From the Kangaroo Report to the Illegal Court’s Decision: Omissions, Erasures, and Silences

Capture

 

On 11th May 2015 a memo was delivered at my house inviting me to a meeting: “Invitation to a meeting with an appointment sub-committee to look into the renewal of appointment of Dr. Ibrahim Abdullah”. On receipt of the said memo, I called the registrar to clarify the real purpose of the meeting since my appointment has never been subjected to renewal since I started teaching in 2005. His response was that I am not a tenured faculty and that the committee will have to review my appointment and make recommendations regarding tenure.

The Kangaroo Committee’s report, which I was never given, revealed the real motive informing the alleged renewal of my appointment that the Dean himself considered unprecedented: it was the inauguration of the illegal process that would eventually culminate in my dismissal.

Titled “REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE THE RENEWAL OF THE APPOINTMENT OF DR IBRAHIM ABDULLAH” it went against all the rules and regulations on natural law and justice; and made mockery of what a real tenure assessment entails. There is nowhere in the world were an alleged tenure review is also an investigation!!!

To begin with, the idea of the Committee was unprecedented: Any action against a tenured faculty starts with a formal letter. This was never done. To subvert the laid down rules and regulations, Mr. Thompson, the Vice Chancellor, and Mr. Dumbuya, the Registrar, illegally claimed ex-cathedra that my appointment was not tenured. If that was indeed the case, why was I not subjected to an annual contract appointment? Why was I accorded all the trappings of a tenured faculty? Why was I promoted to the professorial cadre after an external assessment? In the interest of justice and fair play they should explain this anomaly to the general public.

How can a committee set-up to look into the renewal of my appointment become a committee to “investigate” my renewal? Can a renewal be “investigated”? If so, why so?

Mr. Thompson set-up the Committee and went to testify to the same committee as a witness. Is this in line with the natural justice that he claimed he applied in cases involving the university? He not only went to testify against me, he also lied to the committee: that he invited me to his office and that the committee should consider transferring my line to the political science department. I wrote a letter complaining about what the outgoing head of department did, and requested a meeting with Mr. Thompson. And I do have documentary evidence to back up my claim.
The report of the Kangaroo Committee was never officially given to me. Two copies of the report were leaked to me—from different sources at Tower Hill. I only knew about the report when I met Mr. Thompson on 26th January. He even asked me, feigning, if I have seen the report. Can he set-up a committee—to “investigate renewal”— and withhold the report from me?

My testimony to the committee was selectively used and the documents I submitted/tendered were NOT included in the appendix to the report. The Head of Departments’ handwritten one-page course outline, which is damaging to their case, was discarded. My course outline was also turned down. The claim in the report that I was “responding to the questions bothering (sic) on why the Head of Department decided not to recommend the renewal” of my appointment was concocted by the Committee. The Committee NEVER mentioned anything about what others have said about me. If they had mentioned that my response to their questions would have been completely different. (I turned down an invitation to a conference in China during the month of Ramadan and recommended the Head of Department but the Committee conveniently decided this was not important for the public to know).
Three previous encounters centered on professional misconduct—a veritable background to the surreal drama was deliberately amputated. In 2005/06 academic year I offered to jointly teach a first year class with Mr. Spencer. I did the course outline, bought books, and taught for two weeks. When it was his turn to teach he pitched twenty minutes late. When I enquired what the problem was his response was “ nar d system”. I reported the matter to the then Head of Department, who did nothing, and left him in charge. During the second semester a lecturer supervising a final honors dissertation allowed the student to turn in a final copy with close to 40% plagiarism. As the second reader of the said dissertation I brought the matter to the attention of the Head of Department and the student was asked to do a re-write. The student in question is now a lecturer in the law department. In 2006/07 academic year, the then Head of Department, Mr. Alie was apparently too busy with party politics and was constantly away—not attending lectures and not supervising student dissertation. When the dissertations were submitted to me I discovered that students had plagiarized: wholesale liftings! I told the Head of Department that the dissertations couldn’t pass. He pleaded with me to let them go but I refused and marched him to the then Vice-Chancellor, Mr. Gbakima. We were at Mr. Gbakima’s office when the then Principal of FBC, Mr. Redwood-Sawyer, barged in uninvited. I quietly told him to walk out because he was not invited to the meeting. His response was that I am not to tarnish the “reputation” of FBC and that he would never allow me to head the Department of History. In the end nothing substantial came out of the meeting: the dissertations were resubmitted and I was asked to check all the grades in the department. There was a lecturer who gave his wife an A when she was clearly not an A student. Another lecturer who had graduated the previous year with a bachelors was teaching a final year course in which 60% of the class had A’s. The latter was subsequently prosecuted in court for soliciting funds for grades and dismissed. The Kangaroo Report deliberately silenced this important background information.

