The University of Nairobi has often been described as the cradle of all universities in Kenya.
This is so because many Kenyans in academia underwent tutelage at the oldest institution of higher learning in the country.
Since last year, Kenyans have witnessed wrangles in the University management.
The wrangles threaten to undermine stability at this oldest institution that is situated at the heart of the capital, Nairobi.
In 2020, the public watched in disbelief and disdain some dramatic scenes when the University’s Deputy Vice Chancellors issued memos contradicting and, therefore, undermining the authority vested in their offices.
Equally confounding was the semblance of the Tower of Babel which characterized the altercation between the Ministry of Education and the University Council in respect to the controversial appointment of the University’s Vice-Chanchellor, Prof Stephen Kiama.
Upon his appointment as Vice-Chanchellor, Prof Kiama’s first accomplishment was cleansing the University of “old” professors and also uprooting one of his potential competitors, Prof Isaac Mbeche.
Prof Mbeche had earlier been appointed VC by the Ministry of Education.
Many world class institutions have retained “old” professors.
For instance, Massachusetts Institute of Technology has retained 93-year old Noam Avram Chomsky to provide academic mentorship and leadership.
This sharply contacts with the situation at the UoN where the VC literally sent these senior professors home.
Whether this move was to create space for the promotion of younger scholars or a way of stifling “alternative schools of thought” at the University, only God and time can tell.
Often, many high-handed leaders are allergic to alternative or second or third opinion.
The term “old professors” can be a convenient broom for sweeping out alternative viewpoints which normally define higher institutions of learning and their existence.
As if that was not enough, the University recently increased its fees by almost 300% in some academic programmes without assigning any sound reason thereof.
Many prospective postgraduate students will definitely turn to other universities as rudely advised by Prof Kiama.
Prof Kiama was reported this month as making derogatory remarks about other universities in Kenya to effect that they are “cheap” or ” pedestrian” or “mediocre” or somewhat of ” inferior” or “substandard ” or “questionable” quality.
He referred anyone who finds it difficult to join the UoN to look elsewhere, citing Kenyatta and Moi universities as possible destinations.
It is this sort of unfortunate hubris that can be the precursor to a slump in an institution such as the one he heads despite the fact that it has taken this country decades to build.
Perhaps the scrapping of the Offices of Deputy Vice-Chanchellor and deans of schools by Prof Kiama to pave the way for the unilateral appointment of Associate Vice-Chanchellors, which is not anchored in the University Statutes, was after all not an economic austerity measure.
It appears to have been a means towards the creation of a single centre of power, an autocratic system in an institution that should cultivate and cherish diversity of opinion.
It will be interesting to observe how Prof Kiama hopes to repair, if he cares, the dents he arrogantly caused on the images of Kenyatta and Moi universities towards which he has a condescending attitude, in case he meets the VCs of both universities at the Vice-Chanchellors’ Committee!
The author comments on topical issues.