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not mind occupies our universities
August 15, 2013
The pursuit of knowledge
of the academic kind is generally viewed as a virtue/arete. By this
the inference is not a just a moralistic one but one that also resides
in Plato and Aristotle's understanding of the pursuit of knowledge.
Therein knowledge is not knowledge for its own sake but for the
good of society in a non-ambivalent search for truth.
institutions and to be particular, its universities have been traditionally
viewed as institutions that should be doing just that, pursuing
virtue. It is this impression that generally lends anyone who has
acquired a doctorate in one academic field or the other everlasting
reverence from adoring relatives, friends and work colleagues. In
fact this admiration expresses itself in the truth that once one
is referred to as a doctor or professor, it is a perpetual social
title even in non-academic conversations and circles.
The assumption is that
these qualifications have been acquired from institutions that are
not only credible but ranked among the best and most competitive
in terms of academic excellence and academic freedom. The reality
is that our universities are no longer the harbingers of the unbridled
and open pursuit of knowledge or virtue. This for a number of reasons.
The foremost of these
reasons being that none of our present (and even planned) tertiary
institutions value the all important principle of academic freedom.
It is a principle that is the sine qua non of any decent institution
of higher learning and entails the unfettered pursuit of knowledge
both for its own sake as well as with the intention of improving
our understanding of the societies in which we live, for the common
good. Where this principle is recognized and enforced, students,
academics and non-academics will be able to associate, assemble
and express themselves freely.
Unfortunately, not a
single academic institution in the country, at the moment, has demonstrated
the above-cited characteristics that are key for the enjoyment of
Most campuses are literally
like prison compounds with students and staff being monitored as
to who they associate with, what ideas they peddle and who they
invite from broader society to interact with the university. Student
unionism, staff associations are either prohibited or severely restricted
or only permitted where and when they parrot central university
administration’s political and policy preferences. As a result
of such an environment there has been no active pursuit of knowledge
as a virtue in all of our universities. Instead what obtains is
the pursuit of knowledge merely as a qualification to the extent
that the oft repeated phrase by students is that ‘one is better
off if they keep quiet and finish their degrees’ no matter
the injustices they experience or witness.
The second and equally
debilitating reason as to why our universities are no longer citadels
of academic excellence or virtue is their unbridled pursuit of profit.
This at the expense of most things academic. Ever since the government
significantly reduced funding for universities, their new-found
business models treat students and lecturers like commodities off
a factory production line. Except that the commodities pay to be
on the conveyor belt without a specific guarantee that they will
be the full article after production.
What this has led to
is a culture of profiteering at the expense of knowledge production.
This particularly so where and when it comes to what most universities
refer to as the ‘parallel programmes’ for undergraduates.
These, coupled with the now ubiquitous post graduate programmes
in Business Administration and Development studies are the new university
‘cash cows’. This would not be a problem were these
fundraising models being utilized for the promotion of academic
freedom. Unfortunately however, they function in tandem with the
repressive academic environment at the universities where the most
visible and most critical element of university administrations
remains the uniformed and punitive security guards.
Where arguments have
been made about the right to education, this fundraising model remains
one that limits the enjoyment of this right by citizens. It prioritizes
the ability to pay over and above the right to an education to the
extent that students more often than not fail to complete their
studies due to financial constraints. Where they scrape through
it is at great cost to not only their purse but also their academic
aptitude and freedom (especially with the cadetship scheme).
In the final
analysis, our universities perhaps are the default victims of state
ineptitude and indifference toward higher education. But this does
not absolve those in charge of them of complicity in the demise
of academic freedom and the prioritization of inimical profit above
all else. It would do well for vice chancellors to have that two
line poem by Dambudzo Marechera posted on their doors, ‘Pub
Conversation: My name is not money, but mind.’
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