Once again, Kyambogo University is in a crisis, after its efforts to obtain a substantive vice chancellor ended in shambles, last week. CHRISTOPHER TUSIIME has been looking at what happened and whether there is hope after the ashes.
Last week, University Council Chairman Prof John Okedi confirmed that the search for a new vice chancellor had been cancelled after divisions emerged over who was running for the position.
After five dons applied for the job, the search committee suddenly dropped three of them, forwarding just two, Prof Eli Katunguka and Dr Geoffrey Bakunda, to the senate for consideration.
However, at this point the matter was mired in angry accusations of favouritism from various dons. With the university council’s tenure running out, Prof Okedi pulled the plug.
“You well know the process of getting a new vice chancellor … it is the senate that shortlists the candidates and then sends them to us [University Council] to recommend … it’s the senate that delayed,” Prof Okedi said, in a telephone interview.
The decision has infuriated and angered staff on both sides of the debate equally.
Kyambogo University Senior Administrative Staff Association (Kyusasa) members, who had their hopes in one of the candidates were upset. Kyusasa chairperson Jackson Betihamah, labeled the university council decision unacceptable.
“Kyambogo University urgently needs a substantive vice chancellor to steer the management … two and a half years without a VC is too long,” Betihamah said.
Betihamah’s anger is bound by the uncertainty of what could happen later.
“The University Council’s term ends on July 20, 2016 and, therefore, can no longer be able to recruit candidates for the above positions, considering the remaining time, yet it was the right council to make this choice well aware of the historical unrest the institution has passed through,” he added.
However, across the divide, the chairman of the Kyambogo University Academic Staff Association there has no better news. The academic staff association chair, Dr Grace Lubaale, said they could not support continuity of a process marred by what he called countless irregularities.
“We as teaching staff, because we understand the law and democracy, we support the university council’s decision to start afresh the whole process of searching for a new vice chancellor,” Dr Lubaale said. “Corruption, moral decadence and the lack of fear of God [have] characterised the search committee during its selection of suitable candidates.”
Dr Lubaale cited several provisions of the Public Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act, 2001 that had been violated. Of particular interest to him was the absence of a third candidate, as required by the law.
"The vice chancellor be appointed by the chancellor on the recommendation of the University Council from among the three candidates recommended by the senate.”
Over two years ago, six candidates applied for the position of vice chancellor at Kyambogo. They included Prof Eli Katunguka, Prof Geoffrey Bakunda, Prof Aron Wanyama, Prof George Bazirake, Prof David Kivikyo and Charles Mukoza.
Of the applicants, only Bakunda was not a member of Kyambogo University staff. The six applications were forwarded to the search committee, which is comprised of Prof David Kabaasa (council member), Prof Jessy Musazi (council member), Joyce Asiimwe (member of senate), Prof Patrick Mangheni (member of senate, chairperson of the committee and representative of ministry of education) and Bosco Obua (member of senate).
After preliminary considerations, Prof David Kivikyo was dropped for lack of 10 years' experience, as required in the advertisement. Later, the five appeared for an interview at which Mukoza, Wanyama and Bazirake were also dropped, leaving Katunguka and Bakunda in the race. The search committee then sent the names of Katunguka and Bakunda to the senate, which raised concern among some dons, since only two, and not three candidates, had been approved.
Speaking on behalf of the search committee, the university’s deputy secretary, Patrick Madaya, insisted that they were justified to approve only two names.
“The search committee was tasked to search for a suitable candidate and to forward two to the senate was right. We only need one vice chancellor, and the committee submitted more than one [candidate for consideration],” explained Madaya, adding that no one should blame the search committee.
As all this was being considered, Profs George Bazirake and Aron Wanyama appealed the decision in a letter to the senate, arguing that they were unfairly dropped and that there were contradictions between the requirements in the advert for the post, and what was followed by the search committee.
“It is clearly stated in the advert under person specifications that the successful candidate should have ten years' experience of working with a high degree of success in senior position in large and complex higher education or research organization,” they wrote.
Wanyama and Bazirake were still waiting for the senate to respond to their appeal when the university council canceled the search process.
The decision to cancel the search for a vice chancellor by the university council has left a sour taste at Kyambogo hill. For one, the current council will not be able to launch another search and complete it within the remaining two weeks of its tenure. The search will have to wait for a subsequent university council to be put in place, leaving Prof Katunguka continuing as acting vice chancellor, for now.
While, some in the administrative staff felt that this was the best chance at completing the process of obtaining a vice chancellor, they will worry about their chances with someone else in charge of the search process.
On the other hand, those in support of ending the search process last week will wonder if their preferred candidate will make it next time. As reality began to bite, Kyusasa chair Betihamah was sounding awkward, when he appealed to the leadership of other public universities to intervene in the process at Kyambogo.
“We call upon professors from Makerere, Gulu, Busitema and other universities, to come up and show interest in this university. We know many of them are capable; why can’t they come?” Betihamah wondered.
He added that he would mobilize Kyusasa members to meet the new education minister, Janet Museveni, to take a critical advisory role in the matter. However, Dr Lubaale is hoping that the next university council will have the presence to follow through a transparent process and produce a new substantive vice chancellor for Kyambogo.
“I can’t tell when the next university council will be in place to appoint a new search committee but we hope that they will be more transparent than the current team,” Dr Lubaale said.