Review hiring of university heads

University of Nairobi

A section of the University of Nairobi in this picture taken on October 01, 2020.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Wrangling for leadership is not only deleterious to universities but also the society.
  • It hampers the ability of faculty to attract funding for research and tarnishes the reputation of universities. 

In January last year, the University of Nairobi, Kenya’s premier institution of higher learning, was plunged into a leadership crisis that threatened to paralyse learning and dent its reputation locally and internationally.

The Education Cabinet secretary, Prof George Magoha, revoked the nomination of Prof Kiama Gitahi by the university council as the substantive vice-chancellor, precipitating an impasse that would later be resolved through an out-of-court settlement between the two parties.

At the 81-year-old Njoro-based Egerton University, a row pitting the VC, Prof Rose Mworia, against the university council recently erupted following its appointment of her successor, paralysing learning.

These cases show the need for foolproof mechanisms for smooth and seamless transition. There are two main processes of appointing a VC: A State-controlled system, where the government exerts discernible influence; and an autonomous one, where the State’s influence, if any, is muted.

The former is fraught with challenges like manipulation and politicisation and, more often than not, denies the VC the academic freedom to execute strategic visions at variance with the State’s overall objectives.

Leadership wrangles

The Harvard University president (VC) is transparently elected by trustese and other institutional stakeholders keeping in view the institution’s interest, academic excellence and continuity.

At Cambridge, the university council submits the name of its nominee to the Regent House (consisting of most academic and academic-related staff of the university) for approbation or disapprobation.

Wrangling for leadership is not only deleterious to universities but also the society. It hampers the ability of faculty to attract funding for research and tarnishes the reputation of universities, consequently ruining their capacity to attract intellectuals and students. They set bad precedents to the society, which looks up to them for intellectual leadership.
It is time universities were granted autonomy in appointing VCs and their deputies. 

Mr Maosa is a banking and finance expert. vinnymaosa@gmail.com

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