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Reporter suspended from university for reporting on campus conflicts

(CEMESP/IFEX) - Monrovia, May 21, 2012 - Front Page Africa Reporter Selma Lomax has been suspended from his academic work at Cuttington University in Suakoko, Bong County for writing a series of articles that the institution says run contrary to page 13 of the “revised student hand book” which prohibits students from writing  “(. . .) defamatory publications, leaflets (. . .)”.  The handbook notes that such students shall be liable to “fifty hours hard labor, one semester suspension or expulsion.”

According to Front Page Africa, Lomax's troubles began in early April this year, when he and several other journalists, including FPA's Kennedy Yangian, interviewed the President of Cuttington University regarding the challenges faced at the University. In that interview, Dr. Henrique Tokpa disclosed that the institution was gradually at the brink of closure due to the withdrawal of its main donor, the Episcopal Church. Tokpa also said that funds coming to the University from government cannot tackle its many difficulties.

But a Front Page Africa investigation uncovered that Cuttington was a beneficiary of US$1.1 million, contrary to mounting speculation that the University was receiving US$900,000 in government subsidies. Generating the report uncovered many hurdles during its two weeks of investigation, ranging from political interference and a faction of aggrieved lecturers who threatened exit due to what they said is Tokpa's persistent culture of marginalization against them.

Following the publication, Lomax was summoned to the Dean's Office to provide reasons for his action. At the meeting, Lomax apologized for any “inconvenience the story may have caused,” and noted the story was written to complement the administration's plea for (. . .) aid.”

In the letter of suspension, the University said Lomax's article has the proclivity of inciting students against the administration. The letter also notes that as a student of the University, it is always prudent to uphold the integrity of the institution than bringing it into public disrepute.

CEMESP says Cuttington University is simply wrong in suspending Lomax. As a reporter, Lomax's role is clearly distinguished from his studies. Further, no student should be punished for criticizing a public authority.
Cuttington needs to understand that discussing public service is necessary to ensure accountability and greater governance in Liberia, and no one should be punished for promoting this line.
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