The past few weeks have seen a shrill public debate about a decision by the University of Botswana authorities to ban political activity on campus.
We do not know what has happened for the university to come to this childish conclusion that by banning political activity on their campuses they will become a better place.
As we understand it, a university as an institution of higher learning is a place not just of research and learning but a place where ideas, be they social, economic or political, should be allowed to flow freely.
Banning such interactions would lead to the university carving itself out of the nation.
Carving themselves out of a society they pretend to serve will in no way make the university a better place.
We have watched in the last few years as quality and standards at the university plummeted.
Fewer and fewer graduates from the University of Botswana are employable.
Fewer and fewer of those can bring themselves to write a few grammatically correct sentences. We have every reason to be worried.
But we can hardly attribute the deteriorating quality and standards to politicization of the campus.
Rather, it is the lack of a deep enough politicization and socialization of the university into the fabric of the larger community the campuses are supposed to serve. The university has failed to keep touch with where the nation is heading, hence producing thousands and thousands of graduates that the economy does not need, disregarding those areas that the economy is clamouring for.
We simply do not accept the University’s diagnosis of what is wrong.
We doubt if their proposal will in anyway bring about a happy outcome.
Rather we think it is going to be counterproductive.
Intrusive meddling by authorities of the university into the political activities and choices of both students and their lecturers is a sure recipe to further make the University of Botswana one of the most irrelevant places and costliest to maintain in the country.
We doubt that is what the University council and executive management want.
New measures to depoliticize the university are set to make students even more unruly as they would attempt to circumvent these rules. Measures suggested by the university are going to expose students to all sorts of evils as they would have to go out of campus to participate in activities they would otherwise safely indulge in on campus.
The new proposals are set to further wreck the university, bringing about a new code of intolerance and lack of depth that would make teaching and research ÔÇô already at their lowest levels – to plummet even further.
To make matters worse, the new measures are set to engender a culture of voter apathy which everyone, including government that pays salaries at the university, has been fighting to stem. We expect the University of Botswana to assist the government on issues of national importance, like fighting voter apathy.
We want to emphasise that we respect the views of the university management.
We understand how fed up they have become with politics on campus; the lost time and disruptions it all causes.
Yet in all these, we differ totally with how they want to remedy the situation.
We think their action is not just akin to dictatorship but amounts to a big slide into darkness.
We know how too many of the university’s teachers are involved in the running of different political parties.
We know how too often these teachers use students as pawns in their grander political games. We know how too often working time is used in things that are not related to university work.
Yes we do not agree with many of the views held by these academics-cum party men and women.
We abhor many of their actions, but we think it is in keeping with the traditions of universities everywhere that there be a free flow, unhindered interactions of ideas.
It is only when there is free flow of ideas that we can expect such ideas to finally feed into those of us outside the university, especially given that university education in Botswana remains a privilege not enjoyed by a majority of our people.
While we think political rallies inside campuses should be well structured and less disruptive to the core aims and values of the university what we find immensely troubling is that the Vice Chancellor, his senior colleagues and the Council have had no courtesy to consult the key stakeholders who are the academic staff and students on their new proposals.
We urge the University of Botswana to reconsider their decision.