In her rebarbative cynicism and her mordant clarity, Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (CCASU) acting president has been to any media house electronic and print, local and international making her case on behalf of her union so as to make people believe that academic freedom is under threat in this country. At its lowest point, people who are often associated with civility, liberalism and intellect were seen shouting, hooting, carrying out coffins and burning out forms designed by their council asking them to return to work .I wonder what sort of impression was being created of malawian intellectuals?
As one observer pointed out,"The wikepidia discuss Academic Freedom as a belief that has limitations in practice. The Encyclopedia Brittanica says Academic Freedom is allowed without unreasonable restrictions. Unreasonable restriction means there are reasonable restrictions. " There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition and design of chancellor college staff union’s position. It first excludes the general public from the means of information in the direction of letting us know exactly what happened, yet empowers themselves to act on a matter where the highest judgment is required. It must be established here that both mine and my opponent’s contributions on this debate are not definitive doctrine or theory let alone a true reflection of what happened. None of us were there when Dr Chinsinga delivered his lecture .Again; none of us were there when the inspector general and Dr Chinsinga met .We understand they met. But we don’t know what was discussed when the two gentlemen met. We know for a fact that Dr Chinsinga was not arrested, cautioned or warned and has not been charged. Basically, he is a freeman before, during and after the lecture. He is a free man before, during and after meeting the inspector general. Surprisingly, calls are being made for the inspector general to apologize. To who and why? The hyper-reality that destroys human meaning of moral consciousness, and hence solidarity, by simulating it with political greed and self importance to regain a political discourse grounded in autonomous, intersubjective mutuality and closely associated with the natural ego at the expense of innocent students, should not be given room to rise if we as a nation are to realize our dream. It must be condemned by all progressive Malawians. Why are Chancellor College lecturers boycotting classes? Certainly not over the informal chat between the inspector general and Dr Chinsinga for that will be majoring in minors. Certainly not over infringed academic freedom because the university council has already ruled that out.And finally not over alleged policing activities in the class rooms and fear thereof because they [lecturers] are bold enough to face the police in the street. It’s even better for them to meet police in their classrooms since they can easily claim home ground advantage. Matter of fact, this whole talk of “fear” is a fallacy. These lecturers have shown boldness of untold magnitude. These are people, who’ve defied a presidential directive, challenged their college principal, and have since taken the chairman of university council to court for contempt. They marched on campus burning UNIMA council’s forms they were supposed to fill to indicate their wish to return to class after five-weeks of boycott. They don’t fear anyone, respect no order and have a record of removing a serving principal. They have a tradition of addressing their problems through protests .Whether they have a point or not is not an issue. They simply are fearless people and dangerously so. In the absence of a common web of meaning, even small differences can turn into a major conflict. In such circumstances as has been the case in the past, there is every incentive to inflate suspicion and magnify difference. Their informality, seeming approachability, and apparent normality has been part of their successful attempts to make only their point heard. National interests cannot be served in this way. It can only come from the transformation of the individual union politics and the emergence of joint efforts from their combined skills under the auspices of patriotism, all summoned together in pursuit of the prosperity of their students. It is for this reason that the nation unsurprisingly is not in favor of the boycott. People take an exceedingly dim view of these priorities by our academic. They have seen right through all the false sincerity, the bogus and dodgy reason why there is a boycott. The public’s disillusionment is now so extreme that there is nothing the staff union can say in defense of their current position that will be believed by parents who desperately want their children to be educated and get their degrees. It is now evident that the legal and moral justification regarding the boycott did not depend on the Inspector General’s refusal to apologize, but on the fact that the academics are simply not interested in serving their country and the interest of the nation. They are boycotting the classes not because the inspector general refused to apologize but because they have a long held tradition of boycotting. A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives them a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. For the real damage done by this tumult is the way it brings to the front of those innocent students caught up in the cross fire of unionism and political depression .The union is now horribly exposed. Comments from Professor Chisi of college of medicine, Noel Mbowela of Mzuzu University and the change of heart from Bunda academics is quite revealing. If anything, it gives us a picture of a staff union’s inner circle which has all but disintegrated. Above all, its leadership cannot function without threats. It shows of a a performer with the thinnest of skins, who cannot survive without the cheers of marauding-students. The ceaseless conundrum of whether one is predestined or somehow the author of a particular fortune or fate in as far as this standoff is concerned seems impossible to solve through human logic. They teach logic but when differences occur, they take a position which cannot stand the pettiness of intellectual consistency. They express feelings first which comes in all forms of shapes and sizes like, anger, confronting authorities, boycott, defiance, venting anger through demonstrations Is this the message being given to the students who should soon be eminent decision makers of our society? Their indifference with the IG is just being used as a scapegoat. If truth be told, there was already anger at Chanco because the union was mobilising to remove yet another principal (Professor Chris Kamulongera) after Professor Francis Moto. His crime? Because the Disciplinary Committee of the college (not the principal) disciplined two of its members for defying submission of students’ grades; is the union above reproach???. Knowing that they had no dispute against their employer, they picked an issue with the IG who approached Dr. Chinsinga privately and accorded him with dignity. The union instead demanded a public apology. Was it to humiliate him? Or, did they think that the apology and assurance alone would solve their problem? Shouldn’t they have sought to meet and engage him privately, to reason with him as it befits intellectuals?
