About a day ago, the 15th President of the University of Liberia was inaugurated in a historic ceremony held at the Fendall Campus. Dr. Julius Julukon Sarwolo Nelson seems ready to efficaciously pilot this flight. As I sat keenly listening to Dr. Nelson outlining a number of reforms his administration is prepared to undertake, his power-packed inaugural address reawakened lost hope. His speech arouse resounding claps and cheers at different intervals. The tasks ahead are herculean but Dr. Nelson has promised to confront them through real vision and concrete action. Is UL en route to Renaissance?
Liberia’s foremost and premier center of higher learning is still struggling in this subregion after 157 years of existence. It has been insatiably craving for RANAISSANCE since 1862 but this golden moment is yet to come. Even access to internet in this ICT age remains a nightmare as UL celebrates its historic Centennial Commencement Convocation on December 12, 2019. The prolonged challenges and/or quagmires at UL, which can be largely attributed to budgetary constraint(s), have placed Liberia’s Birthplace of Leaders (UL) in a tight spot to provide quality academic services amidst growing demand for higher education.
Though the University of Liberia is the second oldest in West Africa, next to the University of Sierra Leone (formerly Forah Bay University), but its academic facilities, especially the learning environment, remain by far the poorest among public-funded Universities in this region. A US$200,000 reduction in UL’s annual budget this 2019-2020 fiscal year does suggest an addition to existing challenges. From US$16.2m last fiscal year to US$16m this fiscal year is just a drop in the ocean to run a public university with these current structures:
1. Four (4) Campuses – (Capitol Hill Campus – Fendall Campus – A. M. Doglioti Campus – and Straz-Sinje Campus)
2. Enrollment Rate – 18,753 undergraduate and postgraduate students
3. Faculty – 331 academic staff
4. Undergraduate Programs – 26 academic disciplines
5. Postgraduate Programs – 9 academic disciplines
6. Colleges and Institutes – 9 undergraduate colleges and 5 institutes
7. Support Staff – over 200
The urgency to push for increased budgetary support for UL is more of a national imperative amidst the high cost (inflation) of basic goods and services. As an outgoing student leader and a graduate of this year’s Centennial Class, I would like to reecho this call. It is time to rebrand UL. It is time to evoke quality over quantity. It is time to move forward and make UL a topnotch institution of higher learning in West Africa and Africa. It is time place premium on quality education and academic excellence. It is time to seek the ultimate welfare of students and faculty members as well as support staff.
Of course, it is time to reposition the University of Liberia en route to Renaissance. Getting there may seem tough but with concrete vision tied to action, a glorious reawakening and promising future for UL is possible. The latest pick or choice for UL Presidency is best suited and well-positioned to usher UL into an era of renaissance. Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson has all it takes to drive this dream and build a strong team for a better and premier University. He is a much-admired catalyst of change.
Dr. Nelson’s recent appointment as President of the University of Liberia has revived lost hope and solidified renewed strength across almost every stratum of UL. It has cemented a path towards a more proactive, people-centered, and transformational leadership. This transition, which is in accordance with Article IV Section 1 of the 1952 Charter of the University of Liberia, has reenergized REAL CHANGE.
The outpouring of willingness from students, faculty members, and support staff to work with Dr. Nelson is an unchallenged testament of his impeccable legacy and sagacity while he was serving as Dean and Vice President for Student Affairs. Dr. Nelson is indeed a catalyst of renewed aspiration that will propel UL on a dais of renaissance and sustained improvement.Why I think so?
With needed budgetary support from national government, Dr. Nelson could turn things around because he possesses these qualities:
1. He is a dynamic, progressive, and visionary leader
The indelible and industrious marks of Dr. Julius S. Nelson are not only ingrained in UL’s chronicle, but other institutions’ including the United Methodist University. As a visionary leader, he led a number of reforms at UMU and UL while serving as Dean and Vice President for Student Affairs.
2. He is a people-centered and seasoned administrator who understands UL
Dr. Nelson is not a stranger to UL. He understands what it takes to overhaul and give UL a new look. His connect with the people is strong as a result of his high-impact abilities to engage and promote development through collectivism, dialogue, and mutual respect. As an administrator, he is charismatic and transformational. His outstanding service to UL, in a number of administrative capacities for 12 years, puts him a better position to ignite genuine CHANGE.
3. He is educationally fit and academically sound to lead UL
The academic credentials of Dr. Nelson are just perfect to transform UL into an advanced institution of higher learning. Dr. Julius Julukon Sarwolo Nelson holds a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and Chemistry from the University of Liberia in 1983. He has a Master of Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary in 1987, Atlanta Georgia, USA. He has another Master of Arts in Youth Ministry from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1988. Dr. Nelson earned his Doctoral credential in Ministry with focus on Peacemaking and Muslim-Christian Dialogue in 2004 from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, USA.
