I swear don’t let this dream I had come true. Several years ago I dreamt that Professor Adae-Mensah, the then Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, had introduced a new caning policy in the university, and I had been made the caning prefect. I held the post for a few days (still in the dream) until I woke up with nothing in my hands.
The introduction of the new university education Bill aimed at harmonizing the admission processes in the various universities in Ghana, as well as restructuring their governing councils, has reminded me of this dreaded dream I had, of the possibility of a future introduction of corporal punishment in our universities.
In the year 2012, I was appointed as an International Visiting Fellow of the Grinnell College, Iowa, to teach a course in Sustainable Development. Grinnell College is a liberal Arts University based in the city of Grinnell, America. I am not an academician, but I was allowed to develop my own course outlines, course content, and to recommend my own reading materials.
The experience in teaching in this university introduced me to, for the first time, the real essence of academic freedom. Academic freedom is not only the freedom from political or governmental interference, but also the freedom to air opinions without thinking about who is listening or who is not listening.
I recently read a report on some concerns some lawmakers in America have raised about the Chinese government interference in some American universities. The report takes academic interference a notch higher, to include suspicions around funding, and intelligence gathering, resulting in several American universities to close programs that have associations with such funding streams. To the extent that some lawmakers lambasted some of the universities for hosting what they call Confucius Institutes which they suspected to be camouflage for spying on their country.
While at it, universities in Ghana are likely to have their admission processes centralized, like the way it is done for the Free SHS. The next one is likely to be the introduction of school uniforms for the students, and free shoes to match, then we will get to the caning stages, to complete the actualization of the dream I had.
If universities need to harmonize their admission processes, shouldn’t have been the conception of the universities themselves? Does this really need a law to implement, or should it not just be a policy collaboration between the universities themselves? What has government got to do with the admission process of a university? Or a certain somebody somewhere is waiting to cash-in on the resultant software contract in the making?
I am beginning to see clarity in what the Bible has said, that the world will soon come to an end. Everything points to the world coming to an end sooner rather than later, for the Bible says that unthinkable things will happen. Goats would frown at sheep, while women and men would dance in the open. Those you voted for would vote you out, while Men would create, loot and share, as the rest look on.
You see, the advent of TESCON and TEIN have already destroyed student politics, a vital part of university education and its freedoms. The student front was previously revered. I was lucky to have been one of the longest serving student leaders in my time in Legon. It was during the year 2001 when NUGS was holding its national delegates congress in Cape Coast that I noticed the beginning of attempts by the two main political parties, NDC and NPP, to influence who became the President of NUGS.
Before the congress, I had had a hint that the previous University of Ghana SRC, and the University of Cape Coast SRC elections had been compromised politically, to neutralize the student front, following the MMOBROWA protests. I wrote a couple of articles warning of the dangers of the student body allowing itself to be infiltrated by politicians. Today student leadership has transformed into a complete partisan race, with the NDC and the NPP deciding who wins elections on our various campuses. The result is that we now have student leaders who have come under their political party whip structures, towing partisan lines, weakening the vibrancy that is known of university student leadership.
I wish I have the permission to warn that we should not take this new Bill any further. And we should refuse to politicize it too. This seems to be one of the most dangerous beginnings of our journeys into turning our universities into centers of partisan political influence, both in terms of content, as well as critical thinking, and looking at the fact that the universities are a place of massive young voters, I would not be surprised if TEIN and TESCON would soon request to be represented on academic boards, and so on.
Already some lecturers complain of espionage in lecture halls. There have been several complaints of students recording what lecturers say about the government of the day during lectures, and they send these recordings to their parties, for whatever reasons. This is certainly unhealthy for our academic institutions.
It felt like a joke when the gates to the campuses of the University of Ghana was attacked and destroyed by our friend Gbevlo Lartey and his men. Now we are here, talking about admission controls and council dominance. Soon the conversation would shift to their curriculum and course offerings. In the next decade or so we would be talking about the inclusion of the elephants and the umbrellas during the caning process.
Already academic standards at the universities are said to be going down. Several years ago Professor Ernest Aryeetey argued that the products of our universities are not employable. I will not dispute him, and I don’t think we should create the environment to make it worst.
Our universities do not operate in isolation. The products of our universities need the undoubted acceptance of universities in the rest of the world, for continuing studies, for research, and for accreditation. Those universities too must have enough confidence in our universities, for research, and affiliations.
If we continue to show signs of external institutional controls, the international university community would soon push ours into oblivion, and we will lose the credibility of the certificates we award. Let us remember posterity in all of these, that, it is not all about today, it is about tomorrow, and it is about our children too.
Still, the battle is the Lord’s!
James Kofi Annan