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Nanny Vice Chancellor Confronts Helicopter Parenting

Azu Ishiekwene writes that running a university effectively in the 21st century shouldn’t be as dramatic and frustrating as portrayed by the Vice-Chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University, Rt. Rev. Prof. Dapo Asaju, in his recent (now viral) WhatsApp message to parents

A cross section of graduating students of Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, in 2015 / Photo credit: campustori.com
A cross section of graduating students of Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, in 2015 / Photo credit: campustori.com

At first, I thought it was fake news. But I read it to the end and later noticed that it had also been shared on a number of other serious platforms by serious people. And it was signed by the Vice Chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University (ACU), Rt. Rev. Professor. Dapo Asaju.

The right reverend gentleman wore his misery on his sleeves. In an unusual WhatsApp conversation with parents, he laid out eight major reasons why most of the parents are their own children’s worst enemies. He also painted a scary picture of the danger that these students might turn out to be for society as a whole.

I share the vice chancellor’s concern, but his anger is misplaced. Asaju is a professor of Christian Studies and vice chancellor of a university; not the headmaster of a village primary school.

If the University postponed its resumption by two weeks and students – who are all supposed be adults – are turning up later than the resumption date, the way to go is not to lock them out.

Why, when there are other less dramatic and far more effective options? The school could impose a late registration fine and/or ask lecturers not to register the late returnees for courses that they might have been eligible for that semester. They’ll have to carry over the course, if they have chosen to resume well past the deadline, and that’s it.

If class attendance is almost routinely nearly zero and the minimum attendance requirement as a basis for taking exams is not working and no survey has been conducted to find out from the students and faculty why attendance is so catastrophically poor, then it’s time to close down the school, convert it to a MOOC centre, or let the church have back its buildings as mega branches of the Anglican Church

And except if the process in ACU is still far behind, I expect that the whole business of course registration is mostly done online and, in some cases, ahead of school resumption.

If the vice chancellor still needs to stand at the school gate, with a fat register in hand and a long line of students peering in from outside the school gate and grumbling parents behind them, then there’s a problem.

And it’s not a problem with the students or their parents. It’s squarely a problem with the nanny vice chancellor and his administrators who apparently prefer drama to substance.

Vice Chancellor Asaju complained about a student having sex in the classroom with two other female students. Well, that’s indecent; really, really indecent.

If it was rape – and I hope not – then the matter should have been reported straight to the police. Otherwise, if Asaju loosens his pastoral collar a bit, he might agree that sex in classroom is not unheard of.

It happens all the time – in offices, in cars in street corners, and yes, in church vestries. It doesn’t make it right but those who want to curtail it cannot hope to succeed by taking the matter to WhatsApp.

A less dramatic, more serious approach would be to provide more lighting, install CCTV cameras, and perhaps encourage whistleblowers in addition to increasing physical patrols.

The school can also encourage student groups to discuss these matters in more open, structured ways, and follow through with consequences where improper conduct is established.

If the vice chancellor still needs to stand at the school gate, with a fat register in hand and a long line of students peering in from outside the school gate and grumbling parents behind them, then there’s a problem

The bulk of the vice chancellor’s complaint was on the thankless efforts by the school to make the students comfortable by going the extra mile to provide electricity, library and generally making the hostels as cozy as possible.

That’s a tough call, to be honest; but show me one home, one community or one organisation that does not endure this grief of being a one-stop government in Nigeria today, and I’ll show you an organisation that is determined to fail.

The vice chancellor said the Anglican Church does not provide any financial support for the school, but he did not say that the school is a charity.

If the church is not funding it, and Asaju has accepted the job of being vice chancellor, he has to find a judicious mix of tuition, donations, endowments and professional services that will support the school. That’s his job at this time.

The whole business of pretending that the school can provide what it cannot afford is not working. If the vice chancellor cannot improvise, the Church cannot provide any funding, and students won’t pay, who is Asaju trying to impress by squeezing water out of stone?

I was amused to read from his message that even after outsourcing all but one of the hostels, the vice chancellor not only thinks it’s the job of the school to collect rent for the owners, but the school also spent about N5million last semester plugging stuff.

The whole business of pretending that the school can provide what it cannot afford is not working. If the vice chancellor cannot improvise, the Church cannot provide any funding, and students won’t pay, who is Asaju trying to impress by squeezing water out of stone?

That might be a good idea in Good Samaritan country, but in the real world, it’s absurd for a school in dire financial straits to still be providing subsidy for students!

And then, the point the vice chancellor made about only 10 students routinely being in class when 1600 students should have been there knocked me flat.

That’s one clear evidence that something is fundamentally wrong. The vice chancellor obviously thinks the problem is caused by parents rubbing the heads of the students and feeding them breast milk, while students overdose on social media.

I think it’s deeper than that. If class attendance is almost routinely nearly zero and the minimum attendance requirement as a basis for taking exams is not working and no survey has been conducted to find out from the students and faculty why attendance is so catastrophically poor, then it’s time to close down the school, convert it to a MOOC centre, or let the church have back its buildings as mega branches of the Anglican Church.

Asaju may be a well-meaning reverend throwing good money after bad in the hope of preserving the church’s legacy as university owner.

He is obviously also a passionate crusader about saving the next generation. But the university is not a nanny shop and clinging onto the vanity that every church must own a university doesn’t make much business sense.

Not in ACU’s current form, structure or profile. Outsourcing the hostels is a good thing.

The vice chancellor’s frustration says something about his style of administration as it does about the attitude of the owners of the school, students and faculty and, perhaps too, about the whole process of recruitment/management of faith-based private universities in Nigeria

But the school cannot outsource the hostels and at the same time be responsible for rent collection and a slew of purse-draining maintenance every semester.

Why not review the contract or find competent property managers to handle the problem?

For some time now, Asaju has had a running battle with the students, perhaps not unconnected with his hands-on approach going back to his days as ASUU chairman at the Lagos State University.

About two years ago, ACU students threw trash and water bags at him when he personally intervened in a students’ dispute. And now, helicopter parenting has taken things to a boiling point.

The vice chancellor’s frustration says something about his style of administration as it does about the attitude of the owners of the school, students and faculty and, perhaps too, about the whole process of recruitment/management of faith-based private universities in Nigeria.

Most members of the faculty, especially at the top, are drawn from inside where loyalty and servile obedience are prioritised over competence and capacity.

These schools need to open up the space and draw talents, even if they’re from Buddhist monks. Some of the best schools in the world have faith-based roots, but they have outgrown that parochial base to become global centres of knowledge and learning, attracting the best in students and faculty and competing for resources.

Asaju is treating the school like an Anglican missionary, which is fine. But can he face the owners, the Anglican Church, and tell them that if they are not going to provide funding, they must let him emplace an academic model that works, even if it means stepping on big ecclesiastical toes?

Facing the parents and lashing out at the students is just a small part of fixing the problem. The vice chancellor must also have the marbles to look at his employers in the face, tell them what needs to be done to fix the system and be prepared to take a walk if they refuse to listen.

Written by Azubuike Ishiekwene

Mr Azubuike Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview Magazine. He was a former Executive Director of Punch Newspapers and also a former Group Managing Director of LEADERSHIP Group based in Abuja, Nigeria. Azu is the author of The Trial of Nuhu Ribadu: A riveting story of Nigeria's anti-corruption war.

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