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Makerere’s murky fight

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

Uncertainty over Baryamureeba’s vice chancellor job taints the university

Between 2001 and 2005, Venansius Baryamureeba’s name was synonymous with the bright future of Uganda’s oldest university, Makerere, in Kampala.

He was the smart young head of the Faculty of Computing and Information Technology. When he took it over in December 2001, it was a mere Institute of Computer Science with just 30 students and one academic programme. Under his administration, the Institute was elevated to a faculty and by the time he left to become the youngest faculty dean in the university’s history, the Computing and Information Technology Faculty had over 5,000 students and teaching 20 programmes.

While serving as dean of the faculty, Baryamureeba’s star rose even faster in the academic and management circles. On Aug. 28, 2006 Baryamureeba was promoted from senior lecturer to associate professor; and three months later he was made professor at the age of 47.  In November 2009, he was appointed acting vice chancellor.

Today, he stands accused of plagiarism and mismanaging some of the university’s projects including the construction of a new ICT block. Allegedly planned to be six floors it was completed one floor less. The question now is: What happened to the missing floor?

It is one of several questions Baryamureeba has to answer correctly because, although his rise to the top was quite quick, his fall could be even faster if allegations against him are found to be true.

So far, he has maintained that the battle against him is ultimately a fight for the job of VC and that the allegations are a smear campaign being spearheaded by his colleagues in the academic institution with the backing of some individuals in government.

The storm over the Makerere VC job began when the Minister of Education, Jessica Alupo, wrote to the University Council asking it to search for a substantive VC and adverts for the position were posted in the press.

Baryamureeba was appointed for a six-month period but he has been acting VC for two years. He says, he does not know why he has not been confirmed.  He says the University Council to which he reports has always rated his periodical performance assessment as “satisfactory”.

His appointment was pegged on a pending amendment of the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act that has not happened. A Bill was recently tabled in parliament but Baryamureeba says he will sue the university if continues advertising his job.

Although he is confident he can defeat any challengers, he appears inclined not to take chances. Under him, the university’s ranking among other continental universities has improved. But he has shaken up the management of the university, including introduction of a collegiate system, which has been opposed by prominent voices like Dr. Tanga Odoi, the head of the Makerere University Academic Staff Association.

He says his appointment “is open-ended” and he ought to be confirmed in the position since he has already served half of the 5-year term of a Vice Chancellor. He says when he left an assured posting as Dean of the ICT Faculty; he assumed his tenure as VC would not be interrupted.

“I gave up so many opportunities,” he says.

Instead of confirming him, there are those who say Baryamureeba is unfit for the job. Dr Odoi, has dragged Baryamureeba and Makerere University Council to the High Court challenging the prolonged stay of the VC and his two deputies in acting capacity.

Prof. Eli Katunguka, the Director of Makerere University Directorate of Research and Graduate Training formerly School of Graduate of Studies, told The Independent he believes he was the best candidate when he vied for VC job but was sidelined.  He said he did not have time to explain how he was “sidelined” but he has confirmed that he will vie for the position again.

Baryamureeba accuses Katunguka of leading the smear campaign against him and says some letters complaining about him written by Tanga Odoi and Katunguka have been delivered in the same envelope.

Katunguka accuses Baryamureeba of mismanaging a Shs 480 million Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education (NUFFIC) scholarship grant to 20 PhD students. He denies the allegations, arguing that they are a smear ploy to bring him down. But the Danish embassy in Kampala has written to the university to explain how it used the grant and the CID has also taken interest in the case. Baryarumreeba insists the grant was used properly and that if there is need for another audit it should be done by an independent auditor not the CID.

“The police have no professional ability to investigate a project that auditors cleared,” Baryamureeba argues, “I will accept the IGG, Auditor General or an independent auditor not the police CIDs.”

Baryamureeba is shocked at how even faculty members who formerly supported him, now oppose him, among them, Odoi.

“We were shocked recently when Tanga was the one moving the police detectives around the university as they searched for documents regarding the running of the Danish scholarship grant for the PhD students whose course ended last May,” Baryamurreeba told The Independent.

But Odoi denies he is fighting personal battles with Baryamureeba. He says he is merely pointing out the illegalities in the case.

Baryamureeba is a bitter and frustrated man.

“I am spending more time to deal with these false allegations instead of concentrating on the development of the university. Their actions form negative energy at the university,” he told The Independent.

He is worried that the personal squabbles and Makerere politics could scare away potential donors to the university, demoralise the lecturers who would be interested in managing such grants and giving a bad image to the university. He says if no research grants are extended to the university, students would be the loser.

He says the NUFFIC grant enabled the Makerere University to buy computers for the IT faculty, sponsor 10 PhD students in Norway, and 20 others at Makerere.

“If donors get worried, such opportunities would end,” he says.

He is disappointed that the university top administrators, particularly the University Council chairman, Dr Charles Wana-Etyem, who should come out strongly and speak against the staff settling personal scores in public to the detriment of Makerere’s image, have remained silent. He has written to Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi about the police’s interest to investigate the allegations against him but, he says, Mbabazi’s too has remained quiet.

Katunguka also accuses Baryamurreba of copying the work of his PhD student, Justine Kasigwa. Plagiarism is a serious offence in the academia and Baryamureeba stands to lose his professorship if found guilty.

He denies he plagiarised the work arguing that he co-authored it with the student, which is allowed by the university rules. But it is a tangled web. Justine Kasigwa in 2008 also accused another former ICT faculty member, Dr Williams Ddembe, of plagiarising her work.  However, Kasigwa was dismissed from the university in October 2006 for plagiarising a paper. While at the ICT faculty, the trio often worked together on several papers. The University Council has set up an adhoc committee to investigate plagiarism allegations but Baryamureeba wants the academic papers of all senior lecturers and professors at the university investigated instead of singling him out.  Katunguka disagrees.

“Counter-allegations will not help,” says Katunguka. Unfortunately, it is not clear what can help.

At its 124th meeting the University Council appears  to have halted the search for a new vice chancellor which was due in two months time pending legal advice from the Solicitor General on Baryamureeba’s appointment instrument.

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