Lecturers say academic freedom battle not over

University of Malawi (UNIMA) lecturers have said the battle for guaranteeing higher education liberties is not over despite reinstatement of four dons at Chancellor College who were suspended on the grounds that they were the ringleaders of academic freedom protests that have gripped the nation for most of this year.

Acting president of Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (CCASU) Dr Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula (JKK) said this when they organised a big ‘red’ day in Zomba to “celebrate” strides in their academic freedom fight.

“The fight for academic freedom is not over,” said tough talking Kabwila-Kapasula.

Battle for academic freedom not over, says Chanco lecturers

She said Chancellor College is now “the home of academic freedom.”  JKK acknowledged the solidarity and the fight by other UNIMA constituent colleges and the nation at large “who supported us during the academic freedom fight.”

Kabwila Kapasula said the lecturers strongly believe that  efforts by the presidential  commission of inquiry to ascertain whether what the lecturers were doing was a strike or not shows that the battle for academic freedom was not over yet.

She said the lecturers will welcome students at the reopening of Chancellor College on Monday November 14 but will remain steadfast in ensuring there is no derogation to academic freedom.

The origins of the crisis dates to February 12 when political science lecturer, Dr. Blessings Chinsinga, had drawn parallels between causes of protests in the Arab world and Malawi’s foreign currency and fuel problems to illustrate a point during class. A student in the class reported the matter to the Inspector General of Police, Peter Mukhito, who summoned Chinsinga for interrogation.

CCASU issued a statement asking for an apology from Mukhito and an assurance of academic freedom. President Bingu wa Mutharika stepped in and declared that the Inspector General would not apologise, Lecturers decided to boycott classes, citing fear of spies, a relic from the one-party regime that ended in 1994.

The University Council then dismissed four lecturers, including Chinsinga, Kabwila-Kapasula, the union’s legal advisor Dr Garton Kamchedzera and Franz Amin, General Secretary of CCASU.

There have been several court sessions on various aspects of the crisis, but the matter has now come to rest on the firing of the four.

Minister of Education, Dr George Chaponda says the academic freedom stand-off is resolved but has blamed the lecturers for “deliberately manipulating the media into believing that the University Council is reluctant to remove the injunctions obtained.”

During the 11-11-11 red day academic freedom celebrations, Professor Wiseman Chijere Chirwa presented a slide show on how the academic freedom fight began until the end.

Chinsinga also planted a red academic freedom flag at the college campus dubbed ‘academic freedom square’.

Scores of people, including retired professors, religious and civil rights leaders joined lecturers – clad in red t-shirts and red scarves – in the celebrations.

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