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Prof. Abdullah refutes ‘insubordination’ claim

…as he fights termination from varsity

July 21, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai

Professor Dr Ibrahim Abdullah has refuted claims of insubordination levied against him by the University of Sierra Leone.

The respected historian spoke on Wednesday at a press conference held at the Harry Yansaneh Hall, at the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists headquarters on Campbell Street in Freetown.

This response came after his controversial sacking as senior lecturer in the Department of History and African Studies at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.

The University Court had upheld a report by a committee set-up to investigate the academic, thus terminating his contract with the university, following a long drawn out public spat between him, on the one hand, and the University and Vice Chancellor, on the other hand.

But Professor Abdullah refuted all of the allegations levied against him by the University of Sierra Leone, including that he had refused to teach courses assigned to him by Head of Department, History, failed to attend meetings of the Department, and disrespected his colleagues and the principles of collegiality.

He said Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University, Professor Dr Ekundayo Thompson, had misinformed the public that he invited him for a talk on problems afflicting the Department of History and African Studies, which he turned down, adding that he had actually gone to his office to explain his side of the saga.

He challenged the validity of the decision to terminate his contract on grounds that his tenure was not pensionable, by comparing his tenure with that of the Vice Chancellor. “Prof. Thompson got his doctorate degree in 2004 and I got mine in 2002. I was employed in the University in 2004/2005 academic year, and in 2006 I was promoted to the position of an Associate Professor. Professor Thompson was Deputy Vice Chancellor at IPAM [Institute of Public Administration and Management] but when Prof. Redwood-Sawyer left he was asked to act in the capacity of Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University. He came at the University in 2005, so if I am not pensionable, imagine Prof. Thompson’s position,” he quizzed.

He said allegation that he had turned down a one year contract offered to him by the University authorities was misleading as the exact story was not properly explained to the public, adding that he turned down the offer because his retirement was not due until eight years.

“I was having a permanent and pensionable employment as a senior member of staff. If the Registrar asked me to accept a one year appointment, it means I will not be pensionable. I told the Registrar that he has not only single handedly overturned the conditions of service under which I was hired but also denied me the right to receive and respond to the unsubstantiated claims which prompted the setting up of the committee,” he told journalists.

Dr Abdullah emphasised that he had not refused to teach, but only asked for more time to prepare for a new module that had been assigned to him, adding that no institution of higher learning in the world allocates courses to faculty members on the eve of resumption of lectures. He said that new courses need preparation, as the lecture should read and gather relevant materials to be made available to students.

“You cannot teach in a university without books and recent publications. That is totally unacceptable, though it remains the dominant practice at Fourah Bay College. I buy all my books for all the classes I teach and stock them in the library without asking for any refund from the University even though my conditions of service clearly entitles me to ask for that,” he said and added that adequate class preparation, relevant and recent publications in the field of study were the hallmarks of professionalism in academia.

He said that the University suspended his salary since January this year, after the Registrar told him his position was not permanent and pensionable and that he should accept an offer of retroactive and unprecedented one-year appointment straddling two academic sessions.

He traced the genesis of his spat with the University to when he started speaking against ills, such as, that lecturers teach without textbooks and other academic materials.

“I had three encounters with my authorities. My first encounter was with the current Head of [History and African Studies] Department, Dr. Sylvanus Spencer. When I was teaching the third and final year students of the Department of History and African Studies, I found out that most of the students did not even know how to do a bibliography and references. They don’t even know how to write an essay, so I recommended that in the departmental meeting of the following academic year that the best way to solve the problem is to catch them when they are young. I offered to teach the course that Dr. Sylvanus Spencer was teaching,” he said.

He added that the second encounter was when he was supervising a student who did his dissertation and plagiarised the entire work. “I wrote a letter to tell Dr. Spencer to tell him that the candidate must redo his dissertation and they were mad at me.

“The third encounter was in 2006/2007 academic year, which was at the eve of the general elections. Prof. Joe A.D Alie did not teach the students, he was away campaigning and he did not supervise the dissertation he was supposed to supervise. So they came to me and asked me to do it. The dissertations were substandard, plagiarised, among other problems. When I raised that concerns, they hated me at the department,” he said.

Dr Abdullah revealed that the University of Sierra Leone has only nine professors – one has been sacked, while seven will be retired in two years. He noted that students would be deprived of quality higher education with the lack of professors.

When quizzed whether he will be willing to go back and teach at the University if he wins the case about his alleged illegal expulsion, he answered in the affirmative.

Meanwhile, a group of civil society activists have decided to challenge the dismissal in court, while the Fourah Bay Alumni Association last Saturday met and reached a decision to meet with the Chancellor of the University, President Ernest Bai Koroma, with a view to upturning the decision and “supporting due process.”