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Our universities fail the academy: not greedy professors

OPINION
By Ratemo Michieka | September 13th 2021

Professional standing is a high academic reputation and does involve running to godfathers for favours and freebies. [Courtesy]

I write this in response to Peter Wasamba’s article in a local daily on August 28, 2021. His views were well articulated, covering the ills of university promotions of lecturers in various academic ranks. What my learned friend did not explain are the roles of several university management cadres which operate at specific levels. The thrust of his argument hinged on greed, criteria, political inclinations and ignorance of university leadership.

By and large, Prof Wasamba hit the nail on the head but he forgot one major fundamental accountability system; the role of each university and university colleges cadre, in particular councils.

Professors are trained to think and render services to the community through research and training. Their promotions depend entirely on their output. I concur with Wasamba’s article that quality academic leadership miserably lacks in many of our universities. Undeserving promotions to the highest positions have been executed unfairly without regard to clearly laid down requirements and procedures.

Wholly accountable

For example, chairs of councils preside over associate and professorial roles. They themselves must be thoroughly versatile with the international requirements for such promotions. They should know the rigour it takes to attain such an academic apex.

It is at this point where the vice-chancellors (VCs) can easily gain an upper hand if the chair does not have an independent stand on the prerequisites of promotions from Senior Lecturers to Associate Professors.

VCs should not chair sessions for senior promotions for the chairman of council even when there is no council. The chair and council are wholly accountable for any unfair promotions. The chairperson may not be necessarily a professor, but a holder of an earned PhD, who can lead a reputable interviewing panel composed of senior professors from within their own universities or outside.

External panels

Nobody stops chairs of councils from sourcing expertise from other universities. In fact, the chairs can sit pretty and use external panels to shortlist candidates and interview them. Statutes allow for that and nobody can contest decisions by such panels. This is equivalent to external examination whose marks results are never contested by departments or faculties.

As it is now, VCs have the upper hand in this process. They advice otherwise unfamiliar chairs on the procedures and requirements of promotions. They can deliberately misled by the executive!

Easy come easy go. If, for example, a VC was irregularly promoted by using substandard publications in predatory journals and other requirements, he or she will bow to the same for an applicant. He or she will feel embarrassed to reject or oppose the same and there will not be any reason to object to the precedence.

The consequences of unqualified promotions are psychological; the victim will feel guilty and would always face “academic ridicule” within peer cycles. They lack international clout in their fields of expertise. A well-rounded professor should be referenced in as many universities as possible in his/her area of expertise. In some cases, they are consulted for national and international advisory services. They are sought after.

A good question one can ask is, if a head search was to be done on the best scholar, say in Islamic Studies; could my name be floated? And in Metaphysics? What is my stand in demand/need?

Professional standing is a high academic reputation and does involve running to godfathers for favours and freebies. Peers are there to evaluate you.

What is in a name, in a title, in a salutation? Professors’ reputation has been watered down to zero by ourselves in behaviour, finesse and careless utterances. It takes life sacrifices to attain the title, but our actions do not accord the respect the name deserves. VCs are professors in their own right as academicians and have a duty to protect their university staff’s reputation by being firm, advice councils on the best practices of international promotions to claim their world-class standing.

It is very rare for politicians to influence a well-followed procedure in promotions. Our actions will necessitate and attract the ministry’s engagement in addition to the politician. Politicians will love to cause havoc when a VC keeps on consulting on whom to promote, when and how.

Sleep with a dog

“If you sleep with a dog, you must wake up with fleas,” so goes a Sierra Leonnian saying. Integrity does not allow bending of rules. An academic rule is adherence to the laid down criteria for students’ progression and staff promotions. Bend a rule, you create a precedence and you will create a permanent negative reputation for your university.

The VCs have a mammoth role to uphold their world university rankings. Professors have a major impact on reputation and webometric ranking of universities. We have a role to diligently nurture the young academics. We will be blamed for any ills debasing our status.

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