Nawangwe tells Mak deans to read epitaph of banned forum

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Nawangwe tells Mak deans to read epitaph of banned forum
Prof Barnabas Nawangwe

MAKERERE | Makerere University Vice-Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe will not walk back on his decision to ban the Deans' Forum.

Prof Nawangwe says Makerere University is governed in accordance with the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act (UOTIA) and that any academic and administrative association or organs must be defined by the law.

"All the academic and administrative organs or staff associations are either defined in the UOTIA or established by a statute of the University Council, the only body mandated to do so by law," he said.

The vice-chancellor, who was on June 11 responding to deans and principals at the institution, said the Deans' Forum is not one of the organs established by UOTIA or by a statute of the University Council

"The Deans' Forum, therefore, has no legal backing and hence is illegal," Prof Nawangwe said decisively.

On May 29, Prof Nawangwe unilaterally suspended the Deans' Forum citing complaints about its legality.

The decision, just days before a retreat by the deans at which he was to be chief guest, threw the university into a mini-turmoil, with the Deans' Forum stressing that it was not an organ of the university and did not pretend to be one.

The forum, led by Dr Arthur Tugume, dean of the School of Biosciences, said theirs is an internal informal academic leaders' network, just like numerous other fora and networks in the university.

They cited similar associations such as Professors' Forum, Principal Investigators' Forum, Academic Leaders' Forum, among others.

But Prof Nawangwe told the Nile Post that there is also nothing like Academic Leaders Forum, "but I know that there is a WhatsApp group called Mak Academic Leaders".

"What is the Principal Investigators Forum? I have not heard of it. It might also be a WhatsApp group of principal investigators, just like there is a WhatsApp group called Professors Forum," he said.

"Basically these are WhatsApp groups and not formal organisations."

The vice-chancellor said in any case none of the said associations are formal organisations with constitutions and they have no role in governance and management of the university.

Prof Nawangwe, however, sidestepped demands that he explains the exact reasons for banning the Deans' Forum.

In his May 29 letter, he had indicated receiving complaints about the legality of the forum he himself opened in 2019. He did not, however, say who had complained or the specifics of the complaint.

The deans last week asked that Nawangwe avail them the "complaints" that he had received regarding the legality of the Forum.

"Where the Deans' Forum is found to be illegal, to request you to avail us the reasons for that position, and specifically the provisions of any laws of Uganda or Makerere University policies/regulations that the Forum activities could be in breach of," the deans said.

However, in his response, the vice-chancellor chose to ignore the demands that he goes into the specifics of the allegations.

He also appeared to ignore the statement that the legal basis of the Deans' Forum is enshrined in Article 29 (1) (e) of the Constitution of Uganda - which guarantees to everyone the freedom to associate including the freedom to form and join associations.

Prof Nawangwe only stuck to UOTIA.

Last week, the Joint Staff Associations demanded that the vice-chancellor rescind the suspension and check his 'suspension attitude'.

"We demand that you rescind your impugned suspension of the Deans' Forum," the joint staff said in their terse June 4 letter.

"And that you refrain from attitudes and actions that are prejudicial to the fundamental human rights and academic freedoms of members of the Makerere University community."

With the vice-chancellor ignoring the demands to explain the complaints and sticking to citing the UOTIA, it appears lik the Deans Forum is hanging by the epitaph.

The university deans will have to find another way to promote academic excellence through collective action, capacity building and harnessing each other's capabilities, experiences and best practices."

The joint staff say the vice chancellor had taken the decision to suspend a forum he himself inaugurated in 2019 over "mere complaints by people that you did not specify".

The university deans and principals were due to attend a training retreat from June 6-7 under their academic umbrella, whose overall aim is to promote academic excellence through collective action, capacity building and harnessing each other's capabilities, experiences and best practices.

The joint staff said these associations contribute greatly to the university's vision and are rightly protected by Article 29 of the Constitution of Uganda.

"The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (1995) as amended does not cloth you with any powers to deny Article 29, and you must not treat the Deans' Forum differently from similar associations like Makerere Academic Leaders' Forum and Professors' Forum, of which you are a member," the letter says.

To contribute to the university's work and to realise their full potential, they added, staff and students depend on assurance that exercising their freedom of association and conscience will not lead them into conflict with management.

But the suspension of the Deans' Forum, recent stance on examination an end of semester examination from the School of Law, among others, "inevitably deprive the staff and students of this assurance".

"Such actions, even if eventually vacated leave indelible scars of self-censorship, to the detriment of staffs' and students' productivity," they said.

Nawangwe suspended the Deans' Forum when he was scheduled officiate at the opening on June 6, according to Dr Arthur Tugume, dean of the School of Biosciences.

"Pending resolution of the legality of this forum, all activities of the Forum are hereby suspended," he wrote on Wednesday, May 29.

Prof Nawangwe on Wednesday said the Forum had outlived its usefulness.

"The Dean’s Forum is an internal matter," he told Nile Post. "It is not in the law. It was launched by me and its usefulness has expired."

Dr Tugume told Nile Post that the developments were "quite interesting" given the objectives and purpose of the Deans' Forum.

The Forum, which brings together Deans from 29 schools of Makerere, has its origins in the series of training and sensitisation workshops organised for academic leaders by former Deputy VC for Academic Affairs, Dr Umar Kakumba, and Directorate of Research and Graduate Training, starting in mid-2019.

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