President Prof Peter Mutharika has received a barrage of criticism over his remarks that the academia must not waste their time commenting on trivia in the public domain, but should instead invest their time in meaningful research.
After Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) swiftly accused Mutharika for attempting to gag University of Malawi (Unima) dons, the college lecturers and professors have added their voice of anger to their Chancellor.
Speaking on Saturday night during a fundraising dinner organised by Unima for its golden jubilee celebrations to be held in September, Mutharika implored on lecturers to “do more research which should get published in international journals” other than commenting on trivia in the public domain.
Barrage of criticism
In reaction, Unima law professor Garton Kamchedzera described Mutharika’s remarks to dissuade them from commenting in the media as unfortunate.
“The development only shows that the University of Malawi Chancellor [Peter Mutharika] does not understand the vision of UNIMA,” said Kamchedzera on Capital Radio on Monday.
Kamchedzera said Mutharika’s statement “displayed lack of appreciation on the role the university plays to society.”
He said: “I do not take President Mutharika’s remarks seriously because they do show fundamental misconception of university role to society.”
Kamchedzera said President Mutharika displayed “lack of appreciation of what academic freedom entails. He cannot tell the academia what they should do or not.”
He continued to say Mutharika “does not appreciate that there is need for an interface between the academia, the private sector and public sector in general”
Added Kamchedzera: “It shows the President as Chancellor does not fully understand the mission of his own university which is teaching, learning, research and outreach. “
He said what university dons speak in public domain is based on analysis.
Constitutional law expert Edge Kanyongolo, who is an associate professor of law at the Chancellor College, also took on Facebook to fault Mutharika on his remarks.
“On my part, may I suggest that Presidents should focus on governance- for example, dealing with toxic bank loans, mustering the courage to go to Parliament to answer questions from MPs etc- instead of wasting time commenting on comments. Incidentally, many Unima academics I know are quite capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time,” wrote Kanyongolo.
His post attracted comments from other opinion movers and shakers.
“As a professor himself, he might recognise it as the duty of academics to stay abreast of and comment on current affairs,” commented Diana Cammack, political governance activist.
London-based economist Watipaso Mkandawire wrote: “One can now understand why after years of being a university lecturer he [Mutharika [has been detached from society. He spent his time publishing things irrelevant to society.”
‘Not professorial material’
A South African based Malawi law professor Danwood Mzikenge Chirwa also commented: “By the way Peter published very little, less than 10 recognised articles in a career spanning about 40 years. What he lists as books are compilations of instruments. He was awarded the professorship somewhere in 1977 not based on research output or excellence but confirmation of tenure, which is common in the US. “
Chirwa stated that Mutharika had no research output worth talking about by that time.
“It’s a pity Malawians have been fooled and believe he is professorial material. He isn’t and cannot be based on his academic outputs, both teaching and research. He also held no notable academic leadership post, eg Head of Department, Deputy Dean or Dean. It is thus understandable that he speaks as if he knows nothing about higher education, for he’s always been a dubious scholar,” Chirwa said of Mutharika.
Similarly, Happy Kayuni, a politics lecturer said on Capital Radio, Mutharika should be aware that academia role as researchers is to disseminate information.
Kayuni also said Mutharika was senseless by saying the dons should not comment on trivia.
“What does he mean on trivia?”
Mutharika gave the example of the rift of councillors and MPs as “trivial issue” which the academics were not supposed to speak on.
But Kayuni said “the example Mutharika provided is not trivia.”
Law scholar Sunduzwayo Madise also queried Mutharika: “I think it is I who will decide what trivia is for me and what is not; thank you Professor. And what is wrong with commenting on trivia? What is trivia anyway? Is MSB scandal trivia? Is cashgate trivia? Are ghost workers trivia? Is the budget trivia?”
CHRR’s Makhumbo Munthali who was first to react on the matter said Mutharika’s comments were unfortunate coming from the Head of State who should promote freedom of expression, academic freedom, scholarly vibrancy and debate.
The University of Malawi carries out theoretical and applied research in its five faculties of law, humanities, education, social sciences and sciences at Chancellor College.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :