Skipping due process in professorial appointments

Academicians during procession

Academicians during procession

Hordes of factors have been advanced as reasons for the plummeting quality of research and teaching in Nigerian varsities. Incidentally, not many see it as a comeuppance for the flagrant abuse of the process of appointing professors, which many vice chancellors, working hand-in-glove with some disgruntled elements in the governing council bend to suit their whims and caprices. This development is fast becoming another variant of academic fraud on Nigerian campuses write ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and UJUNWA ATUEYI.

Time was when professorship was never seen as a chieftaincy title, to be acquired by just anyone with deep pockets, or one with widespread tentacles. Then, professorship was seen as a well-deserved crown for decades of academic toil. Bearers of such titles were, in a manner of speaking, deemed to be highly knowledgeable.

By way of introduction, a professor is a teacher of the highest rank in a four-year college, university or sundry tertiary and research institutions in most countries.

Among other things, professors conduct original researches, teach undergraduate, graduate and professional courses in their fields of expertise. In universities with graduate schools, they may mentor and supervise graduate students who are conducting research for a thesis or dissertation. Typically, most professors hold a Ph.D, or a masters’ degree.

Though a professor is an accomplished and recognised academic with Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates being one of the earliest recorded professors, universities in some countries also give notable artists, athletes and foreign dignitaries the title of honourary professor, even if these persons do not have the academic qualifications typically necessary for professorship.

However, such “professors” usually do not undertake academic work for the granting institution. In general, the title of professor is strictly used for academic positions rather than for those holding it on honorary basis.

Interestingly, in Nigeria, there is growing disquiet over the steady rise in the number of “false prophets” that are beginning to populate this group, which ordinarily should be an exclusive club of intellectuals. This unfortunate development is no secret among academics.

Considering the all-important role that professors play in the business of knowledge propagation, and as a way of preserving the sanctity of the intelligentsia, it is essential for those appointed to such high offices to be fit and qualified for such.

In the thick of the face-off between the immediate past executive committee of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Lagos State University (ASUU-LASU), and the institution’s immediate past vice chancellor, Prof. John Obafunwa, the union accused Obafunwa of illegally promoting some lecturers to the professorial cadre.

The immediate past chairman of ASUU-LASU, Dr. Adekunle Idris, pointedly accused Obafunwa’s administration of circumventing the process of professorial appointments, saying some of the appointees were promoted to the highest academic level with only 13 papers “including lesson notes.”

Obafunwa, however, countered the accusation insisting that the promotions followed due process, and went on to accuse Idris of falsely securing his Ph.D certificate.

In February this year, the Calabar Zone of ASUU called on President Muhammadu Buhari to set up a visitation panel to investigate allegations of maladministration leveled against the out gone vice chancellor of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Prof. Hillary Edeoga.

The union accused Edeoga of embarking on mass recruitment and promotion of academic staff without requisite qualifications to the rank of professors.

It also alleged that in most of these promotions to professorial cadre, “the staff involved do not have the required teaching and research experience in the university system and the years expected for post Ph.D qualification.”

One of the alleged cases of professorial promotion scandal that has refused to go under despite happening eight years ago is the one in the University of Nigeria (UNN), Enugu State, involving Professor of Accounting, Uche Modum. His accuser, Prof. Uche Chibuike, is a former dean of the Faculty of Business Administration of the same school.

Both dramatis personae appear to be untiring in proving their cases. While the accuser is prepared to constantly engage a higher gear until his accused is brought to book, the accused sees her accuser as being hard at work with the sole aim of robbing her of her integrity as well as bringing to ruins, her decades of hard work and meritorious services.

Chibuike, who made the matter public in the first instance, alleged that UNN authorities disregarded academic culture and standards in the entire process leading to up to Modum’s appointment as professor.

The whistle blower, who is currently on leave at the African Studies Centre, University of Leiden, The Netherlands, had also accused Modum of engaging in forgery and falsification of academic documents, including age falsification.

On her part, Modum described Chibuike’s accusation as malicious and a deliberate attempt to ruin her integrity, adding that she was roundly qualified for her appointment.

Upon his “discoveries” Chibuike’s wrote to the UNN management; the House of Representatives; National Human Rights Commission (NHRC); and Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, challenging the decision of the university “to promote Modum unduly.”

In his petition to the Education Minister, Adamu, dated December 1, 2015 entitled, “Attempt to Cover-up Academic Fraud and Subvert Justice in University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN),” a copy of which was obtained by The Guardian, he said, “I write to bring to your attention the decision of the Governing Council of UNN to sack me simply because I exposed the numerous forgeries and falsifications committed by Prof. (Mrs.) Uche Modum.

