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Mak professor sues University for failing PhD student

Makerere University. File Photo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Associate Professor Jude Ssempebwa has sued Makerere University for failing his PhD student whose thesis was marked by a hired external examiner, purportedly without the required competence. In a joint suit with his student, Peter Dithan Ntale before the High court civil division, Prof.  Ssempebwa sues the university alongside administrative officer, Professor Ronald Bisaso.

According to Ssempebwa, Ntale became an innocent victim of Bisaso’s malicious campaign against him (Ssempebwa) with the intention of undermining his supervisory role at Makerere University. Ssempebwa contends that Bisaso led a biased campaign against him when he penned a letter to the University Vice-Chancellor claiming that he could not supervise PhD students.

In the January 10 letter, Bisaso reportedly accused Ssepembwa of misconduct, failure to attend board meetings of the East African School of Higher Education Studies and Development, and absentia from the University for long among others.

“The above accusations were false as I have successfully supervised other students to graduation at the same University, Uganda Management Institute, Uganda Martyrs University, University of Kwazulu Natal and Kampala International University”, reads Ssempebwa’s affidavit.

Ssempebwa contends that he carefully supervised Ntale’s PhD thesis in Organizational Behavior and Development as the Principal supervisor for the entire period of the thesis writing, adding that the student wrote a good thesis. He however says that he was surprised when the external supervisor, Professor Wilson Mande Muyinda from Nkumba University who was handpicked by Bisaso because of their friendship failed the student.

Records show that Muyinda’s tenure of mandatory three years plus one had long lapsed as per the regulations of the Graduate Handbook of Makerere University and that he was appointed in disregard of the due process. As such, the applicants through their lawyers of Akampumuza and Company Advocates argue that Muyinda had no academic competence to examine Ntale’s thesis in Organizational Behavior and Development when his area of speciality is Leadership and Ethics.

“That the External Examiner failed the thesis wrongly on erroneous grounds that it lacked originality or significance yet four international refereed papers co-authored by the student based on the same PhD thesis had been published, which is more than evidence of originality and significant contribution according to the University’s own Handbook for Graduate Students”, reads Ssepembwa’s affidavit in part.

Adding that, “It was erroneous for the External Examiner to fail the thesis on grounds that the student spent only ten months in the field doing data collection when the examiners of the student’s research proposal approved this time schedule as realistic and the University assigns a minimum period of stay on the program of two years, which makes it realistic to spend no more than ten months of these in the field collecting data.”

The applicants further contend that following Muyinda’s report, on March 22, 2021, Ntale through Bisaso formerly appealed against the report containing a decision to fail his PhD thesis. Although the records show that the Makerere University Graduate Handbook requires that the appeal be concluded within 15 days from submission and a decision communicated within 14 days of its deliberations, the evidence before the court shows that the appeal was dismissed after seven months, which was outside the stipulated time.

“That I had on 11/3/2021 written to the 2nd respondent/Bisaso formally requesting for reexamination of the thesis as I had identified serious flaws in the Examination report. That the decision to dismiss the appeal for PhD reexamination is beneficial to the second respondent who wanted it to selfishly use it for the malicious campaign against me”, reads Ssempebwa’s affidavit.

According to Ssempebwa, right from the submission of Ntale’s thesis, Bisaso interfered with the process by irregularly directing the student to remove his refereed publications from the thesis or else he would not forward it for external Examination.

“The 2nd respondent’s irregular decision to block the 2nd Applicant’s PHD submission was contrary to the 1st respondent’s regulations contained in the Graduate Handbook in which refereed research publications are a requirement and are given as an indicator of originality and contribution to new knowledge,” reads the affidavit.

The records also show that when Ntale filed another appeal to the Director of Research and Graduate Training, he ruled in his favour, which forced the angry Bisaso to send the thesis to Muyinda for external examination. The applicants now want the Court to declare that the decision to subject Ntale’s thesis to Muyinda whose specialization in Leadership and Ethics and was illegally appointed was invalid.

They also want an order directing Makerere University to perform its Statutory duty and subject Ntale’s thesis to an independent external examiner and order the institution to compensate them with general and punitive damages as well as Shillings 200million as losses occasioned on them. The court is yet to summon Makerere University to defend itself on the allegations before the matter is allocated to the Judge to fix it for hearing.

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