By Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, Former Vice Chancellor, Makerere University
Prof. Mahmood Mamdani was recruited as Executive Director of Makerere University Institute of Social Research (MISR) when I was serving as Vice Chancellor of Makerere University.
During the interviews for the job, one of his selling points was starting a five year PhD by coursework and research that would build research capacity in the humanities and social sciences disciplines at Makerere University and the region.
Prof. Mamdani also made it clear that he wanted to change the focus of MISR from consultancy based institute to a respected research institute of global standing.
As Appointments Board we were satisfied with his overall performance and agreed to recruit him on his terms of spending 75% of his time at Makerere University and 25% at Columbia University every year.
His joint appointment at both Makerere University and Columbia University would enable him to mobilize resources including financial resources from the USA and beyond since he would be able to use his profile at Columbia University when necessary.
After his recruitment, Prof. Mamdani immediately worked on the curriculum of the PhD programme that would be housed at MISR but implemented by selected staff in the humanities and social sciences disciplines from Makerere University and beyond.
As much as Mamdani spearheaded the development of the curriculum for the PhD programme, the Faculty of Social Sciences and Faculty of Arts that later merged to form the College of Humanities and Social Sciences where MISR belongs reviewed the curriculum before it was presented to Senate as a University programme.
After approval by Senate and Council, I did fast track the accreditation of this Makerere University PhD programme with the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) when Prof. Abdul Kasozi was still the Executive Director of NCHE.
The PhD by course work and research was later approved by NCHE as a Makerere University programme. So I get saddened when people keeping it calling it the Mamdani PhD!
With the establishment of the PhD programme at MISR definitely the duties of the PhD holders at MISR had to change to incorporate the new demands of this programme that included teaching and supervision.
So at the inception of the implementation of this PhD programme; Prof. Mamdani came back to management with a proposal to vary the workload terms of all PhD holders at MISR from 100% research to 75% research and 25% teaching and supervision on the PhD programme.
Management advised Prof. Madmdani that it was not necessary to take the proposal to the Appointments Board since as Executive Director MISR he had powers to vary duties of staff under his supervision.
“Every letter of a staff of Makerere University has this provision…. Undertake any other duties assigned to you by your supervisor’’. Appointment letters are generic and cannot include the all details.
So he was advised that in his capacity as Executive Director to put it in writing for all PhD holders at MISR that their load would now constitute 75% research and 25% teaching and supervision on the PhD programme, which he did.
Management also worked with him to have more PhD holders recruited at MISR by the Appointments Board on similar terms of 75% research and 25% teaching and supervision on the PhD programme.
It should be noted that 25% workload is just 10 hours per week which can be done in one day.
World over doctorate/ PhD students and post doctorate fellows (postdocs) are always given at least 25% tutorial and or teaching load per week under the guidance of their supervisors/advisors. “Knowledge exists to be imparted”, Emerson.
So it’s shocking that a PhD holder, who is a research fellow, is completely opposed to an otherwise routine practice of taking on 25% teaching and supervision workload.
It is also a common practice to find research fellows involved in teaching and supervision at (post)graduate level at almost all the best Universities across the globe.
Even back home here in Uganda, take the case of a Vice Chancellor who is appointed fulltime in administration.
This did not stop for example Prof. Frederick IB Kayanja to continue teaching and supervising for the 25 years he served as Vice Chancellor of Mbarara University of Science and Technology.
Similarly Prof. LS Luboobi continued teaching and supervising students at Makerere University while he was serving as Vice Chancellor.
Prof. Ddumba still teaches and supervises students in the College of Business and Management Sciences despite the fact that he serving as Vice Chancellor, Makerere University.
I can mention more Vice Chancellors. Even I continued to teach and supervise masters and PhD students when I was serving as Dean and Vice Chancellor.
So if a Vice Chancellor can still engage in teaching and research even when he/she is not required why would a PhD research fellow refuse to take on teaching and supervision at PhD level when these have been made part and partial of the normal duties in writing by the supervisor?
Let me return to the Makerere University PhD programme hosted at MISR.
First of all, the student numbers per intake on this programme are few and there is very little load in terms of marking.
All the assessments are research based. Why would a research fellow with a PhD not want to participate in such a PhD programme?
In all functional educational and research institutions, Deans of Schools/ Faculties and Directors of Research Institutes are delegated powers to allocate a workload to their staff and supervise them.
It is apparent Dr. Stella Nyanzi refused to take on the workload allocated to her by her supervisor which tantamounts to abscondment from duty and insubordination.
The appropriate university organs should have taken appropriate action when this became evident since the Human Resources Manual is very clear on cases of insubordination and abscondment from duty.
It appears this has never taken place hold her accountable for neglecting her assigned duties.
No doubt the PhD programme at MISR has not only brought research grants but also raised the profile of Makerere University and it’s both critical and important that everybody focuses on the bigger picture of graduating the PhD students on this programme.
As much as the first intake has reached 5th year and is about to graduate there are several other intakes that followed which need to be followed through.
The architect of this PhD programme is Prof. Mamdani and it is important that Makerere University weighs the consequences of not renewing his contract.
My opinion is that Makerere University renews his contract with a condition that he takes one or two deputy directors who can understudy him and continue with this good initiative once his contract of five years expires.
We must remember that the PhD programme is not a Ugandan programme but a global one as students are recruited from across the globe.
So it strongly contributes to Makerere University’s academic standing.
Some people may be wondering why I am writing this article.
The last time I wrote a critical article about the affairs at Makerere University was when the University was planning to raise staff salaries by 70% from internally generated funds.
I said that Makerere University would be committing suicide if it followed through with the proposal.
It did and the consequences are visible to everybody; the University has failed to pay the 70% salary incentive and it’s in arrears of more than 6 months.
In addition to being an alumnus of Makerere University, I spent my formative years at Makerere University where I rose through the ranks until I served as Vice Chancellor until September 2012.
I have a lot to lose if Makerere University goes down. At this point in time, truth be told Makerere University needs Prof. Mamdani at the helm of MISR to see the PhD programme accomplish its objectives.
Dr. Stella Nyanzi may have personal issues with Prof. Mamdani but this cannot stop her from undertaking her duties.
She must understand that MISR has an Executive Director as head where she works as a Research Fellow.
So she must show respect to the Executive Director otherwise we have institutional breakdown.
Prof. Mamdani needs the support of management including the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ddumba if he is to succeed with the Makerere University PhD programme hosted at MISR and also be able to spearhead the broader mandate of MISR as a centre of research excellence.
University Human Resources Manual has enough provisions to enable the Appointments Board to resolve not only the current impasse but the root cause of the problem.
Under the current circumstances, Makerere University needs to move faster and renew Prof. Mamdani’s contract in order to build confidence in the donors of Makerere University especially those supporting MISR, the staff and students participating in the PHD programme.
Otherwise there is a lot at stake and Makerere University needs to act fast. Don’t say I never told you.
“No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.” Harry Emerson Fosdick
The author is a Former Vice Chancellor of Makerere University.