The Upper Crust

Varsities: Curriculum isn’t the problem, despots are (2)


With uche Nnadozie

Penultimate week, I published an article by a private university’s Vice Chancellor. Professor Tunde Asaju knows his onions in the Nigerian academia. He has bestridden both public and now private universities in his many years as an educationist. Normally you will expect that everything will be near perfect wherever such a colossus is made to function in whatever capacity. But there is the other side to things; the students and their parents! They too are a big distraction in the scheme of things within the university system. They somehow promote their tyranny. And the dictatorship promoted by the teachers is well within what the students want. Dictatorship breeds vulnerability, which is fully exploited by parents and their wards in a way that damages the entire system. The high rate of indiscipline in the university community can be traced to the warped dictatorship of those who should know.
Universities in Nigeria crave for autonomy. On face value, there’s nothing wrong with this concept, except that we tend to like labels a lot here. When anyone taunts us with labels and ideas or concepts, we lap them up and begin to sell it to the public without domesticating the idea behind the concept to see how it will sit within our peculiar environment. To be fair, every environment is different; therefore, it is a bit disturbing when our academia forces these ideas down our throats simply because they say so. No interrogation whatsoever. And any attempt to ask questions is met with derision by our professors. It’s like our university professors are thinking that it is only a professor that can be minister of education. We miss the point, but how will folks raise their voices against this brand of “take it or leave it” mindset? After all, what will a person of less academic attainment bring to the table where he or she will regularly interact with professors? Will such a person not be intimidated?
Yet, this is not how it works. The minister of education is not an academic superstar. It’s a management and policy office. The occupier of the office is such that should understand process, policy and management. Such a person must have the characteristics of a manager of men and material. No two ways about it. Anything short of that is allowing people to use their gown to intimidate us. That you are a professor does not mean you can lead people. They are two different things. It is like handing a newspaper to a professor of Mass Communication or journalism. While the Mass communication professor will be searching for the best way to disseminate information to the varied interests of the Nigerian populace, the journalism professor will be more concerned about language, journalism ethics and such technical issues without paying attention to how to motivate the staff to deliver news from their beats (in spite of poor pay or generate newsworthy ideas during editorial conferences. How to run the company without electricity or printing machines or even cash may not be of immediate concern to these professors. Yes, they are experts, but not experts on how to produce a newspaper in Nigeria.
Our professors within the university system spend more time hawking their expertise so they can make more money than the time they spend in solving problems that confront them on daily basis. Their campuses which can be called a mini local government aren’t run like such. The vice chancellor hardly gives room for diversity. He or she creates committees that usually torpedoes statutory departments in carrying out assigned functions. The committees normally are populated by cronies of the vice chancellor. These committees are loopholes created formally to siphon the university’s finances in a cavalier manner. Anyone offended by this is summarily dealt with. Professors who go against the dictatorship in the system have been known to have been demoted, sidelined on academic, managerial issues and made to look redundant. The same thing happens to Ph.D holders who in some cases have had their academic laurel stripped off them. Some, like the Ibadan lecturer are left hopeless without getting a much sought PhD.
It feels bad for an academic to fail to complete a PhD programme on the back of having helped students to get their university degrees from undergraduate days up till the PhD level.
It is even worse when you realise that the entire set up has conspired to maltreat you. You cannot make any progress. I recall a university where the spat between the union and the VC led to the locking up of the VC’s offices. At the beginning the entire Senate building was locked up. Guess with what? Juju! Juju totems were used to lace the entire area and everyone kept their distance. After a few years, the juju was relaxed so that other staffers can access the building since it was housing some other units and departments like accounts, exams and records and a library. More than five years now and after the said VC was ousted; the office is still under lock and key. No authority or person or qualification has summoned courage to deal with the issue.
It is one form of tyranny or the other. Its either perpetuated by the VC and his cronies or by the staff unions. They do it with such gusto you will think they all studied how to be unruly and stubborn while in school.
I wish the government will find courage to disaggregate the university community. The powers of the VC and the unions or even a lecturer are enormous, especially in the negative. These negative powers should be cut to spur positive energy. VCs should run schools like modern day leaders not anachronistic dictators. Unions should unite to create solutions to societal problems; not to behave like touts who are latching up to anything to extort money or pleasure from either government or their students. Students must go to school to learn, not the present avenue they have created to show off ill gotten wealth through yahoo-yahoo, armed robbery or soft prostitution. Parents must not leave their responsibility of helping their wards up the ladder to teachers who also need some help.

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