Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | A section of Makerere University staff is up in arms in what they see as a ploy to ‘illegally’ hand the incumbent Vice-Chancellor Professor Barnabas Nawangwe a new contract.
This came up during the recent Joint Staff Association meeting, which brought together members of Makerere University Academic Staff Association-MUASA, Makerere University Administrative Staff Association-MASA, and the National Union of Education Institutions-Makerere chapter.
Speaking on behalf of the staff, the MUASA chairperson Dr. Robert Kakuru, noted that they have been wondering why the University Council is silent on the issue yet Prof Nawangwe’s contract is left with 1 month and 15 days.
With his term of office elapsing in August this year, Prof Nawangwe who was elevated to the highest office in the University in 2017 has reportedly been positioning himself for another term amidst queries about eligibility. The big debate currently consuming staff at Makerere hill rotates around the fact that the vice-chancellor is 66 years old, which places him above the 65-year upper age limit for the office.
For years, Makerere has had an age limit as one of the requirements for the position of vice-chancellor. Earlier rules kept out candidates above 60 years of age. However, the 2017 Search Committee extended the upper age limit when they announced that candidates interested in the post could be between 40 and 65 years.
The modification at that time is said to have been tailored to give Prof. Ddumba-Sentamu, who had already clocked 64 years of age a chance to contest for reappointment. However, Ddumba declined to seek another term. It is now a public secret that there is an ongoing review of the human resource manual to increase the retirement age for staff.
The joint staff association executives are worried that this process might also be abused. “There is an ongoing review of the human resource manual to increase the retirement age for staff, and note that due to underhand methods, the policy might be applied retrospectively,” the staff stated in a letter to the university council chairperson.
During the 72nd graduation ceremonies, Makerere University Chancellor Prof. Ezra Suruma openly lobbied for Nawangwe’s return. Prof. Suruma noted that the vice-chancellor has done a remarkable job propelling the university to new heights thus deserving a second term to continue and complete his great works.
In a recent interview, Dr. Anthony Tibaingana, a lecturer in the College of Business and Management Sciences noted that this wasn’t an innocent pronouncement since the chancellor is fully aware that Nawangwe is already above the age limit.
Tibaingana noted that without even putting the issue of age limit into the picture, the search committee for the new chancellor could have already been put in place six months ago to put in place the requirements for suitable candidates for the position, including Nawangwe if he wishes to apply and contest.
“We are wondering why the council has failed to set up a committee to embark on the process. Even if Prof Nawangwe wanted to bounce back, he should be subjected to a search as required by rules,” Tibaingana said.
Tibaingana’s comment comes at a time when it is rumored that there is a plot by the university council to evaluate the vice-chancellor and directly award him a new contract without going through a search process.
In their resolutions addressed to the university council, the joint staff association has asked the council to immediately constitute a search committee for the position as provided by law. “…If the contract of the vice chancellor expires before the completion of the search process, the first deputy vice-chancellor should be appointed in acting capacity as per the law,” reads the letter to the council in part.
Nawangwe’s five-year tenure at the helm of Makerere has been characterized by controversies including the suspension and expulsion of several students and staff for flimsy reasons drawing protests from the staff associations and students.
During the inaugural Frank Kalimuzo Memorial Lecture, Nawangwe could not resist throwing some jabs at the staff association leaders whom he accused of confusing academic freedom at the university with academic thuggery. He noted that a section of staff is engaged in the latter.
Meanwhile, the protest against the renewal of Nawangwe’s contract is not the only issue that is puzzling the staff at the institution. They are also unhappy with the way how the institution is being managed as underhand methods are replacing the known structures.
Dr. Kakuru says that everyone is watching the current trend in disbelief as those at the helm of the institution’s administration are conducting business as they wish. “Some people are running the university as they wish. It is as if it is family a matter, actually the situation is far worse because even in a home there are known structures,” he told our reporter during an interview.
In their joint letter, the executives of the staff association, who condemned the irregularities in management and appointment of staff noted that for years now, the institution is running without substantive officials in most of the top management slots.
To Dr. Kakuru, this is affecting the quality of the work at the university as officers in an acting capacity at times can be forced to dance to the tunes of individuals who appoint them.
Some of the positions that lack substantive officers include the deputy vice chancellor of finance and administration, deputy university secretary, academic registrar, director of Human resources, director of legal affairs, principals and deputy principals of several colleges, and director of Makerere university institution of research.
Staff also noted with concern deceitful methods, unfairness, and impunity in recruiting, promoting, and issuing post-retirement contracts, which has created a toxic environment unfavorable for working, teaching, and learning in Makerere.
To ensure that the institution, which is celebrating 100 years doesn’t fall into the abyss, staff insist that there is a need to place Makerere back on the road under functional institutional structures, systems, and appropriate leadership styles and shared values to efficiently and effectively realize the goals prescribed as the core functions.