A serious chair famine, resulting into inadequate seating capacity, has besieged the University of Liberia (UL), with thousands of students attending the state-run institution expressing bitter frustrations.
Embittered students have called on the University's President Dr. Emmet Dennis to provide chairs to address the “unacceptable learning condition” at the University, while a student political group, the Student Integration Movement (SIM) has threatened a hunger strike after its ultimatum.
Dr. Dennis took over the University two years ago and has tremendously transformed the UL, winning plaudits from the public including students, faculty and staff and the Liberian leader, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The University currently has at least 17,000 students enrolled this semester (registration is still in progress), and most of them have to scramble and scuffle for chairs to sit in class, if they must not to stand for hours taking lessons.
Some students have reportedly sustained scratches and wounds brawling over chairs, while some lecturers have censured the act of students standing over the colleagues in class to take notes.
Students who manage to get chairs in the morning keep and use these chairs for the rest of the school day or preserve same for their colleagues for fear of engaging into another scuffle.
The UL Administration has label the shortage of seats on the campus “artificial”. The administration said the failure of students who are not going to class to dispossess the chairs to others is a major contributing factor to the problem, but students said the crisis is beyond that.
“If students could go to class and find vacant chairs there, I don't think they would keep chairs for the next classes,” Alphonso Johnson, reading Accounting said. “The fact is that there are limited chairs here. Almost all classes are being held on campus this semester, besides Fendall,” he argued, waiting for his next class (English 202).
“If I give this chair out now, what do you expect me to sit on during my next class one hour from now?” Georgialine Thompson, sitting along with her colleagues in a semi-circular form in the TH-Building wondered. “I'm not prepared to suffer or stand in class. I'm keeping this chair, ok?” the Sociology-major students noted, her colleagues smiling.
Like Alphonso and Georgialine, every student has a reason for not releasing their hard-fought for chairs to others, as a result of the shortage, thereby worsening the crisis.
The campus-based SIM last week issued a three-day ultimatum to the University of Liberia administration to provide better sitting capacity for all of students attending the institution.
Speaking to reporters on the main campus of the University, SIM Chairman Dave Saah Sourie said the issues of sitting capacity has become “a serious problem” for students and is “creating an uncomfortable learning environment”.
“Our attention have been drawn to inadequate chair constrain UL students are faced with daily…,” the lamented. “We wish to state in an unequivocal manner that SIM is concerned and frustrated to see those students whose wishes and aspirations we represent turning in a plodding condition each day at their various classes in the process of acquiring education,” Sourie added.
SIM said the “unavailability of chairs” on campus “has a serious psychological impact and a great set back for students” because, according to him, the students are always seeing loitering, fighting for chairs and some standing in classes for more than an hour.
The student group asserted that after the expiration of its three-day ultimatum (which expired Saturday) for provision of better sitting capacity, it will begin a hunger strike this week.
SIM claimed that its ultimatum and subsequent decision come after “persistent diplomatic engagements with the UL administration has failed.”
It said the hunger strike will call attention and show the UL administration that the students are undergoing serious constrains in pursuit of university education.
SIM also contended that it does not see reason why students should face deploring predicament in the wake of the current increased in tuition and other fees with the intent of providing quality education and an enhanced learning environment.
The UL budget has risen from US$2 million to US$9 million.
Still the least expensive university in the country, undergraduate UL students are now paying L$175 (US$2.50) per credit hour and at least L$ 1,550 (US$22) for fees, but Dr. Dennis said the UL need an annual budget of at least US$60 million to provide the kind of services required.
Faced with the question of chair shortage and the difficulties it is posing to learning at the UL since classes commenced three weeks ago, Dr. S. Momulu Gataweh, head of UL Relations, confirmed the situation and noted that it is being addressed.
He told students in Sociology 305, Section Two Class Friday that the UL earlier decided to Move to the new campus, Fendall, but after its dedication, chairs were not available for classes to be held there.
To address this, he said, the UL appealed to the Chinese Government to assist with chairs to which the Chinese agreed. He said classed will be moved to Fendall in January 2011, and the issued of chair shortage would be fully addressed.
Meantime, Dr. Gataweh said the Administration is making benches that students, especially in the TH-Building area, would sit on while waiting for their class times. He said part of the shortage of chairs was due to waiting students taking chairs from classrooms to sit.
Meanwhile many of the students have expressed total frustration over the condition (chair constrain) in which they find themselves.
The students are appealing to the UL Administration to quickly address to the issues which they said poses major setback to the acquisition of quality education and the government-owned highest institution of learning. D K Sengbeh & Marcus Zoleh write.