Postmodern ideology and the contamination of higher education

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

IN the last instalment, I mentioned aspects of the postmodern ideology as it seemed to apply to the G40 and the activities of Professor Jonathan Moyo: Preference for the text and the platform against the actual subject and the source(s) of what the platform claims to reflect, leading to the over-pricing of appearances and the devaluation of substance, the devaluation of organic reality and integrity in favour of spin.
If we accept this insight, we can automatically understand the link between the G40 cabal who had surrounded the former President and the role of Professor Levi Nyagura in the saga over the PhD to the former President’s wife.
The cabal celebrated the tear-gassing of war veterans as surviving parents and owners of the Zimbabwe revolution while defending the myth and appearance of one centre of power allegedly vested in the persons of the former President and his wife Grace Mugabe.
In a similar manner, Professor Nyagura attacked and defamed the entire Department of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe (the owners of the degree programme) in favour of Mai Mugabe’s pursuit of the surface trappings of being learned.
The Herald of February 7 2018 quoted Prof Nyagura as stating that Mrs Mugabe’s dissertation was so advanced and so superior to all others that professors at the UZ Sociology Department, who were just “…ignorant Messrs and doctors…” with no academic capacity to supervise a PhD student, would not have been allowed by him to oversee it.
In other words, the appearance of the degree which is alleged to be non-existent has become more worthwhile to defend than the entire department which was supposed to help Mrs Mugabe originate it!
What makes the Vice-Chancellor’s attack on his own colleagues peculiar is the fact that first, Prof Nyagura is not a specialist in sociology or social studies.
His speciality is education statistics.
Second, at the time Mai Mugabe allegedly ‘registered’ to pursue the PhD degree at the University of Zimbabwe, Prof Nyagura was chairman of the National Quality Assurance Committee of the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZIMCHE), which is to say he masqueraded as the specialist, leader and custodian of quality assurance for the entire higher education system in Zimbabwe.
Indirectly, therefore, the debate over Mai Mugabe’s PhD degree is also a debate about ZIMCHE and its claim to be upholding quality higher education for all of Zimbabwe.
It is ZIMCHE which elected or designated Nyagura as chairman for its Quality Assurance Committee.
Between 2011 and 2015, I identified the weakness of ZIMCHE as including the following:
– Conflating the policymaking role, the speciality role, the regulatory (administrative) role and the operational role in higher education into one.
– Causing confusion and havoc in higher education as a result of the conflation of roles.
– Contradicting and compromising the distinct mandates of universities (as provided for in their separate charters) by confusing standardisation with quality assurance and by duplicating faculties and programmes across most universities. Standardisation, quality development, quality assurance and quality control are four different concepts and processes. ZIMCHE alone cannot be the provider of all these.
– Allowing blatant conflicts of interest where, for instance, a sitting Vice-Chancellor trying to protect the national dominance of certain faculties in his own university is allowed to sit in judgment against proposals for new faculties at competing universities which are likely to prove more relevant and more appealing to students than his own.
– Attempting to micro-manage universities by interfering in operational issues and disputes which should be left to university academics and in-built structures at the university itself.
– Domination of the Quality Assurance Committee by persons from the education speciality who are weak in content-specific and discipline-specific requirements for quality assurance and quality development for disciplines unknown to them.
– Making the PhD degree a universal and mandatory requirement for university teaching and thereby ignoring discipline-specific and profession specific requirements and demands for quality development and quality assurance.
History is full of many examples of excellent innovators, researchers, inventors and philosophers who have contributed to higher education well beyond what is expected of routine holders of PhD degrees, but without PhD degrees. These include, among many others: Ngugi Wathiongo, Chinua Achebe, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.
To-date, ZIMCHE’s idea of ‘excellence’ lacks any considerations of native originality, national relevance and the popular resonance implied in the term ‘community service’.
To illustrate these weaknesses, several challenges facing the nation will suffice here:
– The land revolution;
– Illegal sanctions;
– Appropriate Fiscal and Monetary policies in the face of sanctions and the land revolution;
– Elaboration of what the Constitution of Zimbabwe calls balanced development; and
– Development of African living law as opposed to Roman-Dutch law and English law.
Instead, the university for the most part has served as an excellent corridor for reproducing exportable ‘human resources’ and regurgitating the Western-derived, Western-driven orthodoxies it calls ‘international best practices’.
In fact, Prof Nyagura is fond of using this slogan of ‘International best practice’ even though the allegations he faces now seem to demonstrate the opposite.
This means African intellectuals and researchers whose work demonstrates originality, relevance and community resonance are routinely marginalised by the university leadership.
One case in point was the late Dr Vimbai Gukwe Chivaura who was routinely denied promotion.
This explains why the academic jinx against Zimbabwe’s land revolution was broken only by researchers led by Professor Ian Scoones of the UK, followed by a little positive publicity from Bill Gates of the US.
The excitement these foreign initiatives caused here is an indication of the gap between the university leadership and the needs and aspirations of the majority.
I pointed out that there was need to separate three functions or powers which translated into three sources of legitimacy for the activities and outputs of higher education institutions in Zimbabwe.
One source of legitimate authority for activities and outputs of higher education institutions in any nation derives from the overall national policy-making process encompassing the national interest in higher education, the ideal national orientation of the educated cadres of the nation, and the relationship between overall national objectives and the special mandate of each higher education institution.
Fortunately for Zimbabwe now, the new Constitution contains an entire Chapter Two on National Objectives.
Precisely speaking, the overall policy-making authority (or principle) is vested in the national leadership and in the Minister and his officers.
Indeed on January 9 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa provided that national vision and it was contrary to what is alleged to have been happening at UZ under Prof Nyagura and ZIMCHE.
The second source of legitimate authority for higher education institutions derives from their relationships with registered professional, industrial, academic and research associations organised along specialist disciplines or sectors, for example: the Institute of Engineers for engineering: the Law Society of Zimbabwe for faculties of law; the Zimbabwe Medical Association and the Zimbabwe Nurses Association for medicine and the health sciences; the Economic Society for economics; the Zimbabwe Chapter of the Association of African Political Scientists and other social science associations for social science, among many others.
Mai Mugabe’s research and the final dissertation should have been defended in the lecture-room by social scientists led by the UZ Department of Sociology with their invited guest specialists from other universities. There could be no other defence.
The Act of Parliament providing for the governance of higher education and the operational rules for the Board appointed to administer all higher education institutions should incorporate a role for registered industrial, specialist and professional associations with procedures for how they should relate to the body regulating higher education.
The purpose of industrial, professional and specialist links is to ensure relevance and employability for the intended graduates from university and college programmes.
The third pfiwa or pillar bringing legitimacy to the governance and outputs of higher education institutions is the pillar of regulatory and administrative justice.
The overall governing body for the higher education system must endeavour to practise regulatory and administrative justice as enshrined in Sections 68, 194, and 196 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and in the Administrative Justice Act.
This third pfiwa incorporates the sitting vice-chancellors and their officers as current administrators of universities and colleges together with former vice-chancellors and any other distinguished persons with expertise or long experience or both in public administration and management.
The function of this administrative pillar is to inspire confidence in the rules, procedures and operations of the ZIMCHE system in the eyes of clients, stakeholders and the public.
For a long time, the ZIMCHE Board included some sitting vice-chancellors who were often deployed in ways which served to polarise the academic community and to invite perceptions of conflicts of interest and bias.
Sitting vice-chancellors should be involved in the Board governing higher education in Zimbabwe but in a structure which protects their integrity and allows them to contribute in areas where they are strongest, that is, as current administrators of existing and competing institutions.

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