The leadership crisis at the University of Nairobi epitomises the folly of permitting extraneous influences in management of higher education.
The mix of legal, political and economic conflicts collectively threatens to destabilise the country’s premier institution of higher learning and with disastrous ramifications.
The clash over the vice-chancellorship degrades the status of the university.
Ordinarily, the VC and other top university positions are revered because they are a reserve of exceptional individuals with proven academic excellence, administrative acumen and integrity.
The office holders are expected to be above pursuit of base material possession and the trappings of power.
The world over, university managers are appointed through competitive search committees that conduct inquiries internationally to identify successful academics and competent institutional administrators.
Superlative academic performance is vital because such a leader is entrusted with the task of managing scholars and whose respect is only commanded by demonstrated superior intellectual capacities.
Administrative capabilities are pivotal because the manager takes charge of human and capital resources, supervises processes and delivers results.
The crisis at the UoN is a consequence of bad governmental decisions laced with political and selfish interests.
First, in 2018, the government published the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act, an omnibus legislation that amended, among others, Section 35 of the Universities Act 2012.
Specifically, it removed the power to appoint VCs of public universities from university councils and vested it in the Public Service Commission (PSC).
With that, first the universities ceded their autonomy to the national government.
Autonomy of universities is an old practice intended to secure academic freedoms and promote free thought, research, innovation and experimentation.
University autonomy and the attendant academic freedom has been contested bitterly by repressive past regimes.
It was anomalous, therefore, that after securing it through the law, schemers devised a clawback plot.
Second was legal omission. The main University Act 2012 contained two provisions on appointment of VCs of public universities.
But only one section — 35 — was amended while 39, which empowers the Cabinet Secretary to appoint the VCs of public universities, remained intact.
Similarly, Section 36 of the Act empowers the minister to appoint university councils.
Other universities are bound to face similar fate as the UoN.
The UoN holds pride of place in the nation’s psyche. If it sneezes, the entire higher education sector coughs. Universities must be fortified from divisive politics and extraneous intrusions.