The selectivity, omissions, and erasures in the Kangaroo Report were deliberate: the rationale was to present their case by suppressing my voice in the report. I was never given the opportunity to challenge the current Head of history Mr. Spencer’s outrageous claims—I did not even know about them— nor did the committee reveal any of the testimonies by those called in as witnesses. Yet Mr. Alie was privy to my testimony and was allowed to respond to them. Is this in line with the pursuit of justice? The injustice and lack of deference to procedural rules comes out clearly in the presentation and modus operandi of the committee. I was NEVER presented with any claim or accusations and even when I questioned the legality of the committee, they collectively feigned innocence in their attempt to appear impartial.
The outrageous claims presented by Mr. Spencer—refusal to teach; non-attendance at departmental meetings; treatment of students; attitude to messenger/visitors; etc.—were NEVER presented to me. They are baseless allegations solicited by Messrs. Thompson and Dumbuya. There is no documentary evidence or testimonies to back up any of these claims: minutes of departmental meetings; testimony from students; visitors; and messengers. Their sole “veracity” lies with the claimant making the claims. But the context demands that they be rejected. In the copy of the Kangaroo Report leaked to me, Mr. Thompson minuted: “Prof. Abdullah has now been queried. Let’s proceed from here. The relevant section of the Code of Conduct should be cited/referred to. Please direct Dr. Spencer”. And Mr. Dumbuya concurred: “I endorsed this”. Is this not a clear case of conspiracy to achieve their hidden but not so hidden objective?

The duplicitous manner of Messrs. Thompson and Dumbuya need some emphasis. The Kangaroo Report, which informs the illegal verdict of the court presented to the public, was doctored to serve their nefarious inclination. The Kangaroo Report does not reference “rudeness”; this was added to have the desired effect of discrediting me. The bulk of their outrageous claims are from Mr. Spencer’s letter. The said letter informed the committee that “ Abdullah suffers from deep pscho-social problems” and this should be taken into consideration when making a decision. But because this would appear too partial and damaging to their cause, it was omitted from the verdict presented to the illegal university court.

It is perfectly normal to ask the Head to write a letter, assuming this was really a tenure evaluation. But there is no faculty at USL whose current curriculum vita is available anywhere in the university’s creaky bureaucracy. If the Head has no access to my current curriculum vita, on what basis did he pen a letter against my so-called renewal of appointment? How did he evaluate my teaching? My research? And my service? He had virtually nothing to say about these three pillars—teaching, research and service—the raison d’etre of any functional academy. Yet his top of the head letter was accepted as the basis for an informed decision to convert my tenured position to a one-year appointment. To crown it all, there was NO EXTERNAL assessment—a sine qua non in any professional tenure review process.

To invite the Dean—who claimed he did not invite me to discuss the matter because he knew I wont come—as a witness, and the Principal—who did not reply /acknowledge my letter but then went on to urge me to teach a course without the relevant readings—is to stack the deck against me. This is anything but justice.

And the professional issues raised in my letter of November 2013, which mobilized Mr. Thompson’s accomplices on the Hill were shafted and silenced in the surreal drama of arbitrary power and lack of due process that has come to characterize this brazen illegality in our premier institution. How can a head of department solely review a department’s curriculum? Is this professional best practice? The previous Head, Mr. Alie, claimed he did review the syllabus, which one student rightly claimed is “older” than them. Instead of setting up a committee to look at the strength of the department and what it can offer and then review the curriculum and request the hiring of more faculty to press on with a graduate program, the so-called review only included two courses from me. Since the so-called review was undertaken, more than six years ago, and the committee report issued, virtually nothing has been done to right this ancient anomaly.

