Wednesday, December 2, 2020 6:58 am
By Nkrumah Bankong-Obi
On Tuesday, I December, the University of Calabar officially shred off the remnants of its percieved posture as a conservative institution. It has also shown love to itself. Only about five years ago, the ivory tower, established in 1975, had its first alumnus as a vice Chancellor. That march towards inflection came decades after the University was governed by academics and military honchos. This time, UNICAL embraces the liberal doctrine of inclusive participation by the single fact of the enthronement of Prof. Florence Banku Obi as its first female vice cahncellor in forty-five years.
For those of us who know what women can do, and the floral impact of collective action, we can only say this day was long overdue. But thank God it came. As a concerned citizen and as an ex-Malabite, I must appreciate those who made the selection of Prof. Obi possible. Much has been said about this cerebral educationist, a core Quality Assurance tuber, tendril and leaves. She must have dazzled the University’s governing council before the members recommended her for the top job.
Indeed, she is as beautiful as UNICAL. Her smile sits decoratively on her lips just like the Qua River flows confidently across the southernmost ends of the University. Her outlook and simplicity can be equated to the calm ambience of UNICAL and its famed serenity for brain drill and social engineering. Prof. Obi and UNICAL are Siamese twins. Besides the fact that some of her qualifications were obtained in UNICAL, she has contributed immensely to the formation of a great number of students – directly or indirectly. And as a former Head of Department, former Dean and member of the University Senate, this thoroughbred denizen of academia has seen it all. The current position of responsibility is only a pip on the hat, granting her the opportunity to have her hands firmly on the saddle, hence for a term, navigate the destiny of our University.
“Beauty is truth, and truth beauty,”John Keats, the romantic poet says. This is the point where the bends, ditches, slips and crags will begin to emerge. Even the romanticists know that truth is a hard-to-sell commodity. Madam is taking the vice Chancellorship at a really difficult moment in Nigeria’s national life. The insecurity in the land, the global economic stagnation resulting from a malevolent pandemic and the growing youth restiveness in the country confirm how much earth has fallen off the path. And if one might say these are challenges that politicians should stay awake to find answers to, Madam Vice Chancellor will readily be confronted by the galloping cases of examination malpractice, cultism, waning morality on campuses and the dwindling quality of intellectual commitment in students churned out at every convocation ceremony. These are certainly not perculiar to UNICAL. But the boss must fasten her grip on the invention plough, after all, citizens of the Republic of Malabor have enormous capacity to invent, reinvent and can position themselves and their bridely University on the map for global reckoning.
This genuine rebranding effort should be draped in love. Indifference, sloppiness, over-confidence are anathema to our proposed growth projections. Love should manifest in your relationship with your colleagues, students. Place the social welfare of all at the heart of your administration. Deep love in the very academic sense, is all that a V.C. should radiant, because as Thomas McGraw says in ‘Simple Love,’
‘”…Love without direction is a cheap blanket
And even if it did no one any harm,
No one is warm.”
It’s difficult to propose a plan to someone who has attained the pinnacle of her career, specialising majorly in Quality Education and holistic formation of a total human being. But here is the deal, there is the need to return to the glorious days of learning for service, as our motto indicates. For Madam V.C, to calligraph her name on the golden plaque of time, I believe, she should ensure that real learning -theory and practice, returns to UNICAL. The era of superficial teaching, quasi-research must be ditched, banished and obliterated. How can this be achieved? Our institution used to be renowned for the publication of intensely deep and incontrovertible academic postulations across disciplines. The journals were common in the departments and Faculties. This gave both budding lecturers and docents platforms to test their research schemes and ideas. But no more. The journals died. Handouts have been born to hound knowledge endlessly. With handouts came the massacre of deep Investigations of academic hypothesis. As shallowness traipsed around the campus, the wraith of wishy-washy books; puerile in content, poorly packaged replaced real publishing . The ‘new knowledge entrepreneurs’ peddle books totally lacking in peer-review. Sadly, these are being pushed down the throats of students, who must buy or fail examinations. The result of a combined assault on quality learning and publishing is glaring, I believe.
