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“Changing the guard” at Mbeya University of Science and Technology: An opportunity to underscore the Vice Chancellor’s responsib

AT Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the British Monarch in London, there is a daily event that takes place at certain specified hours; which is popularly known as “changing of the Guard”.

It refers to the colorful ceremony which signifies the moment when one group of soldiers guarding the entrance to Buckingham Palace, is replaced by another group. But the words “changing of the Guard” can also be used on other appropriate occasions; such as the one that relates to the ceremony of replacing one leader of an institution with another. 

One such ceremony was held yesterday, 27th February, 2019, at the Mbeya University of Science and Technology, to which I had been invited to participate in my official capacity as Chancellor of that University. 

My attendance at that event gave me the welcome opportunity to revisit, and to make some reflections on the important matter of the Vice-Chancellor’s responsibilities in the matter of administrative decision-making.

Being a former Vice-Chancellor myself, and now having been upgraded to Chancellor; these thoughts came naturally to my mind; but also because, purely coincidentally, during that same period the oldest University Institution in East Africa, that is Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, was in the middle of a debilitating, month-long strike which had been mounted by that university’s teaching staff, and fully supported by all the university staff associations, namely the Administrative Staff Association, the Academic Staff Association, and the Support Staff Association. 

The teaching staff had been on strike from January 18th 2019, reportedly in protest against the Vice Chancellor’s decision to suspend three staff Association leaders, namely the Chairman of the Administrative staff Association, its Secretary General, plus the Chairman of the Academic staff Association. 

They had been separately suspended allegedly “on grounds of indiscipline and incitement of staff, with a view to making the Institution ungovernable”. 

The strike had completely paralyzed the University’s operations, which was very unfortunate.

Makerere University is also my own Alma mater, from which I graduated with a Honours Bachelor’s degree in 1960, at a time when it was known as “The University College of East Africa”, affiliated to London University. This connection is what explains my continuing interest in the affairs of that university. 

But that notwithstanding, I fully realize that the relevance of that ‘far away’ Makerere University lecturers’ strike to the ‘change of guard’ ceremony at the Mbeya University of Science and Technology, still needs justification, which I will attempt to provide in the paragraphs which follow below.

The Vice-Chancellor’s administrative decisions.

The sole purpose of the ceremony which was held at Mbeya University of Science and Technology was to facilitate the transfer of leadership functions and responsibilities, from one Vice-Chancellor to another. It is, or should be, a well-known fact, that one of the routine leadership function of any Vice-Chancellor, is to make administrative decisions, mostly relating to the welfare of the members of the relevant University community, namely the staff and students. 

Thus, any ‘injudicious’ decision made by the Vice Chancellor, may produce some entirely unexpected harmful results, such as those which were being experienced at Makerere University at that particular time.

Therefore, since in Mbeya we were installing a new Vice Chancellor into office, that is when I saw the need to draw attention to this area of the Vice-Chancellor’ responsibilities, in relation to making routine administrative decisions. 

I thought that this would be a useful and necessary reminder to the incoming holder of that office, who was being installed at that ceremony. And that is precisely what influenced the direction of my investiture speech as Chancellor of that university.

The focus of my investiture speech.

With my mind heavily loaded with the nagging background of the problems which had been created by the Makerere University Vice-Chancellor’s administrative decision referred to above, plus the recollections of my own ‘narrow escape’ from similar harm which could have been caused to the University of Dar es Salaam, as a direct result of a similar decision which I had made when I was Vice-Chancellor of that university in the 1970s, I so crafted my investiture speech in a way that would enable me to allude to the matter of the Vice Chancellor’s grave responsibility in making administrative decisions. 

Thus, my presentation purposely included references to my own past experiences in relation to this particular issue, as reproduced below. “. . . As we have already been made aware, we are gathered here this morning, for the purpose of participating in the valediction ceremony for the out-going Vice-Chancellor, Professor Joseph Msambichaka, and the investiture of the in-coming Vice-Chancellor, Professor Aloys Ntaturo Mvuma. 

In Kiswahili, this act is aptly described as “kupokezana kijiti cha Uongozi”.

There is therefore no doubt at all, that this is a very joyful occasion for all of us who are assembled here. And, for that reason, we owe immense gratitude to the Almighty God, for his kindness in having availed us this opportunity to witness this magnificent event.

Thus, if I may be allowed to digress a little, I wish to openly disclose, that I am actually feeling a slight ‘pang of jealousy’, at the thought that the in-coming Vice- Chancellor, Professor Aloys Mvuma, is today enjoying ‘something special’, which I myself missed in precisely similar circumstances when I was appointed Vice- Chancellor of the University of Dar es salaam many decades ago. 