Mr. Thompson lied in the report that informed the university court’s verdict. His claim that he had to invite me to discuss the issue in the department is just that: a bogus claim. There is no difference between what the report that informed the court’s decision references as constituting the background and what he claimed informed his decision to roll out his plan to get me out. And he deliberately confuses the issues without anchoring his narrative on specific dates. I wrote my letter in November 2013 stating why I couldn’t teach a particular course because the course was “assigned” to me by the out-going head of the department—who had no basis for such an action—on the very day I was to start teaching. During 2014/15 academic year, the new head of the department, Mr. Spencer, “assigned” the same course to me to teach. When I informed him that I could not teach the said course because the country had been shut down due to Ebola and that I had no access to books, he wrote back to say I have “refused” to teach claiming “where there is a will there is a way”. It is this alleged “refusal” to teach without books that became the rallying banner for their cause to dismiss me. The university wants me to teach without books and relevant reading materials. I buy my books for all my courses and stock them in the library.
Mr. Thompson also lied in the three-page court verdict that he only suspended my salary after our meeting of 26th January. I do have documentary evidence to show that my salary was suspended effective 1st January 2016. The memo signed by his faithful subaltern Calvin Macauley reads: “approval has been obtained for Abdullah’s salary to be suspended with effect from 1st January 2016”. The elaborate explanation that Mr. Thompson spun on why he took this decision when the issue was not even broached in my meeting with him clearly reveals a duplicitous character at work: by any means necessary—fair or foul!

In their collective bid to get me out by any means necessary, the duo, Messers Thompson and Dumbuya, skirted the real issues about standards and excellence in academe. Instead they rode on a train of illegality—riding from one illegality to another—The Kangaroo Report deliberately silenced my voice while the summary presented to the University Court’s denied me a fair hearing. The Universities Act 2005 is explicit on such matters: “ No person shall be removed or suspended by the Court, during the period of the contract, in the exercise of powers conferred by these Statutes, unless he has been given a reasonable opportunity to defend himself”(10:3).

Ibrahim Abdullah
26 July 2016

Advertisements

From Illegality to Jungle Justice: The Crisis of Fourah Bay College Continues

By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah

The crisis of Fourah Bay College (FBC) reached the apex of its surreal drama this weekend. In what many have described as an unprecedented situation in the more than one hundred year history of the institution, the Court of the University of Sierra Leone announced Friday that it has “summarily dismissed” the renowned Sierra Leonean academic, Professor Ibrahim Abdullah.

Professor Abdullah, one of Africa’s leading contemporary historians, has been at the center of a protracted struggle against academic repression and injustice, orchestrated by the current administration, to remove him from the university. Abdullah’s professorial position was revoked in December 2015, and, since then, his salary has been equally frozen. The illegal decision came as a direct response of a beleaguered university administration, currently suffering from a serious crisis of administrative incompetence and ineptitude, to critiques made by Abdullah.

This past weekend, the University’s Court took an unprecedented decision: it unilaterally announced a verdict of dismissal against the renowned professor. The Court said it had terminated the contract of Abdullah on allegations of “insubordination, acts of indiscipline and negative attitude to work.” Abdullah’s only crime, it appears, is his ongoing refusal to submit to the draconian and illegal dictates of the university administration and his continuous criticism of the way the university operates.

The unprecedented decision came a day before a meeting of the Fourah Bay College (FBC) Alumni Association was scheduled to discuss the case of Professor Ibrahim Abdullah and that of another academic, Professor Tom Yormah, who was forcefully retired by the university administration.

The Alumni Association, at its meeting on Saturday, expressed grave concerns regarding the illegal dismissal of Professor Ibrahim Abdullah. The decision of the University Court runs contrary to the provisions of the Universities Act of 2005; the law that governs the establishment and operations of universities in Sierra Leone.

The Universities Act states in Chapter XI (3) that, “no person shall be removed or suspended by the Court, during the period of the contract, in the exercise of powers conferred by these Statutes, unless he has been given a reasonable opportunity to defend himself.” And it further adds in Chapter XI (4) that, “a reasonable opportunity to defend oneself means that the laws of natural justice shall be observed and the person concerned shall be entitled to be legally represented, to call witnesses in his own defense and to cross-examine any adverse witness and to adduce such evidence as he deems necessary for his defense; and if the decision of the Court is to suspend or remove him, he may appeal to the Chancellor who, after examining the evidence, may request the Court to constitute a new panel to review the case.” The Court’s action and decision on Friday clearly violated these provisions of the Act relating to the procedures for suspension, removal and/or retirement of university staff.

