Sunday Perspectives

December 15, 2013

How lecturers underdeveloped the universities (5)

UNILAG reschedules 2020/2021 post-UTME screening to Nov 30

By Douglas Anele

I still remember the travails of late Professor J.A. Omotola, former VC University of Lagos, who worked tirelessly to ensure that the university became the primus inter pares among tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Despite mistakes here and there, Professor Omotola tried so hard to ensure massive positive transformation of UNILAG within the shortest possible time.

Yet, a small group of reactionary senior academics made things extremely difficult for the late VC, to the extent that he left the university unceremoniously. Lecturers sometimes use diabolical means to get what they want from the system. Information from colleagues in different universities describes sudden appearance of ritual items all over campuses whenever Professors vie for the post of VC or any other top administrative position exclusive to academics.

More concretely, certain candidates for the post of VC several of whom have doctorate degrees in the sciences not only patronise babalawos, dibias, marabouts and self-styled prophets and anointed men of God to secure alleged supernatural assistance, they hobnob with powerful politicians in positions of authority to actualise their ambition. In the process, they manifest the worst variety of pull him down syndrome by disparaging colleagues unnecessarily.
A good number of university teachers are chameleons, pretenders and hypocrites: some are experts in the very bad attitudes and conduct they condemn publicly. Some are merely hibernating in various departments without adding value to the system. University lecturers are fond of saying that government is corrupt, inefficient and unreliable, and I agree with that assessment.

Still, I think lecturers are guilty of the same immoral behaviours they are condemning in politicians; the only difference is the context within which the two groups operate. Thus, just as political office holders have almost perfected methods of corruption, some senior academics in positions of responsibility across the universities are adept in converting university funds and property into private use. Again, while lecturers rightly condemn government for act of bad faith in failing to fulfil agreements hammered out with ASUU over the years, some principal officers of Nigerian universities also renege on promises to colleagues, particularly their enemies real or imagined. University teachers, I believe, should be held to a higher standard of rational behaviour than other segments of the Nigerian society, because ideally academics are supposed to show the light for others to follow. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues do not seem to realise this, due to the increasing number of those my friends at the University of Ibadan called academic gatecrashers, coupled with the gradual decline and devaluation of selflessness appropriate to people really committed to the acquisition and impartation of knowledge. In my opinion, lecturers should be on a higher moral pedestal than politicians, so that their condemnation of corruption and indiscipline in government will carry more weight.

To paraphrase a passage in The Holy Bible, ASUU should first remove the wool in the eyes of lecturers so that they can see more clearly the log in the eyes our political leaders. We now come to the important issue of mentoring, which ASUU has been neglecting for years. Like in any field of human endeavour like law, medicine, and entrepreneurship, it is essential that senior academics should mentor junior colleagues by helping the latter get the necessary skills and habits required for effective teaching and research. For example, a Senior Lecturer or Professor ought to teach a doctoral student under his or her supervision the soft skills that promote effective teaching and research, breakdown the psychological Berlin wall between both of them, and assist the candidate with materials relevant to the research topic. In other words, senior academics should go the extra mile to inculcate in their junior colleagues the necessary intellectual, moral, and emotional attributes, which are indispensable for productive academic work. The importance of proper mentoring in keeping universities alive and vibrant as centres of learning at the highest level particularly for the next generation of scholars cannot be overemphasised. Apart from encouraging neophytes and future lecturers to have the skills and knowledge for best practices in our universities, mentoring creates a strong web of interpersonal relationships connecting different families together, thereby creating communities that transcend the narrow confines of university campuses. Those mentored today would be mentors to others tomorrow. In this way, the lofty academic culture that makes universities ivory towers is sustained. However, in a large number of cases what we have is a caricature of what genuine mentoring ought to be. Some senior academics turn their PhD students into glorified domestic servants who run all kinds of inconsequential errands to please them.

Several Professors use their postgraduate students to execute lucrative projects in town, and pay them pittance for their efforts. Sometimes, what goes on in the name of mentoring or supervisor-student relationship is exploitation, including academic exploitation, in which a supervisor asks his student to write a paper and publishes it as if he were the author without the slightest acknowledgement of the person who actually did the work. Nigerian universities are steadily coming under the intellect-stultifying influence of proselytising religious consciousness. An increasing number of VCs, DVCs and other senior academics occupying sensitive positions in our universities are devout Christians and Muslims who strongly believe that prayers and fasting are the most reliable means of dealing with the multi-faceted manmade problems facing universities today.

ASUU leaders oftentimes go to the ludicrous extent of declaring days of fasting and prayer for divine intervention during protracted disputes with the federal government. To the average Nigerian steeped in the opium of religious superstition, the easy resort by lecturers to God and other supernatural beings is commendable and comforting. The problem, however, is that there is no way of really knowing that such antediluvian strategy actually works. Clearly, the increasing tempo of religiosity by lecturers is undermining our universities nationwide because it paralyses the intellect and dampens the capacity for critical and strategic thinking, which is a necessary ingredient for effective management of human and material resources.

Hence, the time, money, and effort expended in special prayer sessions and religious worship in churches and mosques by VCs and other principal officers are sheer waste of time. The earlier lecturers turn away from the illusory comforts of religious superstition and face reality the better for our universities. It is impossible to exhaust the ways by which lecturers, by acts of omission and commission, underdeveloped the universities. Yet, I am encouraged by the large number of colleagues in different universities selflessly doing the right things in the right way without making noise about their contributions.

From Assistant Lecturers up to Professors, there are men and women who, inspite of all the problems in the system, are doing extraordinary work to keep things moving forward in the right direction without attracting attention to themselves. The great minds at the Universities of Lagos, Ibadan, Nigeria, Nsukka and others, I celebrate you and implore you to continue the good work. The destiny of university education in Nigeria is in your capable hands, not in the hands of fanatic ASUU activists who erroneously believe there is virtue in herd mentality. CONCLUDED