Grace Mugabe’s PhD: It’s not over until it’s over

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Grace Mugabe’s PhD: It’s not over until it’s over

The Herald

Mrs Mugabe graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2014

Mrs Mugabe graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2014

Hildegarde The Arena
Thousands of hearts of the alumni of the University of Zimbabwe must be bleeding now, including those of former and current faculty. They are wondering what is going on at this pioneer institution of higher education that opened its doors in 1952. This year, it is celebrating 66 years of existence.

Although the first students and lecturers were mostly white, they set up a strong foundation that saw the University of Zimbabwe turning into the country’s most cherished tertiary institution.

It held the monopoly, until April 8, 1991, when the National University of Science and Technology opened its doors to students in Bulawayo, and thereafter more universities, both State and private continued to be established, in order to cater for the growing educational needs of the rising student population.

Notwithstanding the cut-throat competition, the UZ stood its forte – maintaining international standards in teaching, research and publishing and at the same time remaining principled and producing hundreds of outstanding graduates from undergraduate to post-graduate levels

Their students also stood their ground in international universities that included Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom; Yale, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others in the United States of America. On the continent, it competed equally with institutions such as Fort Hare, UNISA in South Africa, University of Ibadan in Nigeria, Makerere University in Uganda and others.

A graduate from the University of Zimbabwe was well respected and considered in other institutions around the world because the UZ was serious about producing best products. So too its lecturers. Professor Gordon Chavunduka must be turning in his grave since he became the first black lecturer to be appointed Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. He eventually became a Vice Chancellor.

He must be wondering what happened to the foundation that he and his colleagues had set, if the lecturers in the Department of Sociology where he worked for many years are now being described as “ignorant Messrs and doctors” with no academic capacity to supervise a PhD student.

It is also surprising that at a time when the new Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education Professor Amon Murwira is busy working out a higher education system that suits the 21st century needs, he has to be distracted by an issue regarding the former First Lady Grace Mugabe’s contentious reading of a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the Department of Sociology.

Mrs Mugabe (Ntombizodwa Grace Marufu) graduated in 2014. Members of the public feel that the story is damaging the university’s regional and international ranking and that of its faculty. Former, current and future students lose confidence in an institution that has produced a critical mass of human resources for Zimbabwe and other countries for so many decades.

The million-dollar question is that, there are standards used throughout the education system, why then should it be a problem if lecturers question the issuance of a PhD degree to Mrs Mugabe?

We understand that they might have kept quiet then because she was the First Lady, but what is wrong now with their questioning the procedure used, especially if it might have deviated from the Department of Sociology’s norms and standards?

Yesterday, The Herald and H-Metro led with the story, with this publication headlining it, “Nyagura blasts dept over Grace Mugabe PhD”, while our sister publication said “Revoke Grace’s PhD”.

The Department of Sociology Board is arguing that the awarding of the degree “constitutes academic corruption”, and have since engaged legal assistance from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). The latter has written to Prof Nyagura, raising the Department of Sociology’s concerns.

The letter to the UZ Vice Chancellor reads in part, “The candidate earned the degree without the knowledge and involvement of the Sociology Department Board, from the application, acceptance, supervision, examination, to the awarding of the degree.

“The Sociology Department Board has never approved anything in respect of the candidate’s research or thesis.

“The members of the Sociology Department Board were shocked at the news that the candidate was awarded the degree by the Sociology Department . . .”says the letter to Prof Nyagura. These are standard issues dealt with by academic boards, the world over.

Is the UZ Vice Chancellor saying that these issues should not have been interrogated?

Universities are also knowledge centres, and their business is to question in order to create new ideas.

We also question why the university employed “ignorant Messrs and doctors”.

Who are they teaching and why are they being paid if they are reduced to such levels that become cannon fodder in the public domain?

What are parents with children in that department thinking now, if they read that their children are being lectured by “ignorant Messrs and doctors”?

What about the lecturers themselves, some of whom have been teaching, doing research and publishing in refereed journals since the late 1980s?

Was this the best way of safeguarding the university’s long-standing history and posterity, and not just that of the Department of Sociology?

There are too many questions that need answers, but the most important issue right now is to ensure that the UZ’s reputation is restored, for it does not need this negative publicity considering that students are now spoilt for choice locally, regionally and internationally.

This writer feels that instead of these epithets, the university would have taken the opportunity to educate the people on the importance of PhDs, qualifications that one needs to read for a PhD degree, the tests and measurements for PhDs and more public relations information.

If the Sociology Department Board has queries, the university surely has professional ways of addressing them, for these lecturers are what makes the university what it is. In 2017, an academic colleague would have the following footer from R Martinez in his emails: “History is written by the victors, and the victors determine whose dehumanisation is condemned and whose is quietly suppressed.”

This is a loaded statement that speaks into this issue and calling for sober minds in the tackling of the Ntombizodwa Grace Marufu PhD issue, for it’s not over until it’s over.

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