Intrigues, confusion as LASU eases out professors

ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and UJUNWA ATUEYI

ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and UJUNWA ATUEYI

• NUC wants good succession plan to avert mishaps, expeditious replacement of retired lecturers
• ASUU-LASU keeps mum

Since about 30 professors that have attained, or are on the verge of attaining the age of 65 years were handed letters by authorities of the Lagos State University (LASU) to commence the process of winding down their careers in the school, a lot of dynamics have been altered, and the effects may be unpleasant. Depending on situations, it may lead to closure of some departments or shutting down of some units. Tomorrow, the Vice Chancellor, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Olarenwaju Adigun Fagbohun, who has assured that there was no cause for alarm, would host a special congregation to shed light on the contentious issue, which is generating tension. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and UJUNWA ATUEYI write.

When in January Governor Akinwunmi Ambode named Olanrewaju Adigun Fagbohun, a professor of environmental law as the new vice chancellor of the Lagos State University (Lagos), Ojo, many who are abreast of the checkered history of the institution hailed the governor for deploying the “master stroke,” which they believed had the ability to cure the school of its diseased past.

Because of the seething atmosphere that prevailed in the campus ahead of Ambode’s emergence as governor, and the circumstances that led to Fagbohun’s appointment as vice chancellor, as well as the propaganda that greeted the entire exercise, including the media blitz that followed Fagbohun’s inauguration, a picture of peace and hope had started crystallising in the school.

In particular, the governor was praised to high heavens for facilitating the fledgling peace by getting the state House of Assembly to pass the new Lagos State University Law, which reportedly made room for most of the major requests of workers, especially that of the school’s branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU-LASU). Many saw this as the masterstroke.

For years, LASU has been famed for other reasons other than scholarship. Bickering and spats between the workforce and the school’s management were, to say the least, commonplace.

It is in the light of the above scenario that the trouble-weary staff members gave Fagbohun a carnival-like welcome to the institution. Perhaps most saw him as the messiah who had in his possession, the needed healing balm as well as the compass to cascade the school to the promise land.

Now, only in the fourth month of his five-year non-renewable tenure, the Fagbohun-led administration has asked some of the best brains in the institution, who are clocking 65 years within the year to prepare their handing over notes.

Expectedly, the impending departure of the crème-de-la crème of academic staff, who were three Friday’s ago served with their letters by the school authorities, has shocked the affected persons to the marrow. But besides these professors whose careers have received a shock of seismic proportion, the eventual exodus of affected academics may also impact the school negatively.

New LASU law, reality or facade
Shortly after he was sworn in, Ambode met with the LASU’s erstwhile management and the unions, with a view to deepening his understanding of the underlying issues. Thereafter, he approved the payment of the balance of the school fees paid by students of the institution, totalling N162.5 million, as a first step aimed at dousing the tension.

A couple of months later, he approved the composition of a new governing council for the institution led by Prof. Adebayo Ninalowo, who is the school’s Pro-Chancellor/Chairman, Governing Council.

The governor also approved a five-year single-term for vice chancellors of the school five days after the bill was passed by the state House of Assembly.

Ambode, who endorsed the amended version of the law governing the school, also approved on-campus residency for the students and a 70-year retirement age for professors. These new provisions were part of recommendations of the state House of Assembly to put an end to unending crisis in the 32-year-old institution.

In signing the LASU Amendment Bill 2015 into law, Ambode said, “We want a LASU that would often turn out professionals, who will within few years be captains of industries and leaders of the country.”

An apparent volte-face
Since the passage of the LASU Amendment Bill 2015, during Fagbohun’s swearing in, and in its wake, ASUU-LASU, and indeed the general public were given the impression that every aspect of the new law had been signed and gazzetted by the governor.

But the recent directive to all professors who are on the verge of attaining the 65 years of age, to proceed on terminal leave has left a sour taste in the mouths of many affected professors, more so, when neither the state government nor the vice chancellor controverted the approval of the 70-year retirement age when it was widely reported in the media.

However, when it became obvious that not all aspects of the amended law were signed and gazetted by the governor, ASUU-LASU, during a meeting with the vice chancellor barely three weeks ago, where the 70-year retirement age for professors was one of the talking points, were reportedly assured by Fagbohun that he would do his best to get the governor to sign and gazette the other aspects of the law, including the one that applies to age-limit. That did not happen as all professors that have attained or are attaining the age of 65 were issued their letters three weekends ago, detailing when they are to commence their terminal leave.

Systematic easing out of ‘trouble makers’
Lagos State economy is reputed to be larger than that of some West African countries combined, so the issue of load shedding in order to drive down a humongous wage bill used in servicing the eggheads is not the issue.

In fact The Guardian reliably gathered that easing out the seasoned academics is a way of systematically weeding out the crux of academic staff that present a formidable opposition and try to curb the excesses of some vice chancellors, who brook no dissenting views.

The source informed that the visitor who signed the new law making it mandatory for a vice chancellor to spend only five years in office, in making the pronouncement about professors age limit was only creating a “media hype,” as his intention is to sign into law, that aspect of the law sometime next year when the affected professors would have been eased out.

