A seminar at the University of Botswana allowed its staff members to put John D. Holms in the firing line after emotions had run high due to the American’s critical evaluation of the university.
Last week, The Sunday Standard published an article by Holms, titled ‘When family ties bind African universities’. The offending article first appeared in the Chronicle, a US journal with professional news for academics.
Holms, who is a former Director of International Education and Partnerships at the university, argues that University staff members do not use their time wisely and therefore are not able to complete research work that would see them obtain higher positions and receive promotions. He also argued that the UB staff members use very little of their time in classes or in writing scholarly articles but, instead, travel unnecessarily to the villages for weddings and funerals.
University lectures did not shy away from expressing their opinion on what most of them felt was an article that was based on very little research.
The floor was open to everyone at the seminar and it did not take long for the first speaker, Prof. Arihunta, to take it to John Holms.
Arihunta questioned why African universities are categorized together, and why Holms categorized 54 countries by using one sample.
Arihunta then pointed out that they have American professors, the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice Chancellor, yet they too have indulged in tourist attractions outside of the capital city.
Arihunta summed up his views by implying that Holms could have made his claims and presented them whilst still a member of the UB staff.
“We are very cowardly whilst we are employed,” he said.
Another lecture, Dr. Selowane, dismissed the publication as having no clear foundation and evidence through studies.
“As Head of Department, my problem is trying to get lectures enough time to manage their teaching load,” she argued.
Whilst Prof. Mazembe’s opening remarks held no punches, (“Let me agree with you, it takes someone from outside to help us see ourselves.”), his detailed critique proved to be more of a systematic unbinding of Holms’ thesis.
Mazembe argued that the Performance Management System has had a visible impact on the university, adding that the Research Strategy has produced more centers of study within the institution.
Dr Gulubane, who studied in America, said there was no need to cite UB lecturers for leaving to attend to other engagements when the same happened in universities in the USA.
“It happens even in the US, where professors have three other jobs. They can leave for two weeks to Asia when they hear there’s a plane crash because they are involved in a relief organization,” she said.
Whilst Holms argues that his publication was written with the intent of sparking a conversation that would bring about critical thinking about university, it was not received in the same light by UB staff members.
But he stuck to his guns that there is truth in the observations he had made.
“I’m very sure there is validity to this thesis. I will challenge anybody if you want to put the facts on the table,” he declared.