Patrimonialism in Ghana’s Universities; Who else is paying Attention to KNUST

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I haven’t quite figured it out yet; but top of the guess-list are two – it is either a perverted culture of overzealous-guardianship or university administrators have just refused to keep up.
And I don’t know which is worse.
Harsh maybe, but I guess it’s time we had this conversation as the adults we all are.

The past week has seen KNUST making the headlines for various reasons.

The story is still quite young and the public discussion ongoing so you’re probably very familiar with the details. The repercussions? An unfortunate destruction of a few property but then mass protest and its accompanying violence proved worthwhile one more time.
In a quick reaction to that the University of Ghana’s leadership scheduled a meeting to address the concerns of their students over far less urgent matters.

The jury is still out there on the approach. And depending on who you listen to, you can hear one of two things; a loud uniform cry by thousands of students across the country who believe they are oppressed, disrespected and ignored and another group of adults whose only mantra is to refer to the students as “children” and infantilize them at every opportunity they have had.

I have listened to the National President of the UTAG come out in full defense of the Vice Chancellor of KNUST especially following the decision of government to have the VC step aside for an interim council to oversee matters primarily for the reason that the VC is an association member. This is not because the VC has done right by students. In his mind, it is unfathomable that such a small boy who leads over 50, 000 human beings would have a voice at a table where supposed adults sit and this is condescending to say the least. As has become the case for adults and especially school administrators in Ghana, nothing matters but one’s age.

But this is merely a symptom of a bigger national problem of gross disrespect and infantalization of young people.

It is almost as if whenever one is in school, he/she loses agency as a reasonable being. What else could explain the default reference to all school going people as “children”? By this reference; rampant on national radio and TV, faculty and private discussions etc students’ concerns are always trivialized.

The phenomenon explained above isn’t only disrespectful and dismissive of legitimate concerns by young people; it is stifling of growth and development.

Ours is a system that barely has room for challenge and rebellion. What we train best are a bunch of conformists with no minds of their own to grow out of their passivity and question power and authority. School administrators have arrogated to themselves the unsolicited duty of parenting blurring the lines of their professional duty as managers in the process. By deciding to not see themselves for exactly what they are, they remove any limits to what they can do and how they must relate with the other stakeholders – [students]. And so when questioned about UTAG’s opposition to the constitution of the interim council, the UTAG president retorted; “when demonstrations happen in Senior High Schools don’t you see that headmasters are given the free hand to do as they please”. It is this kind of mindset that undermines student authority and innovation and reduces the leadership to some dispensable elements who exist for the pleasure of these intolerant school administrators.

The idea that young people especially those at the university are confused, indecisive, ignorant and in need of micromanagement is offensive and the reference thereof to students as “children” as if to invoke a certain divine care and responsibility over them is patronizing and must stop.

The Old Gang think so little of young people but are not oblivious of the power they wield. And so just like unscrupulous politicians, it is in their interest to break and undermine the young/student front and to weaken their resolve. This is evident in the desperate attempts to convert all male halls to mixed sex.

In these few remaining male halls of residence is a tradition of resilience, defiance, courage and sheer force all of which scare the insecure old gang.

The Vandals of Legon of the Conti/Katanga of KNUST haven’t entirely been without faults, there is a lot of toxicity in the fraternity but so is there a lot of same among the cabal of professors leading our schools.

These young men may be whatever you do not support but one cannot deny that they remain the only true force against arbitrariness of university management if need be. The National Union of Ghana Students was sold to the dogs for political pittance, and the SRCs clearly are outmuscled and outnumbered in a very disproportionate Council structure that has merely turned them into stamps.

It ludicrous that a student group of 50,000 have an almost insignificant representation at the highest decision making body especially on matters or policies that directly affect their interests on campus. Nothing short of a veto power is a fair representation on such matters.

Clearly the bureaucratic process is skewed and unfair to students and leaves the various traditional councils as the only group insulated from management’s control. It is therefore not surprising that the only remaining fearsome and independent group that threatens the arbitrariness of the Old Gang is under attack.

The resistance is therefore understandable. It is not a rejection of women, neither is it a determination that another gender is inferior. It is merely recognition of the realities of our socio-cultural dynamics.
The expectation of University Management is that over time, this tradition will be neutralized with the new social order they envisage.
Their decision has nothing to do with creating spaces for women, we are not stupid.

As a matter of fact the older generation of this country hasn’t entirely been impressive with its handling of affairs and surely hasn’t been so great at anything else in comparison to their peers elsewhere. So how about young people get some more respect and a lot less of the condescending attitude.

And if you thought this was to provoke the Old Gang, then heck yeah you’re goddamn right!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Abdul Karim Ibrahim is an award winning debater, a journalist and a social commentator. He's moderated and participated in major national and international debates, public discussions and youth development programs notably; BBC Ebola Debate in Ghana in 2015, African Youth Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Pan African Universities debate Championship in South Africa etc. He's also a recipient of the Global Centre for Transformational Leadership award in 2011 for his leadership and ideas. He hopes to promote discourse and shape official responses through social commentary.

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