Friday, April 20, 2007

Institutes galore :How AAU is swamped by lame schools and positions

(By Roha)
If there is “Herculean” progress made by Addis Ababa University, it is in the number of institutes, positions and students. The university’s website gloats over the fact that the university’s graduate intake capacity has grown four fold in the last two years. The university has expanded its graduate programs, adding important institutes as the school of journalism in the same years. The university administration talks up such achievements, accusing critics as reactionaries.

Look closer and most of it is hot air. New schools are being opened with no capacity to sustain them, and under trained, overstretched teachers fill them. Most of the graduate programs are extremely poor in quality. And the interference in the institutes exacerbates the problem. Take two new institutes as examples. This year the university has established the Institute of Federalism, and Institute of Peace and Conflict resolution. Both institutes have virtually no staff. Yet they are supposed to start graduate programs in September. The President made the situation even worse by appointing his accountant friend, Gebrehiwot, as the director of Institute of Federalism. The institute is supposed to offer a hybrid (political science and law) program. The director has no knowledge of both subjects, or has no training and qualification outside the field of accounting. He was a finance officer of the university.

Other institutes are created for solely political purposes. The Institute of Human Rights, the President’s pet project, will kick off its work soon. Andreas Eshete has unabashedly stated that the objective of the institute is to counter the “false Propaganda” of international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and show that democracy and human rights protection has shown immense progress in Ethiopia. This institute is supposed to conduct researches and studies. Yet the findings of its potential researches have already been generally set. Community members who know about the project dubbed the institute as “A Human Rights Center for Human Wrongs”. Now there is a plan to merge this confusing center with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution

Even the university’s showcase graduate program, the School of Journalism, has deteriorated rapidly. Opened with the funding of the Norwegian Aid Agency, NORAD, it started with a relatively high note under its ex-dean, the late Dr. Assefa Medhane. Dr. Assefa’s death was a big loss for the school. Immediately, Andreas stretched the university administration's tentacles to the school. He appointed the lame duck, Professor Abiy Ford, and interfered in all aspects of the school’s administration, including the enrollment of students. Several students who couldn’t pass the school’s exam joined the graduate program regardless of their results. The school is now run de facto by government cadre Dr. Gebremedhin Simon whose formal position is Research Coordinator. The Norwegians are said to be so unhappy with the way the school is shoddily managed that they are thinking of ceasing to fund it once the first five years funding period expires.

Proliferation is not limited to schools and institutes. Community members say that new positions in the university crop up so often that people have now stopped to be surprised about it. When he wants to bring on board of his friends, Andreas Eshete opens up new posts and assigns them. Addis Ababa University now has three vice presidents and four associate vice-presidents with sometimes overlapping duties. And the president has a coterie of advisers. Most of the posts are occupied by government sympathizers. “The EPRDF used to control the university almost subtly during pre-Andreas days. Now it is open. He appoints government cadres to posts he creates at will. There is no institutional check and balance. It is him, him, him and government people,” one instructor told me.

The University community member learns about these appointees from rumors. The president doesn’t care to announce the new posts and appointees formally. The fact that the university’s website still states that AAU has two vice-presidents and three associate vice-presidents is a testimony to that.
(My next article will focus on incredibly declining quality of education, students and instructors)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tales of interference and authoritarianism at AAU

(By Roha)
When Professor Andreas Eshete was controversially appointed to Addis Ababa University’s top position, the university community was split down the middle. There were teachers and staff members who were willing to give him a chance. Certainly, his reform noises were strong. Six years before his appointment, he had made a remarkable and well-received speech, advocating drastic change in this great institution of higher learning. When he took office, he eloquently outlined his vision for the university, making promises that under his leadership it would reach the dazzling heights the university had climbed in the 1960s and beginning of 1970s. He promised to ensure academic freedom; he openly flirted with the idea of introducing a university charter which makes it independent of government interference; he planned to change the skewed teacher-student function curve in favor of a student-centered teaching-learning. Some argued that he had the wherewithal to put together university policy and strategy to execute his reform agenda. There were, however, a number of community members who believed his promises were just empty waffles, and basically he was a political appointee.