Professor Abdullah, for instance, was never invited to a hearing by the Court before the said decision, neither was he given an opportunity to present a defense nor call witnesses as required by the law governing the University and the Court’s operations.

The University Court hurriedly took a unilateral decision to dismiss Professor Abdullah in flagrant violation of the Universities Act of 2005. The required due process, which mandates the Court to give a reasonable time to an “accused” to defend himself, was clearly not followed. The Court clearly took a decision on Abdullah’s case without a hearing and without Abdullah’s side even being heard. It is obvious that the Court’s decision against Professor Abdullah was not only bias, but also represents a clear subversion of the principle of natural justice and a violation of the law itself.

Aside from failing to follow the principle of due process, the mandate of those constituting the University Court is actually long expired, a fact which clearly means that the Court, as currently constituted, lacks the legal mandate to even adjudicate on the matter. Additionally, the Court’s verdict on a matter that is currently on the desk of the University Chancellor also represents a subversion and usurpation of the powers of the Chancellor.

The Alumni Association, in its deliberations on Saturday, has resolved to challenge the illegality of the decision and a delegation of the Association’s leadership will be meeting the president on the matter. The Universities Act empowers the Chancellor to rescind a decision taken by the University’s Court on any matter relating to the university’s operations.

However, the question many have raised is why would the University Court resort to Jungle Justice in its effort to dismiss an academic whose case had attracted widespread international and national outrage in the first place?

In a widely circulated article published last month, Professor Abdullah wrote that he is engaged in a battle against “anti-intellectual forces” in the University of Sierra Leone.

“I am currently hemmed in, battling anti-intellectual forces at our so-called citadel of learning – a broken citadel of learning, as creaky as it is disused; bearing all the hallmarks of its slavery and slavish heritage,” he wrote. Professor Abdullah described the crisis of the university, as “the dirt of mediocrity.”

“It is a militant and passionate anti-intellectual culture, which continues to deprive an already deprived nation of the necessary tools with which to fashion its own emancipation,” Professor Abdullah stated.

At the heart of this surreal drama is the man in command of the university administration, Ekundayo Thompson. Thompson was appointed Acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone in 2013 by the president, Ernest Bai Koroma. Under the laws of the University, the president serves as the chancellor of the university, and he equally appoints leading figures in the university’s administration.

Thompson’s appointment to serve as the University’s Acting Vice Chancellor has come under fire in recent times, with many questioning his academic qualifications and the circumstances surrounding his promotion into the rank of professor and his subsequent appointment to head of the university.

In recent years, Thompson has also been criticized for embarking on the illegal process of forcing the retirement of professors he perceives as threats to his position as head of the university. One such example is the case of Professor Tom Yormah, the former Deputy Vice Chancellor of Fourah Bay College who is currently battling against a forced retirement imposed by the Thompson administration. A University Court ruling in 2011 had recommended the extension of the retirement age for academic professors from 65 years to 70 years. Professor Yormah was forcefully retired at the age of sixty-five by Thompson; a decision regarded to be an irony considering that Thompson himself is now over 70 years old. Professor Yormah insists that the action against him is in violation of the University Court’s ruling on the age of retirement for academic professors, which was supposed to have taken effect since January 2012. But Thompson defied the Court’s verdict on the retirement age, and proceeded with his own plans of targeted dismissals and forced retirements. On Professor Abdullah’s matter, some members of the Alumni Association have described his dismissal as a classical case of jungle justice.

Despite widespread condemnation, Thompson continues to preside over a growing climate of campus disorder at Fourah Bay College and the other constituent campuses of the university. An internal university investigation conducted in 2013 into the operations of the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) under Thompson, for example, revealed that the vast majority of students who graduated with first class honors degrees did not meet the normal requirement of five Ordinary levels or WASSCE, including English and Math in not more than two sittings. And Thompson, himself, currently faces serious charges of plagiarism and academic fraud regarding his qualifications.