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Opinions of Sunday, 27 March 2005

Columnist: Kpessa, Michael Whyte

The Legon Vice-Chancellor Must Resign

The University of Ghana has long been regarded as the Ivy Tower of not only Ghana but the West African Sub-region. Of course that reputation did not come from a vacuum neither was it a given. In fact it was a reputation won through the hard work of both the staff and students of the university since its inception. Time was when the mere mention of Legon alone evokes envy and jealousy from other Ghanaians who never had the opportunity to study in this institution; time was when accepting an offer to attend university of Ghana was the biggest thing that could happen to any Ghanaian with ambition; time was when prospective students refused admission into any other universities except Legon giving Classics in Legon a priority over Bachelor of Commerce in Cape Coast University (UCC) or Law in Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Now the reverse is true. Whilst other universities such as the (KNUST) and (UCC) are carefully studying global trends and responding to the demands of the modern world, the University of Ghana has for the past few years gained another kind of reputation. This time, it is a reputation in corruption, bribery, favoritism, nepotism, tribalism, personal vendetta, and above all, academic crimes with the connivance and collaboration of the very authorities from whom much is expected and their family members. In the wake of recent revelation about various scandals in the University of Ghana?s academic and administrative system, it is befitting to share a few thoughts and reflections on the subject; ultimately it is the intention of this piece to call on both the Vice Chancellor and the Pro-vice Chancellor to do the honorable?resign and go down in history as some of the most unprofessional professors and corrupt brains Ghana has ever had.

Events unfolding in the University of Ghana currently are slaps on the face of all those of us who studied very hard with the last energy in us to excel and pursue our career objectives. It is equally an indictment on our degree certificates as it questions the basis of our pride and our faith in the institution. It dissolves our sense of loyalty and our desire to make effective contributions to enhance the image of our alma mater. Who could imagine that the Vice-Chancellor?s son would be allowed unlimited access to university offices and academic files of other students when it is expected that academic records of all students are treated with utmost respect and principles of privacy. How do we come to have a group of crooks at the helm of affairs in the university without question? It has always been suspected that someone up the hills in the university has being manipulating the system for selfish and material benefits but hardly was the house and networks of the Vice-Chancellors mentioned in such cases of suspicion. For those who have been following the records and inner politics among Legon Professors, the current scandals came as no surprise; it is just that the cup was full and has to naturally overflow.

In fact the circumstances under which the present Vice-Chancellor was selected for this office still remains a secret and nobody cared to ask why more illustrious, preferred and competent professors who were in the race, were sidelined for the rather unimpressive and obscure person like Asenso Okyere who collapsed at a university congregation and had to be rushed to the hospital (for stage-fright). The problems surfacing in the university now cannot be isolated from the corrupt and irrational manner by which the university chose its high ranking officials. When the road to the office he occupied is tinted with manipulation engineered by old-boyism of the chief executive of the country himself, one can expect nothing but disregard for administrative and academic norms. It is just fair and proper that the searchlight is directed on the top officials of the university but, make no mistake there are hundreds of workers in Legon who have taken advantage of the unscrupulous and unprincipled posture of their bosses to milk the system and enrich their pockets.

Recently, the Ghanaian Press carried a news item indicating that the Bursar of Commonwealth Hall of the University has eloped with large sums of money never to be found. The issue raised concerns among many ?VANDALS? but as has been the practice of the university; the story was quickly killed never to be heard of again because it was thought that pursuing that little story would further uncover the big fishes who were also amassing wealth through the university system at the time. On the contrary, when students wrongfully damaged property in the Vice-Chancellor?s house for lack of running water and insensitivity to their plight, the Vice-Chancellor acted swiftly issuing statements on action to be taken on those students involved. As it turned out, those students were dismissed wrongfully; and it took a Court in Ghana to quash the Vice-Chancellor?s decision. Agreeably, students who misbehave must be disciplined but those who discipline such students must themselves have the moral authority to administer justice. Under the current circumstances, how can the Vice-Chancellor justify his punitive measures against other students when he and his family are involved in first class academic crimes?

