Dons Screaming Too Early

-In Universities Bill Wahala

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Ekow Vincent Assafuah

The debate on the draft Public Universities Bill is becoming more interesting with the academia embarking on early screaming without any cause for alarm.

Although, the Ministry of Education has made it clear that it was inviting inputs from stakeholders before the bill becomes law, the members of the universities community would not accept the explanation.

Mr. Vincent Ekow Asaffouh, Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Education, thinks the reading of motives into what is a well-intended act of government to update the countries Universities Act into a modern one is premature.

“The laws governing universities are outmoded and the laws of various universities differ from each other,” he told Daniel Dadzie on the SMS minutes after Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua had had his turn.

At the very worse, he said the bill is not yet a law, and government is interested in inviting inputs from all stakeholders to incorporate into what will become the final law.

He argued that for good corporate governance, a good board, like a university council, must have more external members than those from within for the purposes of the democratic principle of checks and balances.

“That may bring the quality needed. If internal representation is more it undermines accountability,” he said.

According to him, even though the new bill is not instigated by recent happenings on the campuses of the University of Education and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, it, however, should guide critics to back the policy to check excessive internal controls which have accounted for some of the disturbances as witnessed on these campuses.

Meanwhile, a former education minister, Professor Dominic Fobi, has backed proposals in the controversial draft universities bill, saying he does not see problems with the bill.

“I don’t think that should be a problem. The government appointing five council members does not necessarily mean government trying to control the universities, if you ask me.

There must be an indirect control of the President in public universities as the government funds these universities,” he told Francis Abban on the Morning Starr Tuesday.

The comment is in sharp contrast to the views of a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor Ivan Addae-Mensah, who views the bill as dangerous.

“I think this bill is very dangerous and totally unnecessary. The constitution of Ghana seeks to protect tertiary institutions from government interference. If the bill says the President can appoint the Chancellor it means he can disappoint the Chancellor. In all, the President can appoint about five council members and that is dangerous.

“The bill has stated that if five council members out of the nine meet to discuss some issues, the decision arrived at can take effect. This means that the five appointed by the president can sit and decide to overthrow the VC and that can happen. As a former VC and educationist, I just can’t understand what this whole bill is about. The universities should be allowed to have their own laws governing them. The State shouldn’t give any legal guidelines. This bill is going to bring about micro-management of the Universities and that may render VC redundant,” Prof. Mensah told Francis Abban on the Morning Starr Tuesday.

He added the bill will allow government through its councils to have power over who gets admission into public universities in the country.

The first to publicly oppose the bill is a lecturer at the University of Ghana, Professor Ransford Gyampo.

Some of the proposals in the Bill grant; a) the President power to dissolve the university Council; b) Allow the university Council to appoint a Chancellor and c) Allow unions to appoint only one representative on a rotational system to serve on the Council at each cycle.

It was Professor Ransford Gyampo, a lecturer of the University of Ghana, who, in opposition to the draft bill, said he is prepared to shed blood.

“You underpay us and we don’t complain. But we would resist attempt to touch our academic freedom with our blood,” he said in a Facebook post.

Joining the crusade to oppose the bill, Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua said reserving majority slots on the University Council for government appointees, giving the right to appoint the Council Chairman to government, deferring the power to dissolve Council and reconstitute an interim one to government amounts to grave attempts at undermining academic freedoms.

“There is no involvement from the university. There is a deviation from the previous means of doing things. The government should not interfere with academic freedoms. This bill completely undermines academic freedom,” the distrust Professor of law blurted out.

Speaking on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show Monday, Appiagyei-Atua argued that if the government has a controlling stake in the University Council it will indirectly have government influencing university appointments, financial commitments and the universities’ relation with other external bodies as Council is ceased with the power do these.

The law lecturer is concerned that if government’s excessive powers in the management of university are not checked, research content may be influenced, bidding for contracts may be tempered with and this generally portends ill for the teaching and learning environment as government will be breathing on their necks to do its bidding.

The Professor of Law suggests that this is not just a university versed Government issue.

According to him, the implication of substituting rights of academic freedom with unchecked government influence would mean that international democratic rating bodies will keep scoring the country low marks on its performance in advancing the frontiers of democracy.

Source: The Inquisitor

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