Saturday, July 2, 2022

UB’s PhD-less professors irk staff members

The reversal of a rule that only lecturers who hold a PhD can be promoted to the position of associate professor is causing a lot of displeasure among some University of Botswana staff members. In June 2008, the UB Council approved a document titled “Criteria for the Appointment, Promotion and Review of Academic Staff” in terms of which one had to hold a doctoral degree to be appointed a professor.

At the time, Professor Bojosi Othogile was UB’s vice chancellor but three years later, the rules changed under the vice chancellorship of Professor Thabo Fako. At its meeting on June 10, 2011, the Council decided that the requirement of a doctorate as a minimum qualification for appointment to the position of professor should be abolished. As a result, UB now has professors who don’t hold a doctorate. The explanation tendered by UB’s Director of Public Affairs, Mhitshane Reetsang, is that it is perfectly legitimate to promote highly competent lecturers who don’t hold doctoral degrees to the position of professor.

“UB considers competence and relevant expertise when such appointments are made,” she said. Indeed the 2008 guidelines themselves say that individuals who distinguish themselves as outstanding scholars can progress from senior lecturer to associate professor. Even the aggrieved concede this point, adding themselves that a senior lecturer can be elevated to associate professor after writing books whose quality of scholarship is many levels above that of a doctoral thesis. However, the main problem, as one aggrieved lecturer explained, is that someone who failed their PhD but has been promoted to associate professor would, in terms of the rules of academia, be required to supervise PhD candidates.

“How do you supervise someone doing a programme that you failed yourself? The end result is that UB will end up with two streams of professors: those who hold PhDs and those who don’t,” this lecturer says. At least one professor promoted under the revised rules is said to have failed their PhD. To counter, the point about exemption the aggrieved say that an exceptional lecturer would not fail their PhD. While she conceded that “it would be ideal” to have a PhD candidate being supervised by a PhD-holding professor, Reetsang went on to state that lecturers “don’t work in isolation” but as a team.

She added that it would be a mistake to disregard an individual’s competence when candidates are considered for professorship. “At the end of the day, expertise and competence are more crucial,” she said. The 2008 document, whose standards are similar to those of the new Botswana International University of Science and Technology, had also recommended a doctorate as a minimum qualification for appointment of academic staff to the rank of lecturer and for promotion to other ranks. It further prescribed that the designation for staff members without such qualification be Assistant Lecturer. Under the new post-2011 order, both guidelines were revised.

The memorandum following the June 10 meeting reads: “The University should revert to the requirement of an appropriate Masters Degree as the minimum qualification for entry into all academic ranks; the rank of Assistant Lecturer should, as a consequence of the above, be One possible explanation for this about-face, a UB source says, is that most citizens would have been downgraded and this would not have not have augured well for citizen empowerment.

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