The statement released by Asenso Okyere that he will punished his son who spearheaded the crusade of buying and selling exam papers at legon can only be treated with contempt and disregard. At best it was meant to throw dust into the eyes of the Ghanaian public to maintain his place in office. The behavior of the 23-year old son of the Vice-Chancellor is a clear manifestation of Don?s failure as a father and person with integrity. The only thing left for the VC and the Pro-VC now is to prove that they are principled individuals and prove skeptics like us wrong by bowing out of office in shame, and allow the VC?s son to be tried in a law court for academic crimes. How can the VC who referred to himself as the chief disciplinarian of the university claim he was not aware or he played no role in the substitution of poor grades for better ones for his son at the philosophy department? If the Pro-VC was directing other professors to change the grades for her daughter, it stands to reason that the VC could perhaps do worse than that. It was all a struggle to better the lots of their families whilst in office--a cancer in the University of Ghana?s administration and politics.

It is indeed surprising that, at the time when many are concerned about the scandals in the university and are calling for the culprits to be brought to book, the VC managed to get his son to abscond to the US leaving other students involved in this mess at the mercy of the very man whose indecision and irrational administrative style has led to the devils rocking the university now. Assuming the VC?s son was in the country and could be dealt with, the VC?s rush to announce his intention to punish him cannot be taken seriously. Has the VC forgotten that there is something called conflict of interest? If he has the courage to punish his son, why would he have allowed him to travel out of the country just when it was becoming clear that the young man was at the center of the academic crimes being committed at the University of Ghana? We wait with opened eyes to see where his disciplinary measures will begin, with his son out of the country. At least if Asenso-Okyere has principles and conscience, for the purposes of conflict of interest, which borders on justice, it is fair and prudent that he bows his head in shame and resign as the VC to allow the laid down procedures of the institution?s disciplinary mechanism to be evoked against all those found to have acted inconsistently with academic and administrative practice. It is imperative that legon sets the right examples for other universities particularly the new and emerging ones to follow, and if it falls short of this expectation, the individuals to whom authority is trusted, who have become associated with the scandals themselves, resign or are forced to resign before we lose trust and faith in our institutions of higher learning.

One wonders how Prof Edward Ofori Sarpong also brought himself into this mess. During my days at Legon, he was known as the most pious university Don and well respected for his perceived sense of justice, fairness, and firmness. Many students who passed through the geography department in the University of Ghana still have memories of him and look up to him as a role model. Unfortunately, his pretence and dark side has been exposed by his new developments in the university. It beats my imagination that university officials would prefer to use their influence to change the grades of their sons and daughters when the poor man living in a remote village has no one to change grades of his son or daughter who studies hard only to be given a failed grade for answering the question wrongly. Wherein lies fairness and justice in the university system if the poor boy from northern Ghana stays up late into the night to earn his grades only for someone else to pay money for the same grade? Wherein lies the logic of acquiring knowledge if sons of university officials could only register for an academic program, roam aimlessly around on campus and eventually use pecuniary means or official influence to obtain grades and results?

Comments coming from the Pro-VC in the wake of these scandalous revelations are quite interesting and sad. His attempts to render the issues involving him and his daughter as petty by claiming ?his daughter was not studying Sociology as captured in the report, but rather Social Work? were meant to trivialize the commendable efforts of the Mfodo-Committee. How can Ofori Sarpong claim some portions of the committee?s report are not factual and must be contested? If he knew what the facts were, why did he and his boss form the committee in the first place? Were they expecting the committee to cover them up and implicate some other innocent students? Can the man who proudly inaugurated the committee now contest its findings? If the Pro-VC thinks portions of the Mfodo finding pertaining to him and the daughter are inaccurate, he should present the accurate facts without delay. Besides, if the Pro-VC could loudly claim the committee?s report is factually misleading, everyone else mentioned as a culprit in that report has the same report to make similar claims. Under the circumstances, we seem to be heading towards a situation where this commendable effort of the Mfodo committee will remain on the shelves and gather dust after the current public outcry is over.

