By Douglas Anele
ASUU, I suggest, should rethink its strategy of indefinite strikes in dealing with problems in the universities. As I said before, the strategy is overrated and overused; it might actually be yielding diminishing returns as the years pass by.
Let us not forget that some university administrators have not managed available limited funds judiciously or manifested creative imagination in sourcing for internally generated revenue. Recently, a former viceâ€“chancellor of a state university in the south east was dragged to the EFCC for corruption and financial rascality.
In this connection, although malignant corruption in government has crippled everything, including funding for universities, the sad truth is that there is corruption and wastage of scarce financial resources on frivolous and white elephant projects in the universities. ASUU has not done much to ensure that scarce resources are managed wisely by the authorities of various universities. I am
convinced that a painstaking audit of the finances of our tertiary institutions from 1992 to date would reveal atrocious mismanagement of funds by university administrators.
Now, unlike in the United States where reputable technocrats who are not academics are appointed presidents (vice-chancellors) of universities, the viceâ€“chancellors of Nigerian universities have always been drawn from the academia. Thus, we should be a little circumspect, as lecturers, in casting the legendary â€œfirst stoneâ€ at government for corruption and financial recklessness. Government officials who are threatening application of the no-work-no-pay rule to lecturers are ignorant.
University teachers perform three interrelated jobs, namely, teaching, research, and community service. Only the first one, teaching, is affected during strikes. Hence, it can be argued justifiably that lecturers are still working even when they are not teaching. The no-work-no-pay policy if implemented now will not achieve the objective envisaged by government, that is, to force lecturers back to the classrooms because of economic hardship arising from non-payment of salaries.
Looking at the issue from a more critical perspective, it is quite interesting and amusing to observe the ineffectual attempts of the councils and viceâ€“chancellors of some universities to make university teachers resume teaching, probably to make sure that subventions for salaries and other projects continue to flow into the institutions concerned.
Obviously, they are under pressure from the federal and state governments to ensure that normalcy returns as soon as possible. Let me be candid and assert that I, as an individual, can decide to continue with the teaching aspect of my job during strikes if the students are available. After all, when I was appointed, ASUU was not there, and I can decide to leave the system without consulting any union whenever I feel completely fed up with the growing anomalies in our universities.
However, something is definitely wrong with the obsession of government and university authorities towards getting lecturers to start teaching again. When a lecturer is being considered for promotion, the major criterion applied is the number of publications the lecturer has to his or her credit. Teaching is, unfortunately, relegated to the background.
I will, at a future date, critically analyze the irrational overemphasis on publications and how it has impacted negatively on the quality of teaching and, ironically, on the quality of the soâ€“ called academic publications some lecturers are brandishing.
However, for now, I want to ask: why is it that during strikes university authorities and councils behave as if teaching alone is â€œthe alpha and omegaâ€ of the job of lecturers and, yet, almost completely neglect quality of teaching as a fundamental criterion for promotional
If, indeed, teaching matters to them so much, why not make it the most important factor to be considered when a lecturer is to be promoted from one level to the next? The attitude of council members and viceâ€“chancellors to the status of teaching in universities, to put it mildly, is incoherent.
I really do believe that if teaching is given the weight it deserves in promoting lecturers, perhaps it would encourage them to pick up their chalks once again during strikes, or at least make them think twice before embarking on indefinite stoppage of teaching.
As it is, authorities of the universities cannot have it both ways: they just cannot neglect teaching as a factor in promotion and turn around to make it the most important issue whenever ASUU embarks on an indefinite strike.
I must say at this point that the intolerant attitude of some of my colleagues to those who do not share their almost fundamentalist attitude to the prolongation of strikes is really disturbing.
Some conduct themselves as if they have more at stake in the university system than others. For me, such intolerance is a telling indication of the kind of anti-intellectual attitude that has crept into the system for some years now. Even in mathematics, the most exact science, there are always disagreements about mathematical formulas, principles and their interpretations.