frances Allison, Cllr. Barbu said the professor who taught Children Law at the Law School is a part-time member of the University of Liberia who betrayed his confidence and that of her students, although she was one of those that was bringing light to the Law School by virtue of her previous positions in Government.

“When I took over, I assigned two courses to Justice Allison, one of them being the Children Law, which is the issue that has brought all of this noise.

Justice Allison conducted her classes, gave her exam and sent her result. The first result she sent, by virtue of the policy of the Law School, is the raw score, which are basically numbers and not letters. The University of Liberia does not acknowledge numbers as grades. The final grades are in letters and not in numbers. But we adopted a system that every professor has the right, if you so desire to give your exam over 80 points, and classroom work for 20 points.

“Justice Allison elected to give an exam of 100 points, in order words, no non-exam score. After administering the exam and submitting her grades, she had six students who didn’t pass the course by number score. There was somebody who had 64 and another person had 66 points. Those grades came to the Law School and I had a copy.

“Subsequently, Justice Allison submitted her final grade. To submit a final grade, you will send back to you a form that you will fill in. That form is basically to translate from your raw score to your other form, the letter grades and send to us. In her case, her final score constituted both number grades and letter grades. And she sent them through her email address, signed by her and dated by her. Very well, I was happy about that.

“When I saw her final grades, I saw some changes in her final grades. This person had 64, how come this person had 74 and a “C”. So, it raised eyebrows. I didn’t go to the professor because that would be administratively wrong. I called the Associate Dean who also has custodial rights. I told him that I had seen something that doesn’t seem to be right. I have seen Justice Allison’s grades, one set has failing grades, and this other set has passing grades for those who failed. How come? Then he said to me that he and Justice Allison had been on this back and forth. He said he told her that she could not add to anybody’s grades another longer or subtract from anybody’s grade because she had submitted her raw score; and she had administered her test over a 100 point. She had points nowhere to add to anybody’s grades. He told her also that the Dean will not accept this. Then she said to him that some people did some extra work in her class. He ten told her to take her grades back, just send us a note that you are redoing your scores. At that point, I asked the Associate Dean to allow me to engage Justice Allison, and I immediately sent her an email inquiring and seeking clarification why she has two sets of grades. Up to this day, Justice Allison has not responded to my email.

“I still felt there was a need to pursue the issue further. So, I called in one of the students in that category. I informed the student that making any accusation of the student or Justice Allison, but we have to work within the realm of our rules. So, I inquired, what’s going on; I see that you have one grade here and another grade there.

“The student said to me that the professor did not give their copybooks back. ‘She only sent the raw score, and when I saw my grade, I felt it was impossible because I know the work I did. So, I sought an audience with the professor and we reviewed my copybook. We went from one question to the other. At question number 2, the professor gave 20 points for that question, but the professor gave me 10 points’, the student said.

“When they got to question 4 which was 25 points, the students why she received 10 points and the distinguished season professor said she gave the student 10 points because she wrote only one page. The student said the professor even accused her of missing classes and that the professor said she did not know her. However, when they checked the attendance record, the professor saw that the student had missed only one class out of 14 class records reviewed. The student said the professor dismissed their meetings saying she was satisfied with the last review of the student’s attendance record.

“She said she knew the professor’s conscience was pricking her. She said she told her colleagues that she was not graduating because she failed the Children Law course. But she said she was surprised to learn one day that the professor had sent in her grades, so she went in to the administrator and saw a “C” grade. The student said she knew the professor’s conscience had caused her to have a change of heart.

“Fortunately, the University had set up a committee to investigate a query by a number of students on the admission process. So, when I was going to the Committee, I took along my communication and the grade for professor Allison that she had submitted. Little did I know that the committee had been informed about this Allison situation.

When that issue was brought up by the committee, I just took the first grade she submitted and gave the second grade. I then shared my email with her about why she had two different grades. I finally explained to the committee that Justice Allison had walked to my office one day asking me to write a letter to the US Embassy attesting that she was a member of the faculty because she had gone to the Embassy over five times since she retired from government and had always been denied visa.

“I asked her what she was going for and how long, and she replied that she wanted to go and rest for a year or two. I immediately said to the Justice that I do not have the authority, but rather the president of the University. So, she said she will only be going for two months for her medical in the States, to which we agreed and had the letter done. But I asked her to write a letter confirming that she will be back in June or early July so that I will use that to write to the Embassy. She got the visa and two days later she tendered in her resignation while she was still in the country.

“So, I asked her through a contact that I wanted to see her. She came to my office and I asked why she sent in a letter of resignation knowing fully well I had vouched that she was a staff of the Law School. I told her I was going to write to the Embassy to revoke my previous letter of recommendation. She then begged that she would back in June and be with the Law School; so I told her to put it in writing. And she did.

When she left, I learned that the Justice had asked one of her workers in her office, a student of the Law School, to arrest her secretary and take him to the police station.

Later Justice Allison and I spoke and she admitted changing Ebenezer’s grade, but that it was his secretary who had changed a female student’s grade. So, I asked her to send an email or WhatsApp message complaining about the lady and Ebenezer., which she failed to do.

Fortunately, one day I received an email from Justice Allison stating her embarrassment to the University and the Law School due to the misconduct of her secretary, but because of the University’s decision to clear the student, she has reinstated her statement to resign,” Dean Barbu lamented.

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