Alas, those who braced themselves for audacity were disappointed. Andreas’s leadership has become arguably the most stagnant and discombobulated in the past 20 years. Five years into it, four characters typify the administration.
-Unprecedented central authority, direct interference in academic and administrative affairs from the president and his cohorts
-Proliferation of lame institutes and official positions
-Extraordinarily declining quality of education, teachers and students
-Lack of transparency

I will deal with the first today.

If part of what makes an institution is its transcending individuals, Addis Ababa University has ceased to be one. It has rule books which are flouted as a rule of thumb by the president. Decisions of faculty academic commissions are rescinded if the president doesn’t like them. Professor Andreas interferes in the minutest details of the university’s administration, making haphazard and unpredictable decisions.

Two years ago, a senior English literature student failed to register for the second semester. When she appeared for the final exams, she hadn’t attended a single class in the same semester. Her department barred her from sitting on exams based on the university’s rules. Andreas Eshete ordered the department to reverse the decision. The student took the exams and graduated.

If that surprises you try to understand this. Harold Dorsey, an affable African-American, applied to teach at the Law Faculty, claiming that he has his J.D. from an American University. Andreas Eshete instructed the law faculty to hire him as Assistant Professor. The faculty insisted that as a first professional degree equivalent to LL.B and Mr. Doresy couldn’t be hired as an Assistant Professor if he had no publications. Samuel Assefa, now the Ethiopian Ambassador in Washington, wrote a letter of rebuke to the faculty, lampooning the faculty administration’s lack of knowledge about the status of Mr. Dorsey’s degree. He said it is equivalent to PH.D. Dr. Samuel was an advisor to the president.

Yet Mr. Dorsey couldn’t even show his J.D. When he was asked to provide evidence of his degree, he claimed he had unintentionally burned it with rubbish. Andreas ordered the faculty to hire him nonetheless. He was taken on board with a promise that he would produce the document in the future. For two and half years, he taught law at the university without a document. The faculty pushed him to provide one several times. Each time, Andreas intervened letting Mr. Dorsey of the hook. Finally, even the president was embarrassed that his friend couldn’t produce what he had been asked and the teacher was fired.

Perhaps, the area the president interferes in most is student placement. The university is replete with Stories of students who, despite not fulfilling the university’s admission requirements, have been placed in one of its many faculties. Recently, there was a controversy about the nursing student at the Medical Faculty who hadn’t even completed grade 10. Faculty members of Institute of Language Studies recount same stories. In the Department of Sociology, where I once studied, teachers told me that registering unqualified students with the instruction of the president happens a lot. School of journalism may be the worst offender. I used the word offender because the school’s director, Dr, Abiy Ford has been a willing accomplice in the undertaking. In one case, a man who wasn’t even the university’s student was sent to Columbia school of journalism on a scholarship which was given by the University of Columbia for university members.

But in the ability to shock, all of the stories couldn’t beat what Addis Ababa University community called the Dagne saga. Dagnachew has been Campus Police Chief for the past five years. Many students claim that he triggered the June 6, 2005 university protest by beating two students for no reason. Three years ago, Dagnachew applied to the Law Faculty’s Extension Diploma Program. He needed ESCLCE GPA of 3.0. He had 1.8 and the faculty decided that he couldn’t join. Andreas intervened on behalf of Dagne and ordered the faculty to accept Dagnachew on probation. In the first semester of his freshman year, he got a GPA of 0.4 which wouldn’t enable him to continue. Again, Andreas came to his rescue and Dagnachew was allowed to march on. After that the police chief, who has also been member of the university’s disciplinary committee, had been caught twice while trying to steal exam papers. No measure was taken against him.

Of course, Andreas’s disregard of academic norms and administrative rules couldn’t hide the fact that he had his way because of the incompetent yes-men at the helm of faculties and departments. That makes it even more troubling.