The controversy over the appointment of Moi University’s vice-chancellor puts a spotlight on the selection criteria for such top jobs.
Essentially, the process of appointing bosses of public universities should be open, transparent and competitive. Any qualified candidate should apply and be taken through a process that is fair and credible.
But what happened at the university is disastrous. Some panellists – members of the university council - gave incredibly higher marks to one candidate and down-graded others, including one of the front-runners, Prof Laban Ayiro, the acting VC. Curiously, the grading pattern had an ethnic bent, sparking a public uproar.
None other than Public Service chief Margaret Kobia rejected the process, noting and rightly so, that this was part of a worrying trend where appointments of public officials are manipulated to serve ethnic interests.
The search for the VC has an unsettling history. Locals have publicly demanded that it must be one of their own and have frustrated efforts to get the right candidate.
It is this unfortunate situation that compelled Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to appoint Prof Ayiro in an acting capacity.
There is evidence he has turned around the institution in the past one year, remarkably cutting its financial woes and putting it on a recovery path.
The public universities are national institutions not restricted to any ethnic or political formations. They serve all Kenyans.
Seeking to lock some institutions to particular communities is anachronistic and discriminative. It shows a perverted thinking of entitlement borne out of the old Kanu school.
We must come up with clear standards that cut across all the public institutions.
The government should outsource recruitment to professional firms, as most private companies do, to lock out whimsical individuals sitting on interview panels, yet they are not only ill-equipped but driven by parochial pursuits that are detrimental to the common good.
In the circumstances, Dr Matiang’i should cancel the recruitment and order a fresh, transparent and professional process.