Keep ethnicity out of universities’ management

Friday, December 1st, 2023 08:00 | By
Keep ethnicity out of universities’ management
Moi University, one of the 29 public institutions currently operating without a substantive Chancellor. PD/file

Daystar University has been on the news this past week. The credit for this goes to, among others, Moi University, where the Daystar University Vice Chancellor, Prof Laban Peter Ayiro, used to work. In 2017, Prof Ayiro left the helm of Moi University leadership. The reasons for his removal were said to be a “tribal witch hunt” and for being “an outsider”.

Local leaders led by the then governor for Uasin Gishu County, Jackson Mandago, marched to the campus at the helm of a crowd that was demanding that their man, and not Ayiro, be installed as the Vice Chancellor. The leaders, who included Alex Tolgos, then governor for Elgeyo Marakwet, Oscar Sudi, Silas Tiren, James Bett and Isaac Terer, eventually got their wish.

ProfIsaac Kosgey was later appointed vice-chancellor.  Daystar University, which happened to be fighting her own demons at the time, tapped Prof Ayiro, and the Vihiga-born professor of research took over the leadership of the oldest Christian University in the country.

The angels have been smiling at Daystar University since then. Just as the local crowds in Kesses who six years ago protested the presence of Ayiro in their land now carried twigs to appease the gods of education and apologise to Prof  Ayiro, colleagues in the industry were celebrating the former principal of Sunshine School on Langata Rd for being the Vice Chancellor of the year, and his university, Daystar, voted the most preferred tertiary institution at the East African employability summit and career awards 2022-2023.

Daystar University has experienced transformation in the last five years under Ayiro. In this year’s graduation, the School of Communication alone, the oldest such School and pioneer in Communication studies in East Africa, graduated eight PhD students, 75 masters students and over 500 undergraduate and diploma students. In total, Daystar University, in 2023, graduated just slightly under 1, 500 students during its 46th convocation at their campus in Athi River, Machakos county.

The population of the university has more than doubled to nearly 7,000, and infrastructural development is on course. The university boasts some of the most advanced production studios for any learning institution in the country. Since Ayiro joined the Machakos-based institution, he has led the expansion of programmes and Schools, the latter being the School of Missions and Theology, now in its infancy.

But the protests in Eldoret have been about Moi University. One of the last public universities to be established under the late president Daniel Arap Moi and named after him, incidentally the late president is one of Prof Ayiro’s heroes, Moi University has appeared lately to face many challenges. Ayiro is proud of Moi University and reminds everyone that he was made a professor there.

Moi University is not the only one facing challenges related to management; those of Moi, however, appear more intense. The university management is accused of “ugly management politics”, the sale of alcohol to students, corruption, not remitting workers statutory deductions, and sexual harassment of students.  The difficulties facing universities have been compounded by, among others, poor funding from the Treasury and a lack of remittance of the allocated funds.

The push of the local community to have the University become more or less an extension of the local village is not a preserve of Moi University. Not too long ago, the leadership of Meru University was reading from the same page and seeking to push their Vice Chancellor out for not being a local son. The skill sets that one brings to the job do not matter, but again, this is. Kenyan culture.

Sometimes, this drama plays out quietly, but at other times, it emerges in the open. One would have thought that Kenya, six decades after her independence, would have matured and turned a page against ethnic prestige; too often, however, the difference between the villager and the academic is not visible.

The protests at Moi University offer public relations students an excellent opportunity to study how bad publicity in one organisation could positively mirror another organisation – all in the same field.

—The writer is Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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