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Storm at Kenyatta University over VC Olive Mugenda's exit

EDUCATION
By Protus Onyango and Biketi Kikechi | November 1st 2015
KU Vice chancellor Prof Olive Mugenda

NAIROBI: A war of words has erupted at Kenyatta University over the term of office for long-serving Vice Chancellor Prof Olive Mugenda.

Hundreds of miles away at Egerton University in Nakuru County, a smooth transition is taking place. Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi has appointed former Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Prof Rose Mwonya to succeed outgoing VC Prof James Tuitoek.

Prof Tuitoek is due to leave the university in January 2016 after serving two terms.

The heated exchanges at KU have created a big rift in the Universities’ Academic Staff Union (Uasu) chapter where some lecturers are defending Prof Mugenda and dismissing claims against her as personal vendetta. In letters seen by The Standard on Sunday, the university’s Uasu chapter and the Council have exchanged bitter words regarding her tenure.

In one letter dated August 24 addressed to KU Council chairman Prof Ratemo Michieka and copied to the VC, Uasu chapter secretary Dr George Makokha requested for an urgent meeting to discuss the impending leadership transition at the university.

Common practice

According to the secretary, the final term of the current VC legally ends on March 20, next year, and the law does not provide for extension or further renewal.

“According to common practice in public service, appointment of new chief executive officer of State Corporations is given a six months window. It is now less than five months to the expiry of the term of the current VC and yet no process has been put in place to replace her,” said the letter.

The complainants said they were concerned over the “undue delay” because they had on several occasions written to the Chairman of University Council and the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to exercise their mandate and immediately begin the process of recruiting the new VC.

But speaking to The Standard on Sunday, Prof Mugenda said she remains focused on her work and will not be deterred by someone who has been fighting her in court for five years.

“I have so much work to do between now and when my term ends and I will therefore not be distracted by sideshows. No law has been broken because a new VC will be appointed when my term ends,” she said.

She argued that the Act gives the University Council six months to start working on the transition but does not require that the position be advertised now.

Kenyatta University Deputy Secretary General Dr Kaburu Kinoti also dismissed the claims against Mugenda as personal vendetta.

“She lost her case in the lower courts when her case was dismissed with costs, moved to the Court of Appeal where she again failed and is now in the Supreme Court challenging Prof Mugenda’s reappointment for the second term,” said Kinoti.

But the long-serving KU Uasu chapter chairman Dr Joseph Kinyanjui called for sobriety and warned the issue had deeply divided the union. “There is no legal mandate that a VC should go on leave within six months. You cannot take someone to court over that. There seems to be some personal confrontation and it is sad that the issue has gone personal,” said Kinyanjui.

He said they sought clarification about the VC’s succession in good faith but then some people began writing letters to other institutions including the Office of the President making it look as if they had a war with Mugenda.

“We should do it the military way, where an exiting General is feted with a befitting ceremony. It should not appear as if we are in a hurry to chase her away,” said Kinyanjui.

In the letter to Prof Michieka signed by Makokha, the Uasu officials claimed the delay in addressing Mugenda’s exit was causing anxiety, speculation and rumour mongering among staff and students.

They also demanded that the University Council allows Prof Mugenda to proceed on terminal leave to allow for a smooth transition at the university.

Seeking extension?

They told the Council that the transition process they were demanding was happening at Egerton and Maseno universities, where the current VCs are on terminal leave and acting VCs had been put in place.

“We are reliably told that the term of the incumbent VC has been extended against the law or she is seeking for the extension of her third term and that the university council has vested interest in the extension of Prof Mugenda’s term,” Mr Makokha said.

Another letter from the secretary dated September 11, 2015 and addressed to Prof Michieka lamented over the Council’s silence.

“Kindly refer to our letter dated August 24, 2015 and my telephone conversation to you on Monday September 7, 2015. You have not bothered to respond to the above referenced letter over leadership transition in Kenyatta University...” the letter reads in part.

The letter goes on: “Sir, we are wondering how and why matters to do with leadership transition at the university should be sensitive, secretive and a preserve of the council and yet it is a public institution which is guided by the laws and regulations of the country.”

But Kinoti said majority of Uasu members at KU were agitated by the language used in the letter to Prof Michieka and demanded an explanation because it was not sanctioned by members.

“Uasu is about members and any decision must be taken by over 600 members here and not three people out to settle personal scores against the VC who will leave office when her term expires as required by law,” said Kinoti.

Dr Mukilima Imbisi also called for a proper way of managing transition so that the person taking over can benefit from the successes of the outgoing chief executive.

“Some of us are of the view that it should be done in a sober manner without putting in so much emotions because you can see the speed at which letters are being written when some have not even been replied to,” said Imbisi.

Prof Michieka replied to Uasu on September 16, 2015 telling them their letter to him was inaccurate and erroneous because it wrongly alleged that the process of transition was not being managed properly.

“Let it be known to you that the University Council is not supervised by Uasu. By writing a letter to the council, you are overstepping your mandate and interfering with the best practice of good governance,” his letter reads.

He said the allegations that the current VC’s term has been extended or that she has sought extension was not factual and that the council takes great exception to anyone trying to cast aspersions at any individual.

Michieka further accused Uasu of disrespect: “The allegation about the council having vested interest in the extension of the current VC is tantamount to questioning the credibility of the council. Addressing the highest governing body in the university is rude, demeaning, disrespectful and selfish.”

Uasu national chairman Prof Sammy Kubasu also wrote to Michieka and CS Kaimenyi over the matter. In a letter copied to President Uhuru Kenyatta, Attorney General, Chief Justice, Ombudsman and the Law Society of Kenya, Kubasu asked Michieka to respect the law.

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