Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015 [Post 16 of a Series]

POSTED BY MARTIN KICH

Sub-Saharan Africa, Part 1

In late spring 2015, tensions between the federal government of Nigeria and two group’s representing faculty at Nigerian colleges and universities, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP), became a very public issue. The federal government had failed to release monies earmarked to improve the nation’s system of higher education, and the faculty groups sought to reaffirm a public consensus on how integral the development of better staffed and better equipped colleges and universities is to the nation’s future development. An article published in the Lagos Daily Independent included the following statistics: “China with 1.4 billion people has 1,983 universities, India with 1.2 billion people has 177 universities, United States with 318 million people has 2,680 universities compared to Nigeria with about 178 million people and just 128 universities” (“Controversy . . .”)

The federal government’s commitment to fund improvements within Nigerian universities represented the acceptance of a resolution, presented by faculty groups, calling on the government “to reverse the decay in the University System, in order to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development; reverse the brain drain, not only by enhancing the remuneration of academic staff, but also by disengaging them from the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure; to restore Nigerian Universities, through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and, to ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom” (Controversy . . .”)

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In April 2015, Garissa University in Kenya was attacked by members of the al-Qaeda-associated group, Al-Shbaaab, based in neighboring Somalia. This attack followed the group’s 2013 attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, as well as other attacks in Kenya that received less intensive international political and media attention. In the attack of Garissa University, 148 people were killed and 79 more were wounded. In the aftermath of the attack, security at the university has become much more intensive, restoring some degree of security to the faculty, students, and staff working there. But that security is, paradoxically, also a constant reminder of the danger of another attack, and it has come with other, more subtle costs as well.

Writing for the Daily Nation, T. Michael M’Boya attempted to articulate some of those costs:

“The most obvious of the several things that have happened in the wake of that last decision is that security has been enhanced in Moi University.

“The security checks at the university’s main gate are now very thorough.

“We even have the boots of our cars checked as we enter campus. There is an obvious increased police presence.

“It is no longer rare to see pairs of armed policemen in uniform strolling about.

“I am told there are many more police officers in civilian clothes, and that we may soon have a police station on campus.

“Whereas I see the point behind all of this I also know that sooner rather than later serious questions on academic freedom will need to be raised and addressed in the light of these developments.

“Will it be possible to carry out serious sociological inquiry into the phenomenon known as Al-Shabaab and disseminate one’s findings at Moi University without rousing the unwelcome interest of the security forces in these circumstances?

“These issues are bigger than Garissa University College and Moi University. The new global security challenges compel the academy to engage in serious self-introspection” (M’Boya).

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In November 2015, 16 female university students were arrested while participating in a demonstration in the Zimbabwean capital Harare. The demonstrators were protesting against the degraded state of the national education system, the lack of sufficient accommodations for students at the universities, and recent increases in student fees. They were also calling for the resignation of Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo.

There were a number of peculiar aspects of this situation. Although the protesters included male and female students, all of the 16 students who were arrested were female. They included “a disabled polytechnic student who could not run away”(“Zim Police . . .”). Most of those who were arrested “had been ‘severely assaulted’ and had suffered head injuries and swelling” (“Zim Police . . .”). But when inquiries were made about the charges against the students, the police indicated that they were still “trying to decide what to charge them with,” though they suggested that the students “might be forced to pay fines in return for their freedom” (“Zim Police . . .”). When asked about the incident and the students’ concerns, Moyo said that he was “preoccupied with succession battles within the ruling Zanu-PF ‘at the expense of student issues’” (“Zim Police . . .”).

An article on the protest and arrests includes this background information: “Shortages of accommodation at state-run universities were highlighted last year by the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, which reported that in one case 38 students from the University of Zimbabwe were sharing a four-bedroom house in Harare’s Mount Pleasant suburb. Activists say that the flight of qualified lecturers at the height of Zimbabwe’s political and economic crises has left many faculties short-staffed, while the cash-strapped institutions don’t have the money to maintain key infrastructure like libraries and laboratories” (“Zim Police . . .”).