4. He is a longtime disciplinarian with a high appetite for academic excellence and meritocracy
As a longtime disciplinarian, a revered cleric, and an acclaimed administrator, Dr. Nelson has what it takes to engender continued engagements and improved rapport with all stakeholders in order to guarantee a disciplined and tranquil academic environment that inspires excellence and meritocracy. As a family man, he is married to Dr. Muriel Victoria Goodridge Nelson and their union is blessed with seven (7) biological children.
5. His leadership and managerial experience has been tested and proven
Dr. Nelson has spent most of his life serving public and private institutions. He has managed thousands of people through servant-leadership. Everywhere he served, his history is replete with accountability, integrity, humility, and milestone. He is a man of valor and vision. Since 2007, Dr. Nelson has served UL in a number of administrative capacities including Dean and Vice President for Student Affairs, Associate Professor of Moral Philosophy and Ethics, and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy.
6. Dr. Nelson possesses a strong link nationally and internationally
It is a fact that Dr. Nelson has a strong link abroad and in country. He has worked and studied abroad; similarly in Liberia. His leadership will attract support from everywhere to make UL a better learning environment.
With these unique qualities plus more being possessed by Dr. Julius Julukon Sarwolo Nelson, the State-run University is en route to Renaissance. But this milestone is only possible if the Government of Liberia fully supports Dr. Nelson’s leadership through increased budgetary support.
Therefore, I would like to recommend the following to both GOL and UL as a means of guaranteeing quality education and a safe/peaceful learning environment:
1. Increase UL’s annual budget from US$16m to at least US$25m;
2. Provide unlimited access to internet for students, faculty members, and administrators;
3. Provide access to buses especially for students and faculty members at Fendall Campus;
4. Reactivate the Student Exchange Program;
5. Provide access to functional clinic, safe drinking water, electricity, stationeries, logistics (chairs, desks, etc.);
6. Improve faculty profile and enhance institutional development through enrichment programs;
7. Establish a functional research and career development center (This could help source grant and financial aid from partners and donors);
8. Review and upgrade the curricula/syllabuses of all academic programs in line with international standards. Add more degree-granting programs in different fields;
9. Increase the salaries and allowances of faculty members as well as support staff (Refrain from cutting salaries/allowances);
10. Improve and increase academic facilities (Libraries, Computer Labs, Science Labs, Equipment for Practical, Classrooms, Student Centers, Palava huts, buildings, etc.);
11. Improve Student Life and Promote Academic Excellence (Sporting facilities and activities, Debate Team, Mentorship and Scholar Program, Internship for students, Tutorial Program, STEM, Arts and Culture, Lecture Series in different academic disciplines, Regular workshops/symposiums for enrichment, Queen Contest (Miss UL), etc.;
12. Upgrade UL Website and improve all online platforms including social media. Reactivate Lux FM 106.6 and UL Newspaper and Newsletter;
13. Explore possibilities of offering academic programs at Ph.D. and Doctoral levels.
14. Explore possibilities of investing in profiteering businesses in order to source additional funding for UL (farm, transport, stationery, land rental, photocopying/desktop publishing, etc.);
15. Remain engaged with students, faculty members, and support staff through continuous dialogues and meetings (Reintroducing suggestion boxes could assist).
In an effort to achieve all of these, a small team of technocrats must be set-up to brainstorm and roll out a strategic plan that is more realistic and doable in the context of UL’s vision. Beyond this end, increased budgetary support from GOL could bring to fulfillment all of these worthwhile interventions. And the University of Liberia will certainly be en route to Renaissance under Dr. Julius Julukon Sarwolo Nelson, Jr.
Lux-In-Tenebris can truly become the Light in Darkness that beams across Liberia and this region if Dr. Nelson is given the required support, especially financial, that he along with his team needs to succeed.
As Dr. Nelson along with his team pursues this notable cause of making UL better, may all of us remain hopeful in our motto “Lux in Tenebris (Light in Darkness)” – a Latin phrase coined by a German dramatist Bertolt Brecht in 1919 under the influence of a great Munich Clown Karl Valentin.
About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is an outgoing student leader of the University of Liberia and a prospective graduate (Cum Laude) of the Centennial Class 2019. Kollie studied Economics and he is the outgoing Standard Bearer of the Student Unification Party (SUP). The author can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
By Martin K. N. Kollie
Student and Youth Leader