Friday, 22 January 2016

INAUGURATION OF LASU VICE CHANCELLOR IN GOVT HOUSE BY LAGOS STATE GOVERNOR

With the inauguration of Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun as Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU), the state government as well as the university’s Visitor, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode would seem to have put an end to the perennial management crisis in that institution.

However, the spectacle of Fagbohun taking the oath of office as vice chancellor before the governor in Alausa Government House and not before the university council in the university council chambers, negated everything the university as an idea stands for. That should not have been.

If the intention of the Visitor was to send a signal to the public or to all stakeholders about the source of the new vice chancellor’s authority, such a public display was unnecessary. No one can contest the ownership or even source of sustenance of LASU! But putting up a public show of it as though the university is another parastatal of Lagos State was wrong. If it was a matter of coincidence, as there were other state events that day, and the appointer thought including the new vice chancellor’s inauguration in the programme, was just a matter of convenience, that was a grave error not mitigated by its innocence.

A university and its vice chancellor should be, in substance and symbols, beyond the vagaries of state politics. A university is renowned for some salient functions: teaching nation’s future builders by providing instruction on various matters of intellectual importance and conducting research on those same matters for the development of humanity and the society.

A university, therefore, is different from other educational institutions not only because of the highest level of sophistication that attends its ideals and operations, but also because a university derives its authenticity, its essence, from a dynamism of ideas and constant discoveries, including repudiation of same, in an ambience of free contest of thoughts and minds. For the formulation of ideas and exploring them, thinking at the highest level, for unfettered creativity and experimentation with discoveries, however, a university needs total independence in an atmosphere that enables the best to contend with the best.

As experts say, because intellectual work can only be done in an environment where scholars feel free to let their imagination run from one extreme to the other, challenge ideals or conventions and change their minds or positions from time to time depending on quests and findings, a university must create an environment that places the highest premium on intellectual freedom. According to those who should know, except in cases of illegal conduct, violence, or flagrant abuse of the trust placed in faculty members, universities should never seek to sway, silence, intimidate, threaten, or otherwise influence faculty members to take, renounce, or be silent on any particular position, nor to control or monitor controversial actions. Hence academic freedom is broadly defined as the belief that the freedom of inquiry by university teachers is essential to the mission of the institution as well as the principles of scholarship.

Scholars should, therefore, have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or any form of knowledge without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment even when those ideas are unpalatable to external forces, stakeholders or the authorities. This is why in words and deeds, the university must not only be free of interference from outside forces, including those who own or fund the institution, it must be seen to be so. What aura of independence then does a vice chancellor radiate when he openly gets inaugurated by a state governor in Government House? What level of academic freedom does he signal?
What has happened with the inauguration of the LASU Vice Chancellor by the governor is, therefore, an open advertisement of an aberration, one that ridicules the academia and has the potential to undermine its integrity.

Once again, a university must place a high prize on its independence and academic freedom from governments and all other interests. And the hope is that the impropriety of his inauguration would not be symptomatic of an era of interference in the affairs of the university by external forces. Fagbohun, no doubt, is a sound academic and an astute administrator. He has struck all the right notes since his appointment, carrying along all faculty members, unions and students.

“I am only as strong as you let me be,” he reportedly told a gathering of the teaching staff upon assuming office. Such humility and determination to run an inclusive administration should serve him well as he seeks to restore dignity to the school, foster an atmosphere for academic excellence and run a university that lives up to its ideals, insulated from politics of its proprietors.