By Balunywa Mahiri
3rd year PhD student- MISR-MUK
“Independence of the mind is the only oxygen that intellectuals breath in, intimidation, threats, fear and favors is the carbon dioxide that intellectuals at Makerere must emit”
I would like to lend my voice to the ongoing political events at MISR that have acquired an expanded publicity since Dr. Stella Nyanzi’s nude protest at MISR. My complete support for Dr. Stella Nyanzi protest is because of my knowledge of her historical problems at MISR, but also because of the larger political issues that have befallen MISR and made it a completely hostile environment for intellectual advancement. This is my take, which will broaden the critical landscape for political analysis of the current situation at MISR.
I was one of the successful applicants to join MISR in 2014. This gave me a rare opportunity of intellectually interacting with Prof. Mamdani, an intellectual giant on the continent and the world, along with younger brilliant scholars like Dr. Adam Branch as well as Dr. Giuliano Martiniello – who have both left MISR.
After successfully going through the first year I received a warning letter from the MISR PhD Administrator on the 13th, April, 2015 stating that the MISR academic board had found me academically wanting for having failed to maintain at least a “B+” in my (second semester) first year courses. I received this letter at around mid night on my email, four days into the (year two) semester one exams. After an hour past mid night I composed my self and sent Prof Mamdani an email requesting to meet him in respect to the email. His response was: “I will meet you at exactly 2:30 pm tomorrow”.
At the stated time I was right there in his office. I expressed my objection to the letter threatening to rescind my scholarship. This I effectively did by citing his own policy that was given to us in January 2014, which states that a student loses the scholarship if the student got a grade below a “B”. I got three B’s in a semester, and incidentally and also surprisingly, I received a communication through the email that stated that I stood the risk of losing my scholarship. He(Prof.Mamdani) seemed to have understood his error; his response though not directly apologetic seemed to understand my plight. To my shock, a few hours after I spoke to Prof Mamdani, the PhD Administrator sent a new policy that upgraded the Good Academic Standing policy to “B+” as the minimum requirement for the program. The MISR Administration changed the Good Academic Standing policy within hours so as to get the legal grounds to withdraw my scholarship, and eventually expel me from the PhD programme!
The student leadership took up the matter and convened a meeting to discuss my plight. 23 students signed a petition to object the new policy. The petition stipulated that the new policy was (a) illegal because it affected continuing students, contrary to the rules of Makerere (b) dubious because it was intended to get rid of a student due to his involvement in student politics at MISR (c) illegitimate because it had contravened Makerere guidelines of policy making which requires prior consultation of stakeholders – in this case students (d) was against the founding spirit of MISR PhD programme which requires instructors to use persuasion, not coercion!
The MISR Administration had no alternative but to revert to the old policy because I had threatened to take them to court. This was to me, clearly a case of attempted victimization on my person. To be on the safe side, I dropped out of Prof. Mamdani’s course (The Modern State and the Colonial Subject) in the second year. I was not alone. Four students also did this out of fear of victimization. Two of the colleagues who were in the frontline in student struggles insisted on taking the course: they reaped what they sowed. Even though their coursework grades were higher, their final grades were lower. The final grades did not reflect their actual performance in each assessment component! One student who happened to be in the student leadership committee lost his scholarship on these dubious grounds.
At the beginning of my third year we (third year students), under Prof. Mamdani’s, set off with preparing for comprehensive exams. Prof. Mamdani is the chair of the research seminar that convenes to discuss third year student works. Initially, some of the lecturers would make their comments directly to us, which were, in most cases, different from his. He has now devised a new plan of convening lecturers in our absence in order to have a “consensus” on students’ works. But, alas, the “consensus” is but his imposition.
Recently in the last research seminar Prof. Mamdani described my work as one of the poorest, which he was not pleased with. This was inconsistent with the previous comments which described the original draft of the same work as being good. When I questioned this inconsistence, he responded to me that it was the decision of the committee, and that the committee has the right to be inconsistent. This time round, instead of allowing faculty members to make comments as it has been before, he alone gave us instructions. Most of his instructions are a manifestation of lack academic transparence, inconsistence, and violation of Makerere supervision guidelines.
I hope that the leadership of Makerere will form a special committee to investigate these matters, especially how academic policies at MISR are changed overnight to victimize students. In such an investigation, two individuals should not be involved: the DVC—AA, and the Deputy Principal of CHUSS. The DVC (Academic Affairs) has a conflict of interest in these matters because he is a research associate at MISR (and receives funds from MISR), and the Deputy Principal of CHUSS has also shown bias in favour of Prof. Mamdani in the cases taken to him by affected students.