What you need to know:
- University Prof Magak obtained his PhD in 2005 is neither recognised nor accredited anywhere.
- Unions express fears that degree certificates Prof Magak signed could be nullified.
Maasai Mara University is, once again, on the spot after the academic papers of the man who has been running the institution for the last two years came into question.
Documents obtained by the Nation show that Kitche Onyango Magak, who was fired last week as acting vice chancellor, holds a PhD from an online university neither recognised nor accredited anywhere in the world.
The papers presented by Prof Magak showed that he is a Doctor of Philosophy in Literature and Communication, having obtained his qualification from the Washington International University on February, 15, 2005.
But his qualifications were questioned when it emerged that the purported university is not accredited.
In a letter to the National Assembly on October, 18, 2021, the Kenya Universities Staff Union feared that the decisions made by Prof Magak when he was acting VC would be affected, including the fact that all certificates and other documents bearing his signature would be rendered illegal, irrelevant, null and void.
“Seized of the magnitude of the content of these documents, the union fears the magnitude of net effect of decisions and/or policies made by such a vice chancellor on innocent students, staff and the general public,” the union had lamented.
It stated that the university erred and failed to exercise due diligence in hiring Magak as a professor since 2018.
The union urged Parliament to direct the Education ministry to recall him and investigate forgery of a PhD certificate.
But the Commission for University Education (CUE) yesterday allayed the union’s fears, saying the thousands of degrees, diplomas and certificates signed by Prof Magak are still valid.
“Students are awarded degrees by an institution not an individual. The validity of a degree is based on the vetting and approval of a university Senate. Any person signing certificates does so on behalf of an institution,” said CUE CEO Prof Mwenda Ntarangwi.
“The students hold bonafide qualifications from the institution having been admitted trained and evaluated for their specific programmes by the university according to the set criteria of the university.”
Earlier, on June, 24, 2021, the Commission for University Education (CUE) wrote a letter to the principal secretary in the State Department for University Education and Research, confirming that the university that awarded a PhD to Prof Magak was “not recognised anywhere in the world, including Kenya”.
Prof Magak continued to run the institution until last week, when the government demoted him and replaced him with Prof Joseph Chacha, who was previously the deputy vice-chancellor in charge of Partnership, Research and Innovation at Maseno University.
He was appointed the acting VC in 2019 to replace Prof Mary Walingo, who was sent packing to allow investigations into corruption claims at the institution.
Documents in the Nation’s possession indicate that the Department of Education in the State of Hawaii indicated that Washington International University, WIU, was shut down by the state in 2015 after a short period as a diploma college.
A letter by John Leaky Grisham, the chief department administrator in the Department of Education in the State of Hawaii, dated September 5, 2021, discloses that WIU, which began as a diploma college, was shut down by the authorities in 2015 for non-compliance with education standards and requirements.
The university, according to Grisham, then devised survival mechanisms and started offering online courses, but they were equally intercepted and the site collapsed for the same reasons.
“Note, therefore that, there is no university by the name of Washington International University (WIU) in the state of Hawaii or Pennsylvania,” says Mr Grisham in his letter addressed to Paul Winfrey, the regional director of Africa and Asia Pacific at the International Centre for Academic Integrity (ICAI).
The overseer was founded in 1992 by Prof Don McCabe of Rutgers University to combat cheating, and academic dishonesty in institutions of higher education.
In our search online, the WIU appears the first in the list of ‘fake’ universities across the world.
Last September, ICAI wrote to Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, detailing complaints from some of its members both inside and outside the country in regard to the acting VC’s qualifications.
“The centre launched investigations upon receipt of the complaint from its members in the country that Magak does not hold valid PhD documents from a recognised and accredited university in the United States and across the globe,” Winfrey said in his letter of September 22, 2021.
In a detailed report to Prof Magoha, Mr Winfrey says WIU neither had a physical address nor an administrative office in Pennsylvania. He added that the university has not sought educational accreditation and does not have a campus.
Mr Winfrey’s report further indicates that as recently as October 2012, the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization stated on its website that WIU is located in the British Virgin Islands and that its degrees are not recognised.
Besides the Maasai Mara University Council, Mr Winfrey’s letter was also copied to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Transparency International Kenya and DCI boss George Kinoti. Following the recommendation by ICAI, Maasai Mara University moved in and took action against Prof Magak.
In a letter dated January 19, 2022, the university council chairman, Prof Kennedy Kerei, asked Prof Magak to immediately hand it over and report to one of the departments of the university.
“The university council resolved that you relinquish the position of acting vice-chancellor and hand over with immediate effect,’’
“Report to the chairperson, department of Language, Linguistics and Culture in the school of Humanities, Social Sciences and Creative Industries for assignment of duties,” the letter read in part.
A senior Education ministry official yesterday blamed the university’s council for the fake papers debacle, terming the top decision-making organ as “rogue”.
“It is an issue which was not handled in time because the council was defiant. I hope the Act will change so that the ministry will demonstrate stronger guidance where we get rogue councils like the one at Maasai Mara which has worsened the situation since they were appointed.”
Vicious court battle
And the controversy surrounding the appointment of Prof Magak is threatening to turn into a vicious court battle.
Activist Suyianka Lempaa filed a case in the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Nairobi on November 17, last year, challenging the appointment of Prof Magak as the acting vice-chancellor, arguing that he was unqualified.
The petitioner in the case number E182 of 2021 has further accused Prof Magak of using a fake PhD certificate to get employed as acting VC.
The petition is in relation to the PhD degree the vice-chancellor acquired from Washington International University in the US, roping in Maasai Mara University, Prof Magak, the Attorney General and Education Cabinet secretary as the first to fourth respondents.
In his petition Mr Lempaa wanted the court to issue conservatory orders stopping the appointment of Prof Magak as the university’s acting VC, which has now been overtaken by the appointment of Prof Chacha.
“Until the hearing and determination of this application and petition, a conservatory order is issued prohibiting the university Council from further extending the appointment of Prof. Magak as acting Vice-Chancellor in contravention of section 26 of the Maasai Mara University Charter,” noted Mr Lempaa in the petition.
Efforts to reach Prof Magak were futile as he did not pick calls nor respond to texts.
Additional report by David Miuchungu