By Francis Kagolo
and Winnie Nanteza,
AS the semester comes to an end, students storm the lecture room, scrambling for seats. Thirty minutes later, there is no lecturer. Lecturers for both day and evening programmes in almost all faculties have taken to missing classes. Others teach classes when drunk.
Some are accused of awarding â€˜freeâ€™ marks for sex, staging uncalled for strikes, and plagiarising studentsâ€™ work to win multi-million dollar research projects. A combination of these complaints have undermined the 88-year-old universityâ€™s standards in the recent past.
Although some of the vices like the sex-for-marks saga, have been controlled, the university administration still has a tough battle to tackle. With the recently passed university Human Resources Manual, however, it seems the vices will be put under control. According to the policy, misconducts such as drunkenness, plagiarism, persistent late coming, participating in illegal strikes, discrimination, forgery and embezzlement of university funds will lead to the sacking of lecturers.
The manual, which also doubles as their code of conduct, states: â€œBeing drunk at work, abuse of drugs, quarrelling and assault at work constitute a breach of conduct which shall call for disciplinary action against the employee.â€
Coursework assignments and examinations must be marked on time and students counselled. It also bars lecturers from conducting private consultancy work, until they have sought permission from the second deputy vice-chancellor, on condition that private work will not interfere with work. According to the policy, lecturers must also undergo a medical examination at the university hospital before they are confirmed. They will be continuously rated by students and heads of department as a measure to check absenteeism which has affected academic standards.
The university director of human resources, Sebastian Ngobi, praises the policy as a timely move to boost academic standards. He is optimistic that it will enhance service delivery and protect the university from court suits by lecturers in case of dismissal. He was reluctant to expound on how widespread drunkenness among university staff is. However, sources say there are some notorious drunken lecturers who might not escape being sacked. One lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences is said to insult students and other lecturers when he is drunk.
â€œHe calls everyone stupid. We have always complained about him,â€ said the source. Other cases were cited in the faculties of arts, science and technology.
Why drink and work?
Some attribute drinking during working hours to stress. â€œThe lecturers work a lot
They get tired yet they are paid peanuts. To them, a glass of waragi is the only way to fight off anxiety,â€ reasoned one of the staff. Nevertheless, sacking drunken lecturers is probably one provision in the policy that has received overwhelming support, from the public and the university academic staff themselves.
Tanga Odoi, the chairman Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA), says: â€œI am very positive about the issue of sacking drunken lecturers. Makerere is regarded as the best university in East Africa; it is an icon of academics in Uganda. So, lecturers must be careful in whatever we do.â€
He says lecturers ought to be role models to students and not spend much of their time drinking. John Matovu, a senior lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, concurs with Odoi. â€œWhy should you go to work drunk? It damages your integrity and image before students,â€ Matovu says.
Ngobi says the university does not need breathalysers to catch drunkards. Lecturersâ€™ turn up for classes will be monitored, including receiving complaints from students.
All not well with lecturers
Drunkenness aside, there are several provisions in the policy that have sparked off unease among the academic staff. Many question the intention behind forcing employees to undergo medical examination. Byaruhanga Rukooko, the Faculty of Arts dean, thinks it is another form of discrimination.
The policy has been received with mixed feelings as some are suspicious that it could be targeting those who are HIV-positive. But Ngobi says it is intended for better management of the institutionâ€™s human resources, welfare and productivity. He says they will only test for heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, not HIV/AIDS.
â€œTesting for HIV is voluntary. You cannot force some one to test for HIV.â€ Stopping private work has caused a stir among lecturers, owing to the fact that most of them operate private consultancy firms. Ngobi argues that controlling lecturers from offering consultancy outside the university is meant to curb their absenteeism.
For instance, the social sciences senior lecturer, Prof Augustus Nuwagaba, was almost suspended in 2008 over negligence of duty. Nuwagaba is the managing director of Reev Consults, a multimillion consultancy research firm on poverty eradication and development. The University Appointments Board summoned and interrogated him over failure to submit reports of students in the school of postgraduate studies.
Lecturersâ€™ private consultancies, the university managers argue, challenged the universityâ€™s vision â€” to be a centre of academic excellence and innovations in Africa. â€œSome lecturers have put in less time than the contact hours they are supposed to have with students,â€ Ngobi says. To avert this, the policy requires lecturers to teach for a minimum of 10 hours a week and provide evidence that they carry out research. It treats absence from duty without permission for a continuous period of 10 working days as absconding. This will lead to dismissal.
Poor pay is a big challenge
However, some lecturers say doing private work is a result of poor pay, which the university should address first. â€œHow do you tell a professor who earns less than sh2m not to do consultancy work?â€ asked Prof Rukooko.
Makerere University lecturers have laid down tools about five times in the last five years over poor pay. â€œAll you find in the bank is sh1.5m for professors, while for associate professors it is sh1.2m. This is too little,â€ says Nuwagaba, who also until recently, was chairperson Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA). Other junior lecturers earn much lower than that.
Will it work?
Some have reservations about the practicality of barring lecturers to do private consultancies. â€œThis can only work under a very harsh dictatorship. Even then, it can be very counterproductive,â€ Rukooko reasoned. However, Ngobi says the university is against activities that have a negative impact on the work that lecturers were contracted to do on full time basis at the university.
â€œIf students, especially those on masterâ€™s degree and PhD programmes, cannot graduate on time because a professor has a private project, he will be in trouble,â€ Ngobi says.
Efforts to increase the lecturersâ€™ pay are ongoing. However, staff must bear with the current terms under which they were recruited. The New Vision has established that the recruitment of teaching staff is based on academic excellence, which makes it difficult to enforce the code of conduct.
â€œWe advertise and send the applicants to their respective faculties from where we choose those suitable for the job. We donâ€™t take them through any training because the major consideration is academic excellence,â€ Ngobi says.
He reveals that the education ministry is in the process of introducing a pedagogical training of one year for all university lecturers which will entail taking them through the professional ethics and code of conduct for lecturers.
What do students think of the policy?
Davis Junior Iraguha, mass communication Student
For lectures who teach when they are drunk, it is okay for them to be sacked. And if a lecturer is a constantly absent, it means that person is cheating me who pays for his services. You cannot drink and come stinking in class. You would create a bad smell to especially the people who do not drink. This policy will helps us streamline the university.
Richard Mayanja, computer science student
It is embarrassing for a lecturer to come to class smelling of alcohol. It also hurts for us to pay tuition and the lecturers miss classes because they spend most of the time doing private work. I would not support sacking as a punishment because it terminates oneâ€™s career. But if a lecturer is warned and refuses to reform, then they should be punished that way.
Naman Mwenda, mass communication Student
I have not seen a lecturer who comes to my class drunk. It is fine for them to drink at night if they can come to class sober. But if there are some who go to teach sill drunk, it is unprofessional and if the council thinks sacking will reduce the problem, then so be it.