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In a long (nearly 3,000-word) opinion piece for the Mail and Guardian. Neo Lekgotla laga Ramoupi critiques the lack of progress post-apartheid South Africa in enhancing African research and scholarship in the nation’s higher education institutions. He focuses on four specific areas in which expectations have not been met. This lack of progress is a major impediment to broader progress since South African universities became one of the institutional bulwarks of apartheid. Ramoupi connects recent failures to appoint African faculty to the University of Cape Town’s failure to offer Archie Mafeje to a faculty position, even though he was clearly more qualified than the White applicant who received the appointment. At the time, the University of Cape Town was considered one of the main centers of opposition to apartheid; so it’s failure to seize this opportunity to challenge the system had major ramifications across higher education in South Africa and represented not just a “missed opportunity” but a major setback for the opponents of apartheid:

“If the university had supported Mafeje’s appointment as a senior lecturer in the department of social anthropology, it would have set the trend for universities nationwide to appoint black academics. So much for UCT’s reputation as ‘Moscow on the Hill’; UCT was so called because of its opposition to apartheid, in particular when apartheid obstructed academic freedom. So when UCT chose not to appoint Mafeje, and deferred to De Klerk’s statement that it must fill the vacancy suitably with a white person, the institution lowered its standards to fit the appointment of a white lecturer, even when, after full discussion, the committee of selectors resolved that the unanimous recommendation of the board of electors, that Mafeje be appointed, be upheld.

Ramoupi hears echoes of the Mafeje case in a recent comment by UCT vice-chancellor Dr Max Price, who has written about “’not lowering the standards for appointment as, or promotion to, professor for non-whites,’ arguing that ‘this would reinforce racial stereotypes and set transformation back’” (“Nothing Sinister about Paucity of Black Professors at UCT,” Sunday Times, 13 July 2014) (Ramoupi).

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Sources:

“Controversy over N1.3 Trillion Fund for the Nigerian Universities.” Daily Independent [Lagos, Nigeria] 3 May 2015.

M’Boya, T. Michael. “Life at Moi University More Difficult after Garissa Attack.” Daily Nation [Kenya] 15 May 2015.

Ramoupi, Neo Lekgotla laga. “The African Vision Has Lost Its Focus.” Mail and Guardian 6 Feb. 2015.

“Zim Police .Arrest Female Student Protesters.” All Africa 14 Nov. 2015.

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Previous Posts in the Series:

Post 1. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 1]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/24/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-1-of-a-series/.

Post 2. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 2]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/25/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-2-of-a-series/.

Post 3. Canada—University of New Brunswick: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/26/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-3-of-a-series/.

Post 4. Canada—Capilano University: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/30/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-4-of-a-series/

Post 5. Canada—Overview: https://academeblog.org/2016/05/05/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-5-of-a-series/

Post 6. Canada—Additional Items: https://academeblog.org/2016/05/08/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-6-of-a-series/.

Post 7. Australia– Nikolic, Powell, and Price: https://academeblog.org/2016/05/18/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-7-of-a-series/.

Post 8: Australia–Copenhagen Consensus Centre at Flinders University and Monash University Branch Campus in China: https://academeblog.org/2016/05/21/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-8-of-a-series/.

Post 9: New Zealand—Police and Government Interference in Academic Freedom, Tertiary Education Union and Association of Scientists: https://academeblog.org/2016/06/30/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-9-of-a-series/.

Part 10: United Kingdom, Part 1: Free-Speech Rankings, Issues in Higher Education, and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act: https://academeblog.org/2016/08/17/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-united-kingdom-part-1-post-10-of-a-series/.

Part 11: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015: United Kingdom, Part 2: https://academeblog.org/2016/08/20/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-united-kingdom-part-2-post-11-of-a-series/.

Part 11: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015: United Kingdom, Part 2: https://academeblog.org/2016/08/20/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-united-kingdom-part-2-post-11-of-a-series/.

Part 12: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015: United Kingdom, Part 3, Scotland: https://academeblog.org/2016/12/11/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-12-of-series/.

Part 13: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015: United Kingdom, Part 4, Northern Ireland: https://academeblog.org/2016/12/17/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-13-of-a-series/.

Part 14: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015: Continental Europe: https://academeblog.org/2016/12/18/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-14-of-a-series/.

Part 15: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015: Mexico and Cuba: https://academeblog.org/2016/12/28/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-15-of-a-series/.

 

5 thoughts on “Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015 [Post 16 of a Series]

  1. Pingback: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015 [Post 17 of a Series] | ACADEME BLOG

  2. Pingback: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues [Post 18 of a Series] | ACADEME BLOG

  3. Pingback: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues [Post 19 of a Series] | ACADEME BLOG

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