Unlike Cambridge University, which was founded in 1202 and has, therefore, existed for 8 Centuries; Oxford University, which is the oldest surviving in the English-speaking word, thought to have existed since 1096; and Harvard University, which was founded in 1636 as Harvard College and is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States of America, Makerere University, which started as a technical institute in 1922, recently celebrated its 100 years of existence. However, it remains as if it is a relic of the past.
All the ancient universities in the West I have mentioned have been the custodians of disciplinary education (i.e., education in small knowledge cocoons called disciplines), whose main preoccupation has been disintegration of knowledge to create academic empires for knowledge workers. As a result, information and communication have tended to be broken and packaged in small, disconnected, non-communicating cocoons of knowledge. Consequently, the academics have also manifested as if they are strangers in the same room: the University. Even when they form unions or associations to advance their interests, intercommunication between the academics is constrained by their belonging to small knowledges. They are even easy for power to manipulate them by use of divide and rule.
While in the ancient universities Interaction for cohesion and consensus has been difficult to achieve. recently they have opened up to reintegration of knowledge, while newer Universities, such as Makerere University, have tended to re-entrench disintegration of knowledge in the 21st Century. Therefore, in the ancient universities, rigid separation of knowledges is no longer as valued as in the past. The new knowledge cultures of interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity and nondisciplinarity have been allowed to interpenetrate the university structure and function. Professionalism and its reproduction is no longer strictly disciplinary. Neither is career development strictly disciplinary as is the case in virtually every colonially and neo-colonially established universities of Africa. Here, non-disciplinarians are despised and inhibited in academic advancement. This is treated as securing purity of knowledge.
In fact, for Makerere University, a new academic policy popularly known as the Akiiki Mujaju Academic Policy was innovated at the beginning of the new millennium to secure disciplinarity and the careerism that it entails. Apart from emphasizing holders of Ph.D. as the genuine generators of knowledge, and lecturers in a university the policy re-emphasized disciplinary research and education as the core academic culture of the University. This, way the policy did not only block reintegration of knowledge in a century of integration, but propagated the falsehood that one cannot lecture unless one holds a Ph.D. although many Ph.D. lack the capacity to research and lecture effectively. In the past this was not the case. The University once had a professor of Geography who had only a first degree, and many professors, including Professor Sentosa Kajubi and Professor Asavia Wandira, who were far more academically productive than present-day Ph.D holders.
I have heard many people saying Makerere University has stuck itself in the past. For example, Godman Okoye wrote an article in The Monitor (the precursor of Daily Monitor) of 5th August 2002 that Makerere University has remained 35 years behind. Thia was simultaneous with the emergence of the Akiiki Mujaju academic policy instrument. Okonye’s article was more or less saying that Makerere University had remained an early 20th Century University, and the Akiiki Mujaju academic policy instrument was stressing that it would remain so in the 21st Century. The roadblock to creativity and innovation has been fragmentation of knowledge and over emphasis of knowledge acquisition and knowledge transmission just to cure the knowledge disease.
Way back in 1992, New Perspective Quarterly cited Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry for 1977 saying, “The Project at the end of the millennium is to go against fragmentation ….. I sense that this is true in all fields”. Obviously Makerere was not listening to this great scientist. That is why years later it wholeheartedly the Akiiki Mujaju academic instrument and accepted knowledge fragmentation as of no harm to its body politic if carried over to the 21st Century. This is what qualified the university to be a relic of the past.
The question is “Can Makerere University shed its status as the academic relic of the past? Yes of course. Everything starts in the mind and ends in the mind before application. That’s how laws and policies start. If we allow learning “to manifest as the new form of labour, and do not continue regarding and pursuing it as as a separate activity that occurs either before one enters the workplace or in remote classroom settings, change of mind becomes a necessary phenomenon in the education enterprise. We can not strive for integration of anything when education continues to be designed for disintegration of the mind and the knowledge therein.
In his book “Who If Anyone Owns the Past? Reflections on the Meaning of Public History “published in 1992, Professor Bethwell Allan Ogot allocates Chapter 10 of the book on “Rediscovering Galileo or Who is Qualified to Teach in A University? That was long before the Akiiki Mujaju Academic Instrument was unleashed on the academic environment of Makerere University o continue emphasizing concern about individual or national economic competitiveness.
Prof. Ogot agrees that a Ph.D or its equivalent should generally be necessary for teaching in a University if quality in higher education is to be enhanced and a cadre of committed teachers, researchers, intellectuals and intellectual leaders produced. Unfortunately, in the Makerere of the 21st Century, emphasis is on academicism, far less on building the intellectual capital of the university and the country. Besides, although we continue to produce graduated in increasing numbers with Doctor of Philosophy degrees, the majority have the slightest or no grounding in philosophy. Professor Ogot states that higher education must engage in and stimulate others to engage widely philosophical and social issues of the public good.
