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PhD student’s appeal over dismissal crumbles

PhD student’s appeal over dismissal crumbles

A PhD degree in Law student at the University of Dar es Salaam, Dr Jean-Bosco Ngendahimana, has lost the bid to challenge the decision of the Senate, which discontinued him from pursuing studies for examination irregularities.

This follows the decision of the Court of Appeal, to dismiss with costs the appeal under which Ngendahimana, the appellant, had lodged against the decision of the High Court, which had ruled in favor of the country’s giant University, the respondent, on the matter.

In their judgment delivered recently, Justices Augustine Mwarija, Patricia Fikirini and Paul Kihwelo said, “We find no merit in the appeal. Consequently, we dismiss it in its entirety with costs.”

Before the High Court, the appellant had applied for an order of certiorari to quash the decision of respondent’s Senate of January 9, 2014, which discontinued him from studies and an order of mandamus compelling the respondent to confer him a PhD degree in Law.

During a hearing of the appeal, the counsel for the appellant had submitted that at the time of discontinuation of the appellant from studies, the respondent did not have clear rules on plagiarism, which was punishable by the university regulations as it is now.

He argued that there was no clear charge filed against the appellant and no investigation was carried out or report issued to enable him to give defense as required under rules of natural justice, thus he was condemned and adjudged on mere allegations of the possibility of plagiarism.

When determining the appeal, the justices addressed the question of the availability of plagiarism rules, saying the University Senate had the rules, as could be evidenced by several documentary exhibits that were tendered during the hearing of the matter before the High Court.

“There was in place clear regulations dealing with acts of academic dishonesty, which include plagiarism when the appellant was discontinued. We, therefore, do not find merit in (his) complaint that the respondent did not have clear rules of plagiarism at the time of his