Why is Ofori Sarpong threatening a court action? It makes no sense for him to issue threats to the committee members who were themselves former university administrators and Dons. If he has a case to fight, Ofori Sarpong must just go ahead and instruct his lawyers to take legal action on his behalf. He must equally acknowledge that any other individual who will be affected by the decisions he and his chief disciplinarian would take also have a right to seek redress in the courts of the land if they feel unfairly treated. What is more, the comments coming from Ofori Sarpong shows how desperate he is to cover the administrative and academic crimes going on in the university system under his watchful eyes. The man is not principled neither has he any integrity. Same goes for his boss. A person with conscience and principles would first resign and proceed to the courts for redress; that way you establish some credibility in your claims and evoke the principles that govern your actions and motives. The more compelling reason why Ofori Sarpong must also resign is, if he remains in office whilst any legal battle involving him ensues, the chances that he will use his office to obstruct justice are greater and the probability that he will do this is one (1) because already it is established that he used his office to coerce the Social work professor who changed the grades for his daughter. Agreeably, the social work professor who bowed to Ofori Sarpong?s pressure was concerned about the security of her job; that not withstanding, it must be said, sadly so, that she also lack integrity, courage and professionalism and must equally be disciplined accordingly. Nevertheless Professor Agyemen of the Philosophy Department at the university is perhaps the most shocking character in this saga. It would be recalled that Agyeman was one of regular ?Radio Universe? panelists in the late 1990s into the early 2000s who constantly castigated the government and public officials for inefficiency and corruption in higher places. How on earth he could award a grade for a subject not studied nor registered for by a student beats any logic. Is it just because the beneficiary in this case is the VC?s son? It is believed that University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) has code of ethics and professional behavior for its members to comply with, in the face of the current revelations, we await the reaction of UTAG on the entire issue and the unprofessional conduct of its members involved. The Dons involved in this case must consider resignation; if that they fail to act by themselves, then UTAG?s disciplinary committee must investigate the matter further and where possible apply the rules of the organization, else its own credibility would be brought to question. UTAG must also see this as an opportunity to prove to of us that they are as interested in the good name of the university and their profession as they are in negotiating salary increases. If the UTAG members could block roads in the university in protest of the sale of university stickers to its members, then it should be bold to take on its members whose actions and inactions soil the image of our nation.

Undoubtedly the emerging scandals in the university are just a minute fraction of the large fraud, mismanagement, nepotism, corruption as well as ?connections? that exist within the university system. If the Mfodwo committee had extensive, comprehensive and empowering mandate, Ghanaians would have been treated to the eyesores and ugly practices that the university has covered over the years. Every single department?academic and administrative in the university need an Mfodwo-like Committee with a comprehensive mandate if we want to get rid of the rot we are seeing now. More of these evils are still bewitching all sectors of the university and because most people who would have taken action to stop the situation are themselves parties to the crimes, nobody is speaking up. We all witnessed the scandals that rocked the Students government (SRC) last year. If you know the inner politics of the SRC and the procedures used in its relation with the university authorities, there is no way those malpractices and wrong-doings could have happened without the knowledge of some specific individuals within the university administration.

On the other hand, there lots of junior workers within the university system that have unlimited access to files and documents they should not be dealing with. A lawyer friend and a former Legon student, now studying in Sweden mentioned to me recently that there are yet to be substantiated rumors that in certain departments and faculties, junior officers swap grades for students without the knowledge of the professors and top administrators. So whilst a Professor may keep in mind that, for instance, three students made grade ?A? in a course, the junior officers could allocate the ?A? grade to a student with grade ?C? and swap the ?C? for the grade ?A? student. Given that it is the junior officers who often enter the grades into the database, there may be some iota of truth to the allegations that warrant further investigations and vigilance on the part of the Professors. If you have an idea of how the Legon system which relies on index numbers works, then you will understand that this phenomenon could happen unnoticed unless the actual exams and answer booklets with original marks are produced to cross-check the facts. Interestingly many Professors in Legon have reposed great truth in their administrative staff and see cross-checking as interference.

Over the years, students leaders who call for accountability and transparency within university system are targeted, where possible frustrated and discredited. I continue to pay a price for criticizing the Academic Section over its inefficiency, red-tapeism and poor human relations of the deputy registrar responsible for academic affairs. On a number of occasions, it took the intervention of Professors at Politics Department?where I was, to intervene whenever I need any of my academic transcripts. In December 2004, I had to call another former student leader, and a colleague, to drive from Tema to Legon and intervene when I could not get hold of my Professors at the Politics Department in Legon. One young man by name Tony in the Academic Section of the Registry has vowed to torment and frustrate my efforts anytime I needed to access my records in the university. My crime for all these was, I persisted in my criticisms of the Academic Section of the university both publicly and at committee meetings when I was a student leader. I am aware that many of my former student-leader colleagues, JCR and SRC alike, are being tormented the same way. And the Academic Section has often spearheaded this crusade. It is therefore not surprising that Mr. Tabi the deputy registrar of this section is mentioned as having foreknowledge of the rather bizarre developments but decided to caution the culprits instead of retribution. Is it therefore out of place to call for the resignation of Mr. Tabi as well? Candidly he be must be sacked before he gets the opportunity to even resign. But with the current VC and Pro-VC still in charge, none of the above options are likely to happen for obvious reasons. If Mr. Tabi had listened to my remarks about his unprofessional conduct as Academic Director (as it is now called), in June 2000 at a student leadership orientation organized for my year group of student leaders in the Legon system, he and his office would have probably prevented this mess and embarrassment.

