All University of Zimbabwe (UZ) alumni must be bowing their heads in shame over the latest graduation ceremony that made a total mockery of the academic institution’s reputation.
Once the UZ was ranked with the best institutions of higher learning in Africa.
At independence in 1980, it was ranked higher than most universities in South Africa. People considered only the University of Nairobi in Kenya, Ibadan University in Nigeria and one or two others as better than the UZ.
Uganda’s Makerere University, once considered the best in
Africa, had been desecrated by the dictator Idi Amin Dada.
Amin was the President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979. He was the Chancellor of Makerere University during the same period. During his term, he conferred upon himself a Doctorate of Law. Not only did he not deserve the doctorate, but he also, by so doing, signalled and presided over, the institution’s phenomenal decline.
During his reign, members of the academic staff were slain and a huge number fled into exile.
The government stopped funding the institution and infrastructure collapsed. To date, Makerere is struggling to regain its status as one of the best universities in the world. It was once referred to as the “Oxford of Africa”.
The UZ has faced a similar fate. In the first 10 years of independence, it just about managed to maintain its standards. The academic staff was world-class, infrastructure was superb and its students prided themselves of belonging to the institution.
Then government funding began to drop. Senior appointments began to be made in government offices rather than by the University Council.
The institution became a political playing field. More and more military personnel of dubious academic achievement began to graduate with all sorts of degrees.
Some academics objected to this, but were detested. A case in mind is that of the late Dr John Makamure who refused to pass an underachieving government official in spite of the serious political pressure brought to bear upon him.
But academics of such impeccable integrity are hard to come by nowadays.
In the past, the most talked about low in the UZ’s academic history was when former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, while chairman of the University Council, awarded himself an honorary doctorate.
That President Robert Mugabe was only too happy to cap him should have rung alarm bells to the effect that the institution’s reputation was going southwards.
Now it has reached a new low that just might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. After the debilitating years of the politico-economic crisis, UZ students and academic staff —and indeed everyone else — were beginning to hope that the institution could re-establish its former glory.
But senior politicians and government officials continue to undermine it by demanding degrees they don’t deserve and in some instances having doctoral theses written for them in record time.
The tragedy is that the current crop of academics teaching and running the institution don’t have the guts to protest. Sadly, all those who are working towards their doctorates — or any degree programme for that matter — at the institution, should know they are wasting their time because their achievement will not be recognised anywhere outside Zanu PF.
What is at stake is not just the UZ’s integrity, but also that of its staff and, by extension, that of the whole education system in Zimbabwe.