Dr. Emmet A. Dennis, President of the University of Liberia, has provided a stellar leadership at the helm of the University of Liberia for more than six years that has resulted into major changes at the institution including the reduction in academic wrongdoing, improvement in academic profile, a complete shift in student enrollment, the attraction of external grants, the creation of an Honors Program, the establishment of two new colleges, and most recently, the reacquisition of more than 5,000 acres of the UL Fendall land in Louisiana.
Despite these accomplishments, Dr. Dennis, who has decided to retire early next year, likes to downplay what he has done at the University, especially when he talks about the challenges facing the institution, saying “The glass is half-empty.” “Is the glass half-empty or half-full?” Dr. Dennis repeated the expression “The Glass is half-empty” at a three-day retreat last week when he presented on the topic: “The University of Liberia, Then, Now and Tomorrow.” In his presentation, Dr. Dennis said, in 2008, when he ascended to the UL presidency, the University had only 13 terminal degree holders and not a single faculty in the Department of Chemistry had an advanced degree in the subject. He said the university was plagued with serious academic malfeasance that students purchased their admission into the institution resulting into an explosion in student enrollment (in one academic year alone, 8,000 freshmen were admitted.) “For many years we were doing the wrong thing but did not know we were doing the wrong thing,” Dr. Dennis said. And it is to right some of these pervasive wrongs that still continues to occupy Dr. Dennis’ time even more so has he enters his transition away from the University. One of the first wrongs he corrected was to substantially reduce the blatant widespread academic malfeasance that existed at the University. Dr Dennis said he abolished the issuance of library slip and financial clearance for the entire student population required before graduation and simplified the issuance of graduation clearance. “No more test fees or pamphlets must be purchased to register for a course; no more purchase of admission into UL—admission, but must be based on entrance exam and merit; large classes with propensity for academic malfeasance made optional, others declared persona non-grata,” Dr. Dennis told the retreat audience. These initial reforms were a harbinger for more ambitious ones that followed. The evidence is out on how many faculty members have received advanced degrees during the presidency of Dr. Dennis verses prior to his ascendancy. Comparatively, the UL President said the university produced 33 doctoral degrees between 2009 to 2014 as opposed to 2001 to 2007; the same can be said of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law which had only four Law Faculty with Masters in Laws (LLM) from 2001 to 2007, but now has 22 Law Faculty and counting with a Master in Laws. But it is in producing medical doctors to close the patient-doctor gap Dr. Dennis and his administration must take their bow. For example, between 2000 and 2007, the University’s medical school, A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine, graduated 32 doctors. However, between 2009 and 2014, the school graduated 84 doctors. Last December, the University graduated 35 doctors while this December, an astonishingly 42 new doctors are expected to graduate, making it the highest the School has produced since its founding. Additionally, a paradigm shift in student enrollment has occurred at the University in favor of the National Sciences, according to the UL President. “During the initial stages of Liberia’s and the University’s recovery from conflict, enrollment in the College of Business and Public Administration overwhelmed enrollments in all of the other colleges, essentially because of availability of faculty to ensure graduation at a reasonable time (compared with disciplines such as the sciences, engineering and agriculture which had insufficient qualified faculty and virtually no laboratories),” Dr. Dennis explained. For instance, in 2009, enrollment in the Business College was 46% of the total undergraduate enrollment, but in 2015, the figure dropped to 36%. Similarly, in 2009, undergraduate enrollment in Science, Engineering and Agriculture accounted for only 21% of undergraduate enrollment. But in 2015, it rose to 35% of the total undergraduate enrollment. As such, this paradigm shift in student enrollment has moved the University towards balanced student make-up as opposed to the lopsided one, which disproportionately attracted more than 50% of the total undergraduate student population in the Business College. Because of these efforts, the current student population now looks this way: Liberia College of Social Science and Humanities (3,644 students); the W.V.S. Tubman Teachers College (1,459 students), the College of Business and Public Administration (8,060 students down from 12,435 in 2013), the T.J.R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology-Engineering (4,847 students), the William R. Tolbert College of Agriculture and Forestry (2700 students) and the College of General Studies (800 students.) Despite some of these achievements, Dr. Dennis continues to express profound regrets over the financial difficulties of the University which he says is reflected in the financial difficulty of the country. While he says it costs about US$600 to educate each of the 22,000 undergraduates, the University received only about US$400/student from the Government. It is against this background that the University of Liberia continues to seek external collaboration to complement the Government’s budgetary support.