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Opinions of Thursday, 18 April 2019

Columnist: Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

Gyampo is being too simplistic on Public Universities Bill

I have read the six-point grievance tabulating why Prof. Ransford Yaw Gyampo thinks that the proposed Public Universities Bill currently floating before Parliament ought to be summarily rejected, and find most of it to be, at best, tenuous and devoid of merit (See “Read Why Prof. Gyampo Is Against Public Universities Bill” Ghanaweb.com 4/9/19). The first weakness of the arguments by the Senior Lecturer of Political Science at the country’s flagship academy, the University of Ghana, Legon, is the rather facile presumption that consolidating all of Ghana’s public universities into a single mega-university system with a single Chancellor seeks to, perforce, kill the creative initiative and enterprise of the faculty and/or staff of these universities.

No such argument could be more preposterous; still, I don’t blame the rampantly and riotously loud-talking European Studies or European History and Culture Specialist, because Prof. Gyampo significantly lacks the insight of an American-educated public university graduate. He may, therefore, want to read the two-part rejoinder that I fired off a few days ago to Mr. Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwa, the former Deputy Minister of Education for Tertiary Affairs, who is also the National Democratic Congress’ Member of Parliament for the North-Tongu Constituency in the Volta Region. Briefly speaking, and, of course, within the strict context of the present argument, Prof. Gyampo may very well want to familiarize himself with such globally recognized multi-campus university systems as the City University of New York (CUNY); the State University of New York (SUNY); and the California State University (CSU), and then conduct some research in order to find out whether administratively streamlining the way and manner in which these tertiary institutional systems function has led to the stifling of the creativity and/or academic productivity of the faculty members of the various campuses of these mega-university systems, and then compare the same to what prevails among public universities in Ghana.

If he does, Prof. Gyampo would actually come to the conclusion that size matters when it comes to the sharing of learning, teaching and research resources. The critic would also learn that even private universities like Harvard – the richest and the best-resourced of its kind in the world – Yale University and Columbia University, for some ready examples, have global networks of satellite campuses all of which are administered under a single administrative system, with varying degrees of localized autonomy, in much the same way as Department Stores operate. He may also want to find out how, even though each and every one of the Ivy League academies operates independently, nevertheless, they collectively operate like a single multi-campus institutional establishment. We must quickly point out that most of the Nobel Prize Winners, almost invariably, teach and research at American universities than anywhere else in the world. And also, how a remarkable percentage of these Nobel Laureates had their undergraduate schooling at some of these multi-campus public universities.

You see, everything boils down to the most economically efficient means of the sharing of funding resources and the availability of teaching, research and learning facilities, and not merely the fact of whether a mega-university system has a single University Chancellor. At any rate, we ought not to be having “University Academic Councils,” almost wholly and homogeneously packed with university faculty and staff that palpably lack the sort of creative and professional diversity that Prof. Gyampo appears to be so inordinately fixated on. Rather, what public universities in Ghana direly need in order to become even more creative, innovative, productive and qualitative are Boards-of-Trustees equitably composed of citizens from diverse academic and professional backgrounds such as prevails here in the United States. In other words, those who execute university policy ought to be representative of society at large rather than strictly academically oriented.

It is these diversely-profiled Boards-of-Trustee Members who periodically interview and select the Presidents of the various university campuses, as well as the Chancellors of the aforementioned university systems, with significant input from the various Departments, Divisions, Schools and Colleges of either a single campus or representatives from the various campuses of a mega-university system where the selection and appointment of a Chancellor is concerned. Going by this logic, it goes without saying that the Short Commission which was recently charged by President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to investigate violent clashes that partly inflected the Ayawaso-West Wuogon by election on January 31, 2019, clearly lacked the sort of professional diversity reflective of Ghanaian society at large. That every one of the four members of the commission was a lawyer or legal practitioner spoke disturbingly of the fact that the professional experiences brought to the job by the commission’s membership clearly did not reflect the diversity of perspectives and experiences of the larger Ghanaian society.

It is, indeed, on the latter count that I unreservedly agree with the Legon political scientist that that portion, or clause, of the Public Universities Bill exclusively authorizing or empowering the Sitting-President of the Democratic Republic of Ghana ought to be seriously reviewed or reconsidered. On the other hand, I vehemently disagree with the critic that the Government should absolutely have no power or influence over the management and/or administration of a tertiary academic system a significant portion or percentage of whose funding, including faculty/staff salaries is footed or underwritten by the Government, working on behalf of the Ghanaian taxpayer. That would be rather absurd and grossly irresponsible.

Then also, I partially agree with Prof. Gyampo that the currently decentralized admissions process that prevails on the campuses of the various Ghanaian public universities must be preserved. I would, however, propose that a centralized mechanism or auditing system must be established to ensure that no vested interests abuse the process. But I also strongly disagree with the critic that there is anything remiss with or parochial about the Public Universities Bill’s predication of “Academic Freedom” on conventional Free-Speech Rights as enshrined in the country’s 1992 Republican Constitution. Historically, it is the Principle of Free-Speech Rights that has been healthily extended to the academic world.

*Visit my blog at: kwameokoampaahoofe.wordpress.com Ghanaffairs

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD

English Department, SUNY-Nassau

Garden City, New York