By Gift Phiri
University of Zimbabwe vice chancellor Levi Nyagura has stirred fresh controversy after hiring a junior lecturer who recently obtained a doctor of philosophy (PhD) as the dean of the Law Faculty after overriding the department’s committee decision to appoint the most eligible candidate.
This comes in the wake of Nyagura’s February 16 arrest and release on bail for allegedly unprocedurally awarding former first lady Grace Mugabe a PhD in 2014, an allegation he has strenuously denied, instead accusing lecturers who raised the matter of “ignorant of the university’s ordinances”.
The UZ vice chancellor is alleged to have awarded Grace the PhD without the approval of the learning institution’s Senate and Council.
He is also allegedly defying the university council’s decision to go on a sabbatical pending the conclusion of his court case, with Higher Education minister Amon Murwira saying UZ Chancellor President Emmerson Mnangagwa is yet to give the leave of absence decree.
Nyagura’s latest controversy centres on a process that led to the hiring of a junior lecturer, Innocent Maja, as the dean of the Law Faculty.
Maja is neither an associate nor full professor.
Nyagura offered him the position anyway, even after his administration had announced to the whole university community that only full professors would henceforth be considered for deanship.
Now, lecturers are protesting Nyagura’s recommended appointment of Maja amid allegations of political considerations.
Lovemore Madhuku, a veteran law professor in the Faculty of Law, had been unanimously recommended for the post and was interviewed for the post, but a UZ panel led by Nyagura rejected his nomination.
It’s not clear why Madhuku was overlooked, but there is suspicion that he is being punished for representing former Finance minister Ignatius Chombo, who was detained by the military before Robert Mugabe resigned as president, and is standing trial on corruption charges, including trying to defraud the central bank in 2004.
He is also representing ex-Zanu PF youth leader Kudzanai Chipanga standing trial for slandering Vice President Constantino Chiwenga at a press conference last year.
The decision to overlook Madhuku has received condemnation by UZ lecturers, and is being viewed as the latest action by Nyagura that will further damage Zimbabwe’s citadel of higher learning’s academic reputation.
Lecturers fumed that Nyagura has been flouting norms, in the process putting the quality of education at the UZ in jeopardy.
The hiring of the “greenhorn lecturer” has added a new dimension to the already fraught situation at Zimbabwe’s top learning institution.
UZ registrar Noah Mutongoreni, who wrote to Madhuku on March 7 this year, advising that his application had been unsuccessful, yesterday switched off his mobile after the Daily News called inquiring about the scandal.
The Daily News understands that in November last year, the UZ flighted an advert inviting qualified and interested candidates to apply for the post of dean of the Faculty of Law.
In the ad, the UZ said it was looking for a person with an earned doctorate, a scholar of note with credibility among other academic peers, one who will offer academic leadership and a scholar with ability to plan effectively and to inspire and motivate staff in the faculty.
Nyagura is being accused of indiscriminately using his discretionary power to flout various procedures and norms in order to get a candidate who was not a “scholar of note”, given that Maja is neither an associate or full professor.
The overlooked Madhuku is the only full professor below retirement age in the Faculty of Law. There are two other professors — Geoff Feltoe and Julie Stewart — who are post-retirement.
Reached for comment yesterday, Madhuku declined to comment at length, but confirmed the development.
“Yes, it is true. When I applied and attended the interviews, I was making an offer to be dean of the Faculty of Law. The offer was rejected. An offer may be accepted or rejected. It does not affect my teaching and research output,” Madhuku told the Daily News in a terse response.
Nyagura told the Daily News yesterday that Maja was actually overqualified.
“People can be appointed to be lecturers with a relevant Master of Laws degree. That is the requirement for Law, Engineering, Veterinary Science and Medical Clinicians. Those are the requirements in terms of Ordinance 51,” he said.
“The former dean was a holder of a Master of Laws,” he said, referring to Emmanuel Magade, who is now the deputy chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
“That’s the dean who was there. The person who has been appointed has a PhD, so we are going up.”
Asked why Madhuku was overlooked, he retorted: “You have to compete. You have to demonstrate what’s required, you just don’t appoint because someone is called a professor. That’s not the way you hire people. We have criteria that we have”.
He also denied claims that Maja was not a “scholar of note” because he was not an associate or full professor. “The current dean has published even books,” Nyagura said.
The disgruntled UZ lecturers, who preferred anonymity, argued that Madhuku was the most qualified given that he has a first class Bachelor of Laws honours degree from the UZ, a first class Master of Laws and a PhD both from the University of Cambridge in England.
Madhuku graduated with a PhD in 1998, meaning he has had a doctorate for the past 20 years. He has been a full professor of law since 2011.
The Daily News understands that to be a full professor, the UZ requires a minimum of 35 publications.
Madhuku has over 50 publications, four of which are textbooks in law.
He has also been chairperson of the Department of Public Law in the Law Faculty for the past 15 years.
Fuming lecturers at the UZ said judging from public engagements, Madhuku was clearly the most well-known member of the UZ’s Law Faculty.
Most of the dissenting teachers objected to Nyagura’s decision to engage a “cub lecturer” in contravention of laid down procedures.
The lecturers said this decision was not taken keeping in mind the subject expertise in a discipline and the nature of the vacant position.
“How do you put up an advert in which it is clear that Madhuku is the only qualified candidate. The man is encouraged to apply. You take him through an interview. You reject his application and offer the post to a person who is not only his junior but is neither an associate nor full professor.”
“You are just taking an opportunity to say to Madhuku ‘your full professorship and first class passes are nothing in the eyes of UZ.’ That is my honest view,” said one fuming lecturer who declined to be named, fearing victimisation.
Repeated efforts to get a comment from Maja on his mobile phone were fruitless as he was unreachable. DailyNews