MONROVIA: The swirling rumor which saturated on social media and around the campuses of the University of Liberia (UL) last Friday evening suggesting the imminent and premature closure of the university due to unmet demands from the University of Liberia Faculty Association (ULFA) and the University of Liberia Staff Association (ULSA) died naturally by Saturday afternoon.
Even though the University Administration addressed some of the demands of the faculty, including pausing two appointments in administration, reports of the University’s closure persisted all through Friday, spreading like one of those California wildfires, sending pandemonium among students and creating a feeling of hopelessness that the impartation of knowledge at the University this semester was now in jeopardy.
The news of the University’s closure followed a few days after classes at Fendall were disrupted due to insufficient chairs, prompting the UL Administration to procure an additional 1200 chairs to address the seating problem.
However, as the Friday, September 1, deadline set by ULFA and ULSA to meet its demand drew closer, one of the campus-based student groupings threatened protest and demonstration.
But this time the demands did not come from ULFA alone. At least one of the demands had directly to do with pay disparity among the general staff. So the words contained in the resolution of August 25 came both from ULFA and ULSA.
The statement was emphatic: failure of the UL Administration to address their demands would amount to the complete discontinuance of both faculty and staff on Friday, September 1, 2023.
The September 1 deadline kept the reels of the rumor mill propelling faster, sending the message loud and clear to any listening ears.
It was late Friday evening when the rumors found its way into the listening ears of a keen observer of events at the University of Liberia: G. Wesseh Blamoh, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs. He did not like what he heard.
And before long, officials of the UL Administration, ULFA and ULSA began receiving messages, inviting them to an emergency meeting on Saturday morning to be held in the suburb of Fendall. Minister Blamoh had taken on the singular task of mediating.
However, be forewarned! even the most experienced mediator seeking to resolve an impasse between ULFA, ULSA and the UL Administration can run into a lot of challenges.
The issues affecting the nation’s highest institution of learning are complex, and most times solving them entail the support and involvement of other agencies of Government, namely, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, because it always involves money.
However, in recent times, Minister Blamoh has played the role of an effective envoy of the Visitor of the University of Liberia, President George Manneh Weah.
Since he represented the Visitor at the 103rd Commencement Convocation, delivering the Visitor’s special remarks, he has developed a special interest in mitigating conflict and solving problems at the University.
He was instrumental in ensuring that the UL Board of Trustees was reconstituted. This achievement, however small he might consider it, has endeared him to ULFA, ULSA and the UL Administration. He is regarded as a man who can get things done.
Last July, when a stalemate ensued between the UL Administration and the service provider of the UL’s ePortal system, Mwetana, and threatened to derail the academic semester, Minister Blamoh intervened and the stalemate was resolved.
Minister Blamoh’s advocacy for peace and stability on the University campus is not only limited to mediating between the UL Administration and ULFA/ULSA.
His mediation efforts have also been extended to students. He has held dialogue with student leaders, emphasizing the importance of negotiating as a way to solve problems rather than resorting to protest or demonstration.
So when he invited the three parties on Saturday morning, the room was full. The UL Administration was led by Dr. Julius S. Nelson, Jr. and five of his cabinet members. ULFA also came with a high-powered delegation, led by its President, Dr. Edna Johnny and Mr. Eric Pattei, Secretary General. ULSA was represented by Mr. Dee Preston, its vice president.
As the discussion unfolded, each side explained its version of the story. Minister Blamoh listened carefully; asked relevant questions; sought clarification when something was not clear enough; recognized those to speak and denied those who had not been recognized to speak.
He presided over the meeting so efficiently and effortlessly as an experienced presiding officer.
At one point tension soared, voices rose and tempers flared, but Minister Blamoh remained calm and collected.
Around the hour mark, he adjourned the meeting and engaged in a quick sort of shuttle diplomacy.
And then lunch was served. So by the time the meeting resumed, the tone and mood in the room was significantly different than what it was before the adjournment.
His time in the National Legislature as a representative seemed to have adequately prepared him for moments like this. Minister Blamoh understood that when you invite a roomful of academics and professors, that includes philosophers, economists, medical doctors, lawyers, journalists, statisticians, among others, the discussion is bound to sway one way or the other.
But Minister Blamoh had one thing in mind: under no circumstances should the University of Liberia shut its doors prematurely.
He wanted the assurance from ULFA, ULSA and the UL Administration that the University would not close, urging each side to remain fully engaged in order to solve the problems that have brought tension and division.
In the end, the three groups unconditionally and unanimously committed to working together to ensure a successful end to the academic semester.
The meeting concluded with the singing of the old nursery rhymes: “The more we work together, the happier we will be. Your friend is my friend, my friend is your friend. The more we work together, the happier we will be.”