If the University disengages itself from philosophical and social issues, preferring to preoccupy itself with academicism, then it will leave ignoramuses, mostly politicians, to make a mess of the public good by pretending to be the intellectuals clarifying and articulating issues for society and to be the philosophers of our time. Academicism will not produce for us self-confident, committed and well-trained scholars who can engage in critical thinking and alternative analysis. At best, they will choose to recycle rotten ideas or assume the stance of fear and conspiracy of silence. It is a big loss if a university is full of graduates who are fearful and choose silence. They leave the public space to manipulators and self-interested individual who easily cast lies as the truth.
Prof. Ogot uses Galileo Galilei to strike a balance between knowledge acquisition and transmission on the one hand and innovation and creativity on the other in our universities. At the age of 20, Galileo was not just taking in the ideas and teachings of his professors. He asked why, how and what, which were difficult questions for the professors who tended to recycle knowledge and ideas of Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen rather than question, create or innovate new ideas. The professors were just transmitting ancient ideas of ancient thinker, which infuriated Galileo, making him to storm out of many lectures at the University of Pisa in Germany. He was also infuriated by his colleagues who never questioned the professors.
According to the story of Galileo, his father chose medicine for him but while agreeing to do medicine, he chose to ignore the “boring professors” and teach himself mathematics. He allocated more and more time on Mathematics. When he attended the Medicine lectures, he would annoy his professors and colleagues by asking proof of every statement they made. Eventually, for being a critical thinker and critical analyst, always demanding alternative explanations and proofs, and dismissing the widely-held view that whatever the books stated was true, he was expelled from the university of Pisa, thereby prematurely compelled to quit his medical course.
Prof. Ogot writes that one day while in class, Galileo asked his professor, “You say it is right because it is in the works of Aristotle, suppose Aristotle made a mistake?” Galileo was able to prove that Galileo as wrong. One day he ran to class shouting, “Aristotle was wrong. Now I can prove that he was wrong!” He proved it by showing that the small and big balls of the lumps swung at the same time and same rate and returned to the original position at the same time and same rate. Without training he was made professor of physics at the same university which sacked him. However, his old professors connived and had him leave the University. He moved to the University of Padua to replace a renowned professor who had passed on as professor of Mathematics.
Interestingly Galileo taught and supervised people who had had first and second degrees for Ph.D. degrees. Many scholars came from all over Europe to be taught and supervised by a professor without a degree of his own. He was like Jesus or Socrates who taught effectively without a degree.
Question is: why can’t people without degrees but with considerable broad knowledge and practical skills teach at a Ugandan University? Why should Makerere continue to be like Pisa University of the 17th Century, believing that the only source of knowledge in the 21st Century should be people who hold Ph.D? After all when students are put under apprenticeship of instructors in the field who do not hold degrees, they gain a lot towards completing their university education. In 1990s, my own father, the late Charles Afunaduula Ovuma, without a degree, taught Lusoga to Masters students in the Institute of Languages, by then headed by Professor Muranga. He was an essential resource for the Department.
If the 17th Italian University of Pisa is translocated to the 21st Century, and superimposed onto Makerere University, many Galileos – creative and innovative – would be rejected and ejected from the University. This would make Makerere University not only a relic of the 17th Century but also the 20th Century since academic practices of Pisa and other similar universities of the 17th and 20th Centuries were more interested in knowledge acquisition and knowledge transmission than creativity and innovation. To create and innovate one had to seek refuge away from the academic environment. Consequently, the University would be committed to acquisition and transmission of knowledge, far less to creativity and innovation, and to knowledge fragmentation rather than reintegration of knowledge. That would assign it to the status of a relic of the past, the same way the dinosaur is taken to be a relic of the past biological world.
When, in 1972, Jantsch advocated for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary universities as a systems approach to education towards and in the new millennium, to deemphasize overspecialization and individualization in education, it was an integrative and integrated Makerere University he had in mind. Makerere can be retuned to be a truly 21st Century university -a university reintegration rather than disintegration. We need graduates that can be agents of and value integration. Those who are agents of and value disintegration are a danger to humanity and society as a whole. Uganda is currently a victim of agents of disintegration who were instructed and produced in small fragmented knowledges. Such graduates see and glorify small things, not big things. They do not know that the whole is greater than its parts and unlike any of its parts, separately and collectively.
Makerere University of the 21st Century must be for reintegration, not disintegration, of knowledge, and for creativity and innovation, not knowledge acquisition and transmission. Only then can it be useful to the ideology of integration, creativity and innovation.
For God and My Country.
The Writer Is a Ugandan Scientist And a Retired Makerere Don
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