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Opinions of Thursday, 20 October 2016

Columnist: Husein Inusah (PhD)

The debate on fake degrees and fraudulent journals

By Husein Inusah (PhD)

I delve into this debate not because I want to hold brief for either Dr. Prosper Yao Tsikata or Mr. Michael Yao Wodui Serwornoo in their recent friendly intellectual feud that erupted as a result of the revelations by Dr. Tsikata and Dr. Dotse of what can best be described as bad academic practices especially in the UPSA. But I am here just to shed some light on most of the issues raised concerning poor academic practices and standards in our academic institutions.

It is better to be blunt and plain on this matter rather than bury our heads in the sand neglecting the serious concerns raised by Dr. Prosper Yao Tsikata and Dr. A. Kobla Dotse in their recent article where they cited the supposed academic blemishes surrounding Prof. Okoe Amartey’s, the newly appointed Vice-Chancellor of UPSA, academic credentials.

Since September 6, 2016 a number of related developments took place which culminated in a follow up rejoinder by Dr. Tsikata and Dr. Dotse to central UTAG’s press statement on the matter. In that article the duo vent their anger at UTAG’s position not to interfere in matters that concerns the internal structures, rules and principles used to run any sister university.

This pushed some UTAG members to raise their voices against their local UTAG executive for condoning rot and compromising proper academic standards regarding the issues of accreditation, promotion of lecturers and publication of academic work.

For instance, the local UTAG of UCC was severely criticized for endorsing the central UTAG’s position on the matter especially when it is holding their University management at ransom for indulging in a similar practice.

But this is really not what worries me much. My worry is that, to the best of my knowledge, since these issues emerged, the management of UPSA including Prof. Okoe Amartey has not come out to respond to any of the accusations labeled against them by Dr. Tsikata and Dr. Dotse. The only statement made, which I am currently privy of is that of UTAG on the matter.

But why should this be my source of worry? Those who have read the first article questioning Prof. Amartey’s nose diving speed of progression to his current status as a full professor and his completion of two PhD degrees under two years will recall that the authors bluntly “challenge (Prof.) Okoe to publish his full CV online, with his publications for an independent review” for the public to assess it themselves and make their judgment on the matter.

But surprisingly, I am yet to stumble on Prof. Amartey’s CV published anywhere online. For me I think this is a singular gesture Prof. Amartey can embark on to clear his name and remove the specter of doubt that clouds his academic credentials for all of us to see.

Once this is done, this matter will be laid to rest and Dr. Tsikata and Dr. Dotse will have to render an unqualified apology in good faith to undone all the damages caused. I have an inkling that they will be willing to apologize if it is discovered that they had soiled the hard earned reputation of a colleague.

Another pressing case relates to the issue of predatory journals and publications which have now assume a centre stage in most of the intellectual discussions in recent times. Recently, this matter surfaced in the University of Cape Coast when there was a policy formulation to increase the number of publication required for the progression of lecturers from one rank to the other.

The main reason given to buttress upward adjustment of publication was hinged on the premise that many lecturers now submit far more papers than it is required for promotion due to the proliferation of e-journals all over the internet.

For this reason the number of publication should be increased to keep members abreast with the technology of online publication. This issue immediately attracted a barrage of response from colleagues who felt that the policy is giving credence to all on-line journals when we know very well that some of them are inherently predatory.

I must say, it is this type of reasoning that propels lecturers to look for all avenues to publish their papers without recourse to genuine academic and intellectual standards. The real magic is not the number of publication one is able to do in a very short period. It is the level of quality that determines credibility of one’s publications.

Prof. Emeritus Edmund Gettier of the United States of America published a two page paper in epistemology in 1963 and that paper has remained the most cited paper till this day. It is therefore important that we refrain from hinging one intellectual prowess on the number of publication one has been able to make.

The point I am making here is that it is the advent of predatory journals that is pushing a lot of pressure on us to substitute quality for quantity in a bid to keep ourselves abreast of the technological advancement of our time. And so if Dr. Tsikata and Dr. Dotse hint on its adverse effect to the credibility of intellectual materials generated in our universities in the Sub-Saharan Africa, we should offer them our support as we design constructive strategies for arresting the situation.

This notwithstanding, I should quickly note that a number of colleagues have raised eye brows regarding the classification of certain journals as predatory and argued that the issue could generate epistemic injustices in the system since the benchmark being used to judge whether a journal is predatory on not are western oriented.

Others have argued that though Dr. Tsikata and Dr. Dotse are right about the supposed rot prevailing in UPSA, it is not an enough sample to warrant the sort of generalisation that they make from their revelations. This, I presume, is part of the issues raised by Mr. Michael Yao Wodui Serwornoo’s rejoinder to Dr. Tsikata.

As I hinted earlier, I am not here to fuel this friendly intellectual feud but to promote collegiality. It is a fact that most of the issues raised by Dr. Tsikata and Dr. Dotse are revelations that needs to be taken seriously.

In the same vein, Mr. Michael Yao Wodui Serwornoo needs to be applauded for being the first person to publish a rejoinder, as far as I know, on this matter for everyone to read on the internet. For me the debate is impressive. As I said elsewhere, it offered me a refreshing moment to take a break from a lot of political news trash in our online news media this morning to engage in matters that relate to my career.

I termed the engagement a friendly intellectual feud because for me it is a healthy exchange. I invite colleagues to engage themselves in this debate and share their opinions on this matter. This way, we can help to bring the change we desire in our various institutions. Remember, we jaw-jaw, we don’t war war.

Husein Inusah (PhD), lecturer at the Department of Classics and Philosophy, University of Cape Coast