Chanco lecturers against new Malawi University Act: ‘It will stifle academic freedom’

Chancellor College Academic Ataff have described the recently gazetted University of Malawi Bill of 2012, which Parliament is expected to deliberate, as a ‘heinous’ document meant to stifle academic freedom and kill unionism.

The most contentious issue in the 50 paged document which former Attorney General Ralph prepared with input from the University Council is the proposal that Deans and Heads of Departments should be appointed by the Council on four year contracts with hefty packages.

“If it passes count me out of this place because it will have become an unsafe environment just as was the case with what led to the academic freedom struggle. The appointed Deans and Heads will become the new spies and …chances are that these will very likely be those people close to the establishment,” one lecturer confided to Nyasa Times.

The other is the removal of deputy Deans and deputy Heads of Department.

Kamchedzera: opposing the new 'repressive' Universiy Act
Kamchedzera: opposing the new ‘repressive’ Universiy Act

Currently Deans and Heads of Department are selected by faculty members through a democratic process.“I would not want to work in an environment that operates under the terms that are being proposed here. I am head-elect of English and because I was endorsed by the members there I will serve them as their servant – which is as it should be. But if I am just appointed by someone else the danger is that I will lord it over my colleagues knowing that my legitimacy comes from elsewhere,” Dr Damazio Mfune said.

Dr Mfune said the proposed legislation will create the‘Boss’ mentality saying such an arrangement will create deep mistrust between the Deans and their members, and between Heads and their members.

“It will also create a culture of undue surveillance like that perpetrated by the MYP and the former Malawi Police Service Special branch. This document must be rejected in its entirety,” he said.

Some have since threatened to move out of the University if the Bill sees the light of the day.

“We shall have the government director atmosphere in here and I agree that should it happen that way it will be time to go, sindingalore a hedi kundiyambitsa kupisira pobwera kuntchito msinkhu uno,” Jonas Mwatseteza said.

Apart from that the lecturers noted other ‘atrocious’provisions such as the composition and the process for composition of the Council, the sections on the Academic Advisory Board, composition of the Senate (and the erosion of the representation and power of academics), the inclusion of students in the composition of the Faculty, the tenure of the University Registrar among other several sections.

But the lecturers question the lack of consultations and the motive of the Bill.

“It would be particularly beneficial if we understood why the Bill is needed, its philosophy, and how it was developed. In that way, we can use the shared common purpose(s) to critique whether its provisions are the best for the efficient, effective, and equitable achievement of the shared purpose(s).

“Three simple questions can be revealing in this regard: Who are behind this Bill and why? Have those behind this Bill managed to capture the best interests of the University? If they have, have they chosen the right structures and processes to achieve those best interests?” Garton Kamchedzera said.

He also argued that law making has to reflect the aspirations of those it seeks to serve, current and future saying a way of ensuring that interests are balanced is to allow participation during the making of the law and give due weight to different views.

“Somebody has to tell me first that this Bill attempts to capture what we have agreed is the way forward for this University. Alternatively, even if there was no true participation, we need to be convinced that those who put this together know what is best for those in the University now and those that are yet to come or be born,” Kamchedzera.

The Bill also gives a blank Cheque on the appointment of the Vice Chancellors, a development the Lecturers saying could give leeway to the Council to appoint any number they want as appeasement.

Section 15 (5) (6) reads: “There shall be Deputy Vice-Chancellors of the University who shall assist the Vice-Chancellor in the performance of his functions”

“The absence of anything to do with unionism and the appointment process of deans and heads and the removal of deputies are governance problems. I still believe in the democratic way of choosing our academic leaders. It promotes collective responsibility,” lecturer told NyasaTimes on condition of anonymity.

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