“By January 2017 many academic staff would have left and departments could be closed down by the National Universities Commission (NUC) because they would be headed by junior academics. Lagos State has the most developed and robust economy in West Africa. Yet it has one of the most underdeveloped universities in West Africa. What an irony,” the senior academic staff stated.

One of the affected professors, who also spoke anonymously said, “I cannot understand the rationale behind this measure, which will certainly create and complicate the existing problems on the campus. Last year, there was a public statement by the Visitor to the university, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode that he has approved the newly passed law by the Lagos House of Assembly amending the tenure of the vice chancellor to a five-year-non renewable term, and also gave the nod and moved the voluntary retirement age of professors to 70 years. The new vice chancellor was sworn in on the basis the new law. We were assured by the new vice chancellor himself that he would implement the new retirement age of 70 years for professors.

“Suddenly the university administration, invoking the old law, officially wrote to all professors who have attained 65 years to pack their bags and go.  This is one of the saddest days in my life,” he cried.

The official pronouncement took another dramatic turn when a professor in the Faculty of Education, who attained this mandatory age, was verbally instructed to stay on with the assurance that the new law would soon be implemented.

According to reliable sources, this professor was slated by the vice chancellor, with anticipated approval of the school’s Senate, to be nominated soon as LASU’s first professor emeritus. With this latest development, he was allegedly asked by the vice chancellor to refund his two months salary, which was paid to him after he reached the mandatory age of 65.  The old retirement clause for non-academic staff is 60 years.

70-year retirement age not signed into law
Baring any unforeseen circumstance, Fagbohun will tomorrow host a special congregation, where he will attempt to shed more light on the vexed age limit issue.

However, while the state assembly piles pressure on the executive to sign and gazette all aspects of the amended LASU laws, the vice chancellor at a media briefing Monday explained, “When the amendment to the laws of the university was launched, the five-year statutory period of the vice chancellor was captured, but even though there were debates in relation to retirement age of 70 years for academic staff and 65 years for non-academic staff. That was not part of the law and it was not part of what was signed into law by the government.

“We are aware that our great unions have made representation to the Lagos State government that these are the things they still want the government to look into and capture so that it would be in line with what obtains in federal institutions. We are also aware that government did not oppose it because they have not made any statement to reveal whether the position of the union is acceptable to them.

He continued, “So it is not the case that we are forcing professors to retire, it is simply that in line with our extant law, the routine approach that when someone is nearing retirement, he is reminded via notice to get his/her self ready. No university wants to loose their professors or professionals because at the end of the day these are people who contributed immensely to the development of the university. So, it does not arise at all that there is a case of trying to force our professors out.

“What was signed into law did not cover 70 years for professors and 65 years for non-academics. The interaction we have heard does not indicate that government is against all of these positions. We have given this information to all of our respected unions and I am aware they have written in relation to it to make other representations both to the assembly and to the state government.

Loss of accreditation for academic programmes looms
The sudden departure of over two dozens senior academics would, no doubt impact negatively on some academic programmes. Specifically, while some would loose accreditation, some departments/units may completely be shut down because while those that have been served letters are preparing to embark on their terminal leave, those that are nearing 65 are exploring available options since they do not want to be caught unawares like their older counterparts.

However, one of such departments/units that may be shut down if very urgent measures are not taken is the French Unit of the Department of Foreign Languages. The two professors there, Tundonu Amosu and Tunde Fatunde are leaving in June and November respectively. Next in line to both of them is a Lecturer 1 and once the duo leave, the programme, which has had back-to-back interim accreditation may likely go underground.

Shedding some light on the possible impact the exodus of seasoned professors may have on sustenance and accreditation of academic, Director of Media and Publicity of NUC, Malam Ibrahim Usman Yakasai, said, “The 70 years retirement age for professors is a federal law applicable to federal universities.  However, state governments can domesticate it.  The retirement of professors does not ordinarily affect the accreditation status.  However, the universities are expected to quickly replace them.

On the appropriate staff mix for programme accreditation, he said, “The staff mix is pyramidal.  The structure is in the ratio of 20:35:45 for professors, senior lecturers and Lecturers I and below respectively.  Even where the university fails to meet the pyramidal structure, it is likely that it might meet the required staff student ratios, based on the existing number of academic staff in a given programme, which is critical in our academic process.”

On the issue of programmes that have had back-to-back interim accreditation going underground, he said, “The fact that the programmes have had back-to-back accreditations denotes that they were weak ab initio. The weakness may not necessarily be due to staffing.”

On how schools purge themselves of professors, who have put in the maximum years in service, without inviting trouble in the mould of losing accreditation for programmes, he said, a “good succession plan should be able to taken care of that.”

On how many courses in LASU have full accreditation and how many are enjoying interim accreditation, Yakasai said, “LASU has 84 programmes with full Accreditation, 90 interim and 18 with denied accreditation representing; 43.8 per cent, 46.9 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively from inception in 1990 to 2015.

Asked to comment on the issue, chairman of ASUU-LASU, Dr. Isaac Oyewumi, declined saying, “ASUU does not have any comment for now.
Pressed further, he said, “We are still doing some works internally. We are also working with relevant relevant authorities to see how this pans out. So, it would be premature to make comments on the issue.”



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