There is a justifiable concern that unless our universities get serious, the title “professor” will lose the aura and nobility it ought to have.
The casualness with which university councils are doling out professorships without the requisite procedures is a grave threat to quality in our institutions of higher learning.
We have allowed anarchy on hallowed ground. The dilemma in Kenyan universities is that while we have many gifted professors who are commitment to research, there is another category of “professors” who, though they hold the title, are simply what I call “careerists” who see the appointment as an end in itself.
For the careerists, it is about guile and power and how best to work the system so as to reach its apex and control it. Careerists are barely known in their stated field of expertise and their obsessive pursuit of power is a convenient mask for their academic deficiencies.
Often, the careerists’ relevance is geographically limited and the bearer risks losing the title if he or she dares to transfer to another university.
Since research publications are one of a few indicators of intellectual productivity, careerists have devised creative ways of conjuring up publications. While the quality of these publications is obviously questionable, what is even more worrying is that most careerists append their names to papers they hardly wrote and worse, in disciplines for which they lack the basic competencies. The careerist is an academic fraud.
The Commission for University Education must urgently restore the glory of the professorate. Professorship is the acme of academic merit and should only be reserved for the most dedicated of academics.
Previously, to be appointed one, a committee consisting of eminent professors was constituted to advise on the merit of an application. Two external assessors, usually sourced overseas, were further consulted to give their opinion on the suitability of the candidate.
The inclusion of international assessors in the committee rightly assumes that knowledge is transnational and any claimant to the position must be recognised by his peers internationally.
Among other factors, a professor is supposed to have sustained high quality publications in a specific domain of knowledge and show evidence of significant academic leadership. Also, he or she must have attracted funding, either individually or corporately, for a specific project.
He or she professes knowledge and draws from a distinct expertise. The careerists would be hard-pressed to identify their area of expertise.
Unfortunately, since careerists have ensconced themselves in strategic seats of power in most universities, the rules and requirements of appointment to professorship have been severely weakened. It is no longer necessary to invite international assessors to professorial committees.
The dropping of this requirement has exposed the process to the most blatant of abuse. Moreover, there is just too much “tinkering” in these committees, which have now become mere instruments of legitimising desired outcomes.
Since careerists now call the shots, they reward fellow careerists and actively marginalise committed professors. Therefore, mediocrity propagates itself.
Careerists thus find no shame in lobbying politicians to ascend to the apex of university management. Indeed, the haphazard mushrooming of universities was a bonanza for careerists who have harvested professorial titles for a pittance.
So, what is the way forward for the professorate in Kenya? First, CUE must rise up and take up its rightful role in enforce standards for all academic appointments. It must also design evidence-based international standards, founded on merit, for the purpose of professorial appointments.
Second, university councils, which are mandated to appoint professors, should be populated by persons who are themselves former academics and, therefore, understand how the academe works. Careerists have for long run rings around unsophisticated council members.
Dr Omanga is the head of the Publishing and Media Studies Department at Moi University. [email protected]