“ln 2008, when I was the Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration UNN, I noticed major discrepancies in Prof Modum’s l995 professorial appraisal form and her 2008 official Curriculum Vitae (CV). ln her 1995 professorial appraisal form, for instance, Modum claimed that she had authored 15 journal articles out of which six were published and nine were accepted for publication.

The accuser who claimed that a review of Modum’s 2008 official CV, however, showed that “none of the nine articles that were claimed to have been accepted for publication since 1995 had been published by the journals that purportedly accepted them. Two of the journals (the Nigerian Accountant and Strategic Finance, formerly Management Accounting), which are still in existence and which purportedly accepted five of the said papers for publication confirmed in writing to my office that they had no record of such articles in their journals.

He said that this and sundry claims made him realise that Modum was involved in multiple forgeries and falsification of academic records and may have forged the acceptance letters that purportedly accepted nine of her articles for publication in various journals.

Chibuike formally reported the alleged multiple forgeries to the then vice chancellor in 2008, but it was in 2011 that the governing council investigated Prof. Modum and cleared her of any wrong doing, while Chibuike was warned and asked to apologise to Modum for character assassination.

He protested and requested the council to send a copy of the investigation report and supporting documents to enable him understand the basis of its decision. The council declined in writing. He was thereafter sacked.

“Although the NHRC immediately suspended this sack and gave UNN two weeks to submit its investigation reports on this matter in order to enable it determine whether I was granted fair hearing, UNN has thus far refused to comply with this NHRC directive,” he lamented.

The sacked academic in an interview with The Guardian said, even though the resolution of the matter was dragging, “I am however hopeful that under the current administration, which epitomises change, it will soon be resolved. We will continue to fight this attempt to cover up brazen multiple forgeries and falsification using all legal means at our disposal.”

Modum, a former commissioner with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) believes that Chibuike, her accuser and former student is ignorant of the rules and regulations that guided professorial appointments at that time.

She said, “Prof Chibuike’s allegation bothers on non-publication of my articles 12 years after acceptance… Now, whether those two articles were published or not, it does not break any university regulation. Acceptance letter during that time was indefinite, because in the 1980s, publications were difficult unlike now that technology has made everything easy. Chibuike had since been counseled, if he doesn’t understand how certain things operate, he should ask questions rather than accusing me based on mere speculations or assumptions.

“Following his allegations, well-meaning elders, including the most senior professors of the faculty, called and advised him (Chibuike), that he ought to have carefully studied the Yellow Book applicable in the period in question, (1980s and beyond), which was the “Bible” for academic promotion in UNN. No rule in the Yellow Book was violated because the onus of publishing accepted articles is on the publishers and not the author. Moreover, the validity period of acceptance letter as prescribed in the yellow book at that time was open ended.

Modum who insisted that she was duly promoted to the rank of a professor in 1995 having scored 92.8 per cent in her appraisal score sheet, added that she started at UNN as a junior fellow, (graduate assistant) and rose to become a professor through appraisal.

“Chibuike should bring out his allegations and supportive evidence. For now, the only evidence he has is that nebulous letter from the current editor of a US-based National Association of Accountants’ (now Institute of Management Accounting) journal, Ms Katty William, who denied knowledge of any article published in the journal. The woman might be ignorant of the events that took place in the office more than 20 years ago. Besides nobody is talking about publication of those articles in that journal. It was just acceptance, which I used for my appraisal and I later published the articles in other journals after a long wait from the Institute of Management Accounting Journal,” Modum explained.

For the immediate past executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof Peter Okebukola, the issue of infringement in the process of appointment of professors really exist.

According to him, “Within the last two years, I have had the opportunity of assessing the quality of the higher education delivery systems in 47 countries in Africa on the platform of African Union, European Union and World Bank consultancies. My team and I have come to the conclusion that Nigeria has one of the best in terms of quality of professors, scholars and researchers on the continent. This is the global picture, which hides some local details of unhealthy practices which may not keep us atop of the pack for too long. I brought these cracks to the attention of vice-chancellors at the 2016 meeting of the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU), which held in Jos, Plateau State about three weeks ago. The cracks are showing up in at least two main areas – rigour of assessment and quality of published works.

