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Opinion - Misleading readers in academia is punishable

2021-04-22  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Misleading readers in academia is punishable
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Dr Andrew Niikondo

 

The article published in the New Era newspaper of Thursday 15 April 2021 by Professor Earle Taylor raised the eyebrows of many in the academic fraternity. 

In his article, Professor Taylor analysed the procedures followed by universities in Namibia to promote professors, condemning the process. Although academic freedom and freedom of speech are provided for in the Namibian constitution, it does not mean that people are at liberty to slander and tarnish the image of others, in this case, senior academics who have faced a rigorous process of promotions as instituted at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST).  

Misconceptions, misleading and incorrect utterances such as that of Prof Taylor, equally deserve corrections or rejection. I presume the article in question was written with an ulterior motive under the guise of educating the people with no knowledge on how promotions of professors at universities are conducted. It is unfortunate that the information provided is, in its entirety incorrect, humiliating the higher education system in Namibia, tarnishing the names of universities, particularly NUST. 

The author used a mocking statement, which is tantamount to a verbal attack on NUST by saying: “In the end, it is the society as a whole that pays the ultimate price when the expectation of the tertiary education system fails to deliver quality education, research and to foster innovation and production of new knowledge, goods and services. It is up to accreditors to query and recall such practices and flawed decisions by university leadership and management of the Namibia University of Science and Technology to convert posts of directors to professor, and deputy directors to associate professors and so on”. 

I believe the author is trying to point out nothing and may cause confusion if not outright provocation. In my view, the author insinuates the professors converted from directors are not qualified to be professors and such a decision to convert them should be revoked. 

With these insinuations, the professors who have been targeted have all the rights to initiate legal litigation against the author to clear their names because the general public has been informed that NUST professors are not qualified. This is more harmful to our students, researchers, and national and international partners. Condemning the incorrectness of the author, I would like to provide the correct version, which the general public, students, who are our main stakeholders and partners should take as the ultimate reality as follows: NUST, when its status was the Polytechnic of Namibia (PON), was not authorised to call advanced academics ‘professors’. 

Additionally, even the head of PON was called Rector and not Vice Chancellor. Article 13 (2) of the Polytechnic of Namibia Act No 33 of 1994 stipulates: “The Senate shall consist of (a) the Rector, who shall be the Chairperson of Senate, and (d) all academic staff with the rank of director, but excluding any Associate Director. All academic staff at the level of Associate Professor were employed under the title of deputy director and the Professors were employed with the title of a director at PON. In the same vein, all academic staff who performed beyond expectation in terms of research, teaching and community engagement were promoted to the rank of either deputy director or director.  That was the institutional policy of PON at the same time. 

Pursuant to the conversion of PON to university status, the policy was amended to convert the deputy directors and directors to ‘Associate Professors’ and ‘Professors’, respectively. Section 12 of the NUST Policy for the Awarding of Professorships stipulates that: “The transition of the current ranks of deputy directors and directors to that of associate professor and professor will be handled as prescribed in the Policy on the appointments and promotion criteria for academic and technical/support staff at the Polytechnic.” The criteria implied here are as follows: 

- Preconditions for Associate and Full Professorships: For both associate professorship and full professorships’ minimum requirements include a doctoral (or equivalent) degree and seven years of service (in teaching and learning or experience in the industry). Research outputs of ten and 20 publications (in peer-reviewed journals/books/conference proceedings), and successful supervision of three Masters (research) plus one (1) doctoral students are a prerequisite for the respective positions.

-  Additionally, to be promoted to an associate professor requires a total score of 55 to 84 points, whereas to become a full professor requires a score of 85 or above. Please note that one cannot exceed maximum scores in the categories of qualifications, teaching, academic administration, community engagement and external funding; only in the category of research and supervision; there are no maximum limits set.

All academic staff at NUST who were converted to associate professor or professor applied through their faculties for conversion and had to go through rigorous evaluation and have met the criteria as stipulated in the Policy. This implies there were many applicants who failed the conversion assessment and advised to repeat the process on the basis of areas of improvement pinpointed to them. The promotion of professors at NUST is not random, but there is a committee constituted in line with Section 10.1.2 of the Policy, known as the Professorial Selection and Promotion Committee (PSPC) which evaluates the candidates, and its composition includes:

 

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation

Two Deans of Faculty (one from the Faculty concerned)

Two professors (nominated by Senate)

One external member (expert in that discipline)

A Senior Manager in the Human Resource Division (will provide secretarial service to the PSPC).

With these facts, it proves that the author of the article in question was ill-informed or has other sinister and nefarious agenda known to himself. It is unfortunate that he did not seek to verify his facts before writing the article. I also believe he was also promoted by his university in his country of origin to the rank of a professor on the basis of similarly rigorous criteria. To conclude, it is important to highlight that the NUST Policy for the Awarding of Professorships was benchmarked with best national and leading academic institutions and rests on international best practices. 

 

*Dr Andrew Niikondo is the Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic at the Namibia University of Science and Technology; he wrote in his personal capacity.


2021-04-22  Staff Reporter

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