It is important therefore to deploy your skills to identify your staff who are still engaged in real academic work. Make grants available to them. Subsidize publishing cost and cost of attendance at standard conferences, symposia and seminars. Luckily, you have the requisite international exposure and foreign collaborative epaulets on your gown. You know how to drive this process. You know how to make quality research a yardstick for promotion. You know that an academic “must publish or die”. Therefore, make this easy for your colleagues. Those who can’t cope should be deployed to other areas where they can have no direct learning interface with students. Collaboration within and without will not only instill healthy competition, discipline and transfer of knowledge, it will make UNICAL the university it always aspires to be -the best among the best.
As part of effort to revamp teaching and learning, greater attention should be given to hosting conferences and academic-related programmes. I remember that as an undergraduate in the early to mid 2000s, I always looked forward to the great ICALEL or International Conference on African Literature and English Language. This conference brought the best of African literary commune to Calabar. It was always a pleasure for any vice Chancellor to be called upon to open this progamme; which academic wouldn’t want to be in the company of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ernest Emenyeonu, Okot p’ Tek, JP Clark, Ngugi Wa’ Thiongo, Charles Nnolim, Bernth Lindfors, among others. In the same vein, my own department, Theatre Arts, had a season of plays which brought in diplomats, critics, playwrights and other important academic or supporters of academic causes, to have a feel of the UNICAL experience. It is crucial to regard activities like beauty pageants, sports as extracurricular not the main feature in our campus.
I have chosen to dwell on the need to reinstate the publishing and sundry academic culture because I believe that is where the mantra of ‘reasonable action’ was derived, unlike the cowardly actions one hears of, and witnesses on the streets of Malabor Republic and the Calabar city centre, nowadays. While pursuing these, Madam, it is of utmost importance to organise the Alumni system in a more productive manner. This institution has given a piece of its womb to the world in different climes and shades. It is time Mother-Unical begins to reap the fruits of her paturition pangs. Homecoming activities should be regular. Reach out to those placed in positions that can enrich the vitamins of the UNICAL soul. Institute Alumni lecture series. Start a revolution openly celebrating those who contribute genuinely to the upliftment of our school. But please, beware of crooks and rogues who might seek to disgrace us with their stolen bankvaults. It’s not difficult to recognize honest men and women who were genuinely foundered in UNICAL. It is my honest believe that this is one low-hanging fruit that your administration will tap on, to solve some of the teething challenges confronting the University.
Finally, I don’t feel any reservations advising that you begin your term by striking a balance in the relationship between town and gown. There is an age-old rule that any academic institution worth its name, must have a direct relationship with the town, hence the town and gown coinage. But these are indeed difficult times. Politics is no longer what it used to be. Murders, drug barons, cultist, fraudsters have largely taken control of the structures of leadership at various levels. You should consider a structured method of relating to the outside – the host community, the government and other stakeholders on the flanks of academia. Resist the temptation to think that town and gown are one. The relationship was never designed to be so. They’re merely complimentary, not infused in a single pipe. Your habitat craves serenity, the outside world most often thrives on noise, chaos and hitstorms.
Before I end my congratulatory piece, I won’t ask you to balance the gender equation. I know, without peeking into your heart that you will try to create a department of unit of Gender Studies (how laudable will this be). I know that as a mother, you will prioritize the most vulnerable segment of our society in your corporate social responsibility drive. I will implore you to give science and technology a prime place in your project execution. I don’t need to emphasize why this is desirable. But I hasten to say that, the transformation that will headline your term will be, the billboard announcing advancements in the engineering, information technology and practical approaches to sciences. But in all, yours is a multidisciplinary institutions. Everyone of your departments should be the reason Providence put you on that fluffy desk
While looking forward to you as our Indira Ghandi, you must have the heart of Mother Theresa, the courage of Benazir Bhuto, the tenacity of Margaret Ekpo, the excellence of Grace Alelele Williams, productivity of Hannah Aren’t, the compassion of Mary Slessor, the affability of Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. I wish you a fruitful term in office. Congratulations.
***Journalist and poet, Bankong-Obi is reachable via: firstname.lastname@example.org