“Assessment of professors which used to be strictly blind and conducted by a three-person panel of world-class senior professors at least two of which will come from outside Nigeria (usually from Europe and North America) is now watered down by a compromised system. It is hardly blind as the candidate knows who the assessors are and waste no minute in piling pressure directly or indirectly on the assessor to turn in a positive report and expeditiously too. The first misstep is asking the candidate to nominate his/her assessor. This is the beginning of the compromised process. The second misstep in the rigour, is the warped scoring scheme, which allows weak candidates to score above the minimum for promotability/appointability. This allows the weak candidate to quickly bag two positive assessments and bingo, he/she is pronounced professor after a concluding a round of sham interview,” he stated.

Okebukola, a former vice chancellor of Lagos State University (LASU), added that, “On the quality of published works, an alarming deterioration is creeping in. Sadly, this phenomenon is Africa wide. It is common to hear a Nigerian or African scholar beat his/her chest claiming to have hundreds of publications! But of what quality? Many of the publications are in online (roadside) journals with such deceitful labels as British Journal of…, American Journal of… Canadian Journal of …. but which have their editorial offices on the laptop of a crook in one remote location in Nigeria, Ghana, Asia or anywhere else on the globe. Many of the hundreds of publications are plagiarised and many are laden with cooked data.”

The Officer of the Federal Republic added that, “The good news is that AVCNU has started to address the challenge. I am aware that some universities such as UI, UNILAG and LASU have started to tighten the rigour of the process. The bad news is that the practice is still prevalent in private universities seeking to quickly bolster the number of professors so that they meet one of the programme accreditation requirements of professors/senior lecturer/others ratio. At the AVCNU meeting in Jos where I shared by lament with VCs, it was largely agreed that NUC should step in to work with universities to provide minimum standards for the appointment of professors in terms of rigour and quality of publications, below which no university should go, but not violating the autonomy of the university.”

Speaking on the implications of abusing professorial promotion procedure in the country’s ivory towers, Vice Chancellor of Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Prof. Frank Igboji Idike, said that such ugly developments water down the quality of teaching, learning and research. “And the society would suffer in the short and long run.”

He said, “If that is true, it is bringing down quality in our university system. A university is supposed to be an institution of excellence. It is true that every university has rules and regulations guiding promotions, including promotions to the professorial cadre. But those rules must conform to internationally accepted standards. And there is no rule in the university for ‘man-know-man’ in terms of promotion to professorial cadre.

“In our guiding document, which we call the Red Book, everything about promotion to professorial cadre is categorized there … The candidate must have showed a quantum of research through his publications. That is why in the university you hear people say “publish or perish.” And this publication is not just any publication, it must be sighted in world-renowned journals and every university gives its own criteria… the easiest way of killing the profession/system and it is not acceptable anywhere in the world; not in the academic community. But unfortunately, it happens. It really happens,” Idike stressed.

For Fellow of Nigerian Academy of Letters, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, “Sub-standard professors will only reproduce themselves and make a mockery of the much revered university system. Staff morale will drop, as the elevation of mediocrity will depress both those who became professors on merit, and the qualified aspiring lecturers who are being denied elevation to that position. Over time, bright minds would no longer see the rank as worthy of their aspiration,” said the academic who is of the Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos.

Olukoju who has assessed professorial candidates in History, in Nigeria, Ghana and the United Kingdom, affirmed that most leading institutions in Nigeria have kept faith with good standards, just as he noted that religion, ethnicity, state of origin, gender, membership of open and secret societies have influenced appointments.

While regretting that subjective considerations and sentiments have been used to advance unworthy persons, while pettiness has informed the delay or denial of other persons’ professorial appointments, he added, “Ordinarily, a PhD, a certain number and quality of publications, a record of community service on university and faculty committees, quality and length of teaching service, and intellectual and moral integrity are the minimum requirements for appointment as a professor. However, universities differ in their requirements. I was surprised that some leading Nigerian universities still accepted letters of acceptance as proof of publication. UNILAG only accepts such up to the senior lectureship.

“There are universities which do not specify that professorial candidates publish overseas, meaning that they are satisfied with our local standards of publishing, which are very uneven. This problem has been aggravated by the rapid increase in the number of universities. The challenge faced by the National Universities Commission in carrying out its quality assurance and some people’s tendency to regard professorship as just another chieftaincy title, or one of the bogus fellowships awarded by so many ‘academies’ in Nigeria.

He continued, “The professoriate is (or is supposed) to be an exclusive club of the brightest and best academics. Though considerations of seniority and length of service come into play, high flyers are often catapulted into the professorship on the basis of outstanding scholarship. This is why a person could skip the rank of associate professor/reader and be appointed a professor. But in the 1960s and 1970s, it was possible to become a professor with a few high-quality publications (books and journal articles) but, an average of twenty-two publications, including offshore ones, appear to be the standard at many universities.”

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