The international impact of this situation could be very grave for many Ghanaian students. First, this certainly would not help the marketability of graduates from the University of Ghana. Already there is an ingrained and sometimes erroneous notion that works against students trained in Ghana in favor of those trained outside as far as the job market is concerned. Whilst this very much stems from colonial mentality and inferiority complex, recent events in our premier university has the potential to exacerbate this rather infamous notion within the Ghanaian job market and the employers? community. Secondly, the Legon scandal has placed the Ghanaian students irrespective of which academic institution in an awkward position in the competition for international scholarship awards and the drive to gain admission into the best universities in the world. It is easy for many to ignore this situation but in all sincerity, its impact and repercussions on Ghana, Ghanaians home and abroad is more than embarrassing. My attention was first drawn to this scandal when it broke out, by a Japanese friend, it is difficult now to stand up and talk proudly about Legon and whenever the topic of our home institutions surfaces, its safe to sneak out to avoid unpleasant comments and embarrassment from other international students. In keeping with academic standards, many universities the world over will examine their admission requirements for students from Ghana. It has just been observed that students from Ghana have been included in those who require TOEFL to apply into the MA program in Business Economics in my university here in Canada. This is a new development and only heaven knows how many universities would follow this lead. This must tell us that the global village has arrived and our conduct would no longer be subjected to domestic scrutiny but more to international standards. It is in the light of this, that comments emanating from Dr. Antwi Danso (who teaches the Russian language but claims expertise in international relations) and government officials like Kwabena Agyepong defending the VC on various radio stations in Ghana are unfortunate and ill purposed.

The reaction of the students in Legon towards the worm that has eaten into the university?s administration is commendable. The students must be encouraged to stand by their call on the university?s top officials and those involved in the scandal to resign. As the students rightly observed, if these authorities remain in office, ?then there is no way this university can be taken seriously by the international community? and of course by Ghanaians everywhere. The students? reaction is justified given that the recent cancellation of those exams papers affected, in responds to the Mfodo revelations, implicated every single student who wrote those papers?whether perceived guilty or not. This is a sad commentary on Ghana. It is not enough for the Ministry of Education to sit and claim the university has its own internal mechanism for dealing with issues, certainly not when the ?chief disciplinarian? deserves to be disciplined. There is nothing absolutely wrong with asking Prof.Asenso-Okyere, Prof. Ofori Sarpong, Prof. Akwasi Agyemang, Prof. Clara Fayorsey, and Mr. T. Tabi to resign as a form of punitive measure for their recklessness and shameful behavior. Besides the only way any of these administrative ills could be fixed or if you like, could be diagnosed and treated is to get impeccable individuals who are not already involved in this scam and scandal to take very firm and drastic decisions capable of transforming the entire system, from administration, academic curriculum, internal governance, management, policy implementation, recruitment, to relations with student leaders and workers? unions, campus police and general public relations. In deed the only way to get rid of those JSS and SSS boys and girls, (apparently sons and daughters of university staff) working on admissions and academic materials at the university?s registry is to get rid of those who allow them there in the first place. How can people who themselves are expecting to enter the university through a competitive admission process be allowed to work on university admissions files? Enough is enough! Now that matters has gotten out of hands, the National Council for Tertiary Education, (NCTE), the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS), the Ministry of Education, parents and in fact the entire Ghanaian public must keep the heat on the unscrupulous individuals until they bow out or are forced to bow out in shame. The Ministry of Education has always felt incompetent to admonish the university professors but the time has come for them again to live up to expectation. It is not enough for the ministry to provide funds no matter how small, and be mute over illegalities within the institutions it allocates funds to. The Ghanaian tax payer deserves more, more in terms of supervision, performance and delivery. The time to take the bull by the horn is here, and it must be done in the interest of the nation without any regards or affinities to oldboyism else President Kufour?s recent comments on education as the basis for development would remain an empty rhetoric.

Michael Whyte Kpessa,
Ontario, Canada.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.