Saturday, May 18, 2013

Management of universities a mockery of devolution

By INDIATSI NASIBI

Peter Drucker, who is referred to as the father of management, once said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.

Our universities have definitely proved unmanageable for reasons best analysed and articulated by Jacqueline Mugo, the Executive Director of the Federation of Kenya Employers.

The search for money

As an employer of university-trained people, the federation points out that our academic institutions have devolved with campuses on every street and corridor, whose focus is not accumulation of intellectual capacity, but a search for money and profitability.

It is true that our universities have become oblivious to the law of diminishing utility.

They are oblivious of the volume of scripts the staff, who are underpaid, can mark effectively.

A class with 1,000 or even 500 students is not easy for a lecturer to monitor and measure each student’s performance effectively.

Yes, we are not in tandem with the dynamisms required in a competitive 21st century.

Although the University of Maryland, College Park, where I first began my teaching career had more than 50,000 students in 1971, classes with a large number of students were split in such a way that one lecturer would not handle more than 50 students in one class.

Only one campus

They had thousands of teaching staff with tutorial fellows who assisted professors in marking papers and scripts. My alma mater – University of Redlands in California – has maintained only one campus in Redlands since 1909 when the university was established. Call it an ivory tower, but it is an ivory that one can be proud of.

In his book, the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber’s ideas have withstood all critical battering because, prior to his works, capitalism and protestant ethic were mutually exclusive.

But, today, we know that there are many protestants like Bill Gates who have capital or have contributed to both the spirit of capitalism and protestant ethic at the same time.

For this reason, I see John Mbiti’s African Religions and Philosophy not being a hindrance to scholars and our university administrators.

They should look beyond our limitations lest our universities become the base of tribalism.

Although I believe in equality of people beyond textbooks and certificates, our leaders have done little to bring an image beyond reproach.

Not everybody who has money should necessarily buy a university degree.

If this were the case, Henry Ford, Toyoda and Njenga Karume would not have accomplished what they contributed to nation building. Specialisation matters a lot.

I take my car for repairs to a person who never saw the inside of a university.

Tell us about dignity for toil and pride in one’s achievement through competition and specialisation.

In the global village which technology and innovation has bequeathed us, anthropocentric African ontology, which is typified by one tribe raiding and killing members of another tribe, has no place in the 21st century.

The Commission for Higher Education has an arduous task of transforming our university system, the curriculum, and the staffing of our institutions.

W. Edward Deming sums it up all in his art of Total Quality Management. Kenya and the federation of employers, require a thorough revitalisation of our academic institutions.

The nihilistic approach to our university system is the same nihilism we see in politics – survival of the fittest.

Prof Nasibi teaches Economics and Management at the United States International University. The contents of this article are his personal opinion.

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