Knowing that they had no dispute against their employer, they proceeded to suspend the core business of the university – teaching! How were we solving the problem? Knowing that academic freedom does not include politicisation of students, they have always insisted on using students as their tool, by neglecting them so that they must become angry and help their cause. Are students happy to be used in this way? Do the students know that they are being used? Are parents aware that their children are used in this way? Is the IG issue the real reason why Chancellor College is behaving the way it does, or is being used as a weapon for other motives? The union is on record for “confronting” the Vice Chancellor, but why confront the authorities instead of discussing with them? Is this the work ethics our students should copy? Why does the Union always make public demands, expecting their demands to met, and when their authorities ask or “direct” them to work; they defy. Are they the only ones to be listened to but they do not want to listen to others? Since the university is there to teach reasoning and solution-finding, does the public have enough reason to be worried? Do the academics need to be reasoned with? Who will do that since they are defiant to their Principal, Vice Chancellor and their Chancellor? Do they want to exist without any authority above them? Do all academics agree with this approach of doing things really? I’ve met quite a number or them. They are descent men and women who’ve baked some of the finest minds of international repute this country ever produced such as professor Tiyambe Zeleza,prof Hangson Mpalive Msiska and Dr Peter Kumpalume to mention a few. If anyone was in great doubt about Malawi’s democratic credentials then surely he or she must visit Chancellor College .A regime armed with dictatorial pangs good enough to ply on academic freedom cannot let go all the happenings at chanco without an incident. It seems straight here that the current regime is tolerant therefore pausing no threat to academic freedom and democracy at large. The essence of the current regime it seems has always been a belief in human nature as distinct from abstract ideology. And the essence of human nature is adaptability, flexibility, ingenuity. I have no reason to doubt that the current adminstration’s policies throughout the last seven years have been designed to give these virtues room to grow. Now People have all the freedom they wanted on planet earth. The only trouble though is that they don’t know what to do with it. Instead, they want an apology from a law enforcer. As a hallmark of our endeavor, I believe that it Is important to mirror the values of the present Democracy in the context of our past with an aim – to look for healing not confrontation, for pastoral reconciliation and not punishment, to look to our shared witness not only in our political lens but in the processes by which our vested interest in our democracy works out the current tensions without compromising our security, rule of law and natural justice. Selfish acts committed in the context of an institutionalized position of systematic influence and domination by one authority or group of people over their subordinates ought not to be the credentials of Chancellor College Academic Staff Union. As individuals working for an institution of higher learning, they have made tremendous contribution to the country. They ought to be proud of that. Perhaps an experience I encountered few months ago, in New York can help explain my view point better. After a busy schedule one summer evening last year, I took a boat ride on Hudson River. Whilst sailing, west of wall street towards downtown Manhattan, I realized then that every time a ship was approaching us, the captain was getting hold of his wireless machinery and begun talking to his counterpart supposedly manning the ship coming from the opposite direction in the process, giving each other’s signs in passing, showing signals and soon a distance voice in the darkness would follow. In so doing, accident by way of head-on collision was being averted. I figured then that on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another. Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence. The beauty of life lies in the look and courage we give to each other. In trying to humiliate the Inspector General who in all fairness went beyond his call of duty to pacify an otherwise sensitive matter we make but mockery of our education system. In trying to boast about defying orders from authorities and take joy in getting rid of college authorities, we create but wrong impressions that academics are no different from villagers. As David Belasco once said, “For each day, we must say with our own self, how long shall I hear from my friend again? How long shall see the standards of friendly smiles and the sound of laughter from my country folks “And so fellow countrymen, I echo my own Hudson boat ride experience, talking to authorities and not demanding an apology with a view to humiliate our inspector general will not benefit anyone. If anything it only puts our country to shame. Which ever side of the story, let’s not forget that students have a right to education too. Democracy can become a bitter test, when the fullness of democracy is denied.
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