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Inside UASU deal that saved Kiama

EDUCATION
By Kamau Muthoni | January 15th 2022

University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor Prof Stephen Kiama.

University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor Prof Stephen Kiama has climbed down on his reforms plan and entered a deal with the union in a new deal to avoid a jail term.

The Employment and Labour Court had ordered Prof Kiama to appear for sentencing in a case where lecturers unions challenged new reforms he had introduced last year. However, in a new twist of events that insiders termed as a win-win deal, Prof Kiama yielded to bring unions on board to end the stalemate.

In the deal, some of the reforms proposed by Prof Kiama have been dropped and some new proposals introduced. Part of these includes retaining the Deputy Vice-chancellors titles, faculties, and reinstatement of departments that had been abolished.

Unions will also have representatives sit the university senate, a new introduction to restore industrial relations. The deal has also recognised the Collective Bargaining Agreement and committed to honour the deals once the Government releases the money.

The changes contained in the document will happen within 14 days after signing the deal. Broadly, several faculties will be re-organised to end the stalemate between Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) and the university. In the document filed before the Employment and Labour relations Court on Friday, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be merged to a new faculty composed of 14 departments. However, it will retain its old name.

Out of the 14, four teaching departments that had been scrapped from the faculty will be reinstated.  The four are Kiswahili, Psychology, Literature and Geography, Population and Environment Studies. Prof Kiama had on July 14 last year appointed Prof Julius Ogeng’o to the new position of Associate Vice Chancellor in Charge of Academic Affairs and Prof Mohamed A Jama as Acting Executive Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences.

In a six-page deal, UASU agreed to drop its bid to have Prof Kiama jailed. On the other hand, Kiama yielded his quest to scrap UoN’s old management structure and instead have reforms within them. At the same time, three departments, which had been removed from the faculty of Health Sciences, have been reinstated.

They will now be a part of the new faculty that will have 16 teaching departments that include paediatrics and child health, anaesthesia and nursing sciences. In the Kiama’s structure that has now been scrapped, Prof Francis Mulaa was to head the Faculty of Science and Technologies on an acting capacity, and Prof Robert Rukwaro was Acting Executive Dean of Faculty of Built Environment. Brian Ouma was to be the Acting Chief Operations Officer.

According to UASU’s lawyer Titus Koceyo, those who had been appointed to head the new management structure were already running those offices despite the court suspending implementation of the changes.

“Already, the illegally and unlawfully appointed staff in non-existent positions have started issuing directives, memos and performing their roles, yet their occupation of the said positions have been stayed by the court,” argued Koceyo.

Kiama agreed to abolish the new positions of executive deans and re-instate deans of faculties. He signed for hands-off approach where members of the teaching staff will vote the deans who will head the faculties. The faculties are now free to decide whether they will continue teaching and issuing online examinations or will immediately recall students.

He had scrapped UoN’s old structure, citing high expenditure and inefficiency as reasons why the institution has opted to make changes. The deal also requires the VC to create faculty committees, which will be the decision-making organs. The committees will comprise of teaching staff and will be chaired by a dean or his representative. A registrar of the faculty will the committee’s secretary.

“Faculty committees shall meet at least thrice in an academic semester/trimester to discuss various matters in the faculty including but not limited to discuss & approve faculty results, discuss & approve faculty external examiners, discuss & approve faculty curriculums and faculty staff welfare,” the deal reads.

Meanwhile, the election of UoN senate members will be announced within 14 days. Senate members will serve three years term that can be renewed if one is re-elected. At the same time, all faculties will hold elections within 14 days of signing the agreement to identify their representatives at the senate.

Kiama and UASU agreed to consult on the changes. In court, University Education and Research Principal Secretary Simon Nabukwesi distanced himself from changes, saying the institution ought to have adhered to the law and its Charter. In his response, Nabukwesi said the UoN charter dictates that the council cannot amend or revoke any statutes without reference to the senate.

“I am advised by my advocate on record which I believe to be true that the first respondent (UoN) ought to have adhered to sections 20(3), 21, 22 (4) and or 22 A (5) of the Act and Section 28 (1) (2) of the Charter,” argued Nabukwesi.

Section 20 (3) of the Charter allows the senate to, among other things, review UoN’s laws and make regulations to govern the university. At the same time, the Charter reads that the university’s management should comprise the vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellors, and principals of colleges, deputy principals and finance officers.

Nevertheless, UASU argued that the new positions are parallel and mimic those advertised by Public Service Commission.

“Failure by the vice chancellor to abide by the law when making the appointments to public office was against the public interest, and it voided the said appointment for being contrary to the requirement,” UASU’s lawyer added.

The union claimed Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has also distanced himself from the changes since the ministry was not involved.

The agreement now clears the standoff between Kiama and UASU. To sweeten the hearts of dons who wanted him behind bars for six months, the VC agreed to amend UoN statutes and relevant instruments to include at least three members of UASU- UoN chapter executive committee as full members of the senate.

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