This little jealousy is hard driven by the fact that in my case, there was no such impressive investiture ceremony. All that happened was that, having been buttressed by the receipt of my appointment letter, I just walked into my office, and started working”!

That was intended only as a ‘warm-up’ humorous introduction, after which I went on to explain that this was so because on that occasion, the circumstances were totally different, in the sense that we were inaugurating an entirely new university, the first of its kind in the history of this country. 

Hence there was no out-going Vice Chancellor, whom we could decorate with valedictory speeches at a formal ceremony like this one.

In the matter of transferring leadership functions and responsibilities.

Thereafter, I proceeded to talk about the more substantive matters regarding the Vice-Chancellor’s leadership functions and responsibilities, and said the following:- “ It is therefore appropriate, on such an occasion, to exchange ideas regarding this matter of the Vice Chancellor’s leadership responsibilities. 

On my part, I would like to take this opportunity to share very briefly with my audience, my own personal experiences in that area, which I was privileged to acquire from my direct exposure to the actions and teachings of the father of our nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere”.

I then decided that the most relevant aspect for this particular occasion would be that of the Vice Chancellor’s ‘Administrative decision-making functions’ which I presented as follows:- 

The need to make judicious decisions. 

In order to make it attractive, I told them the story of my private tuition that I received from Mwalimu Nyerere on this subject, which he delivered to me on that blessed day when he called me into his office to inform me of the decision he had taken, of appointing me to the position of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam. 

If I may just paraphrase his ‘nuggets of wisdom’, he said the following: “You are of course aware, based on your substantial experience in Administration, that most administrative decisions are normally made by the relevant leaders, acting alone in their respective offices. And in your new responsibilities at the university, you will be making a variety of administrative decisions, mainly relating to the welfare of the university community, that is to say, the staff and the students. 

Now listen: my advice to you is this, that before you finally make any such decision, you should first satisfy yourself that, in the unlikely event of your decision being challenged by the stakeholders, you will have good enough reasons to be able to successfully defend you decision publicly”.

Thereafter, I went on to tell the story of the difficult challenge that I myself had received in relation to a decision I had made, as follows:- 

“And indeed, as fate would have it, I personally underwent a serious practical test relating to this particular teaching. It was during my first year of leadership at the University of Dar es Salaam, and I was sitting alone in my office on that fateful day, when I made the decision of suspending a student, who was also the President of the Students’ government, one Akivaga from Kenya. 

Unexpectedly, this decision immediately raised complaints from members of the Academic Staff Association (UDASA), who demanded an explanation from me, regarding the reasons for that student’s punishment. I of course listened and humbly responded to their demand. 

It has been wisely said that “humility makes one a more effective leader”. Thus, on the appointed day, I dully appeared before a full assembly of members of the said Academic Staff Association, whereat, I carefully gave my explanation. I was thereafter allowed to leave, to enable the meeting to freely deliberate on my presentation. 

I was subsequently informed that the said meeting had agreed that the student was rightly punished, and that there was no justification for interfering with the Vice Chancellor’s decision. Mr Akivaga therefore served the full term of his suspension”.

This story serves to illustrate the basic point, namely that there is a real possibility for the Vice-Chancellor’s administrative decision to be challenged by the relevant stakeholders.

It also underscores the need for him to be always prepared to defend any such decision publicly, say before an assembly of stakeholders who normally, will be genuinely interested only in hearing the proverbial “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” regarding the relevant issue. 

Postscript: The Chancellor’s dedicated prayer. 

The English word “MUST” is always a ‘command’ word. For example, if you are commanded to carry out a given task, that task must be done and accomplished. But the word “MUST” is also the acronym for one magnificent University in Tanzania, known as ‘Mbeya University of Science and Technology (MUST)’. 

By implication therefore, this university is ‘commanded’ to succeed in achieving its declared mission and vision. Thus, we, the stakeholders, must cultivate the requisite will, and determination, to succeed in doing so. It is for that noble purpose that we now dedicate the following prayer:

“We fervently beseech thee, our heavenly Father, the Almighty God, through your divine power to grant us, the stakeholders of this distinguished university, the requisite will and determination to succeed in carrying out the tasks which our nation has entrusted upon us, of undertaking to achieve the goals which are set out in this university’s declared mission and vision. Graciously hear our prayer, and grant us the requisite will and determination to achieve the desired goals, plus the strength to work diligently in pursuit of that noble objective. Amen”.

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Author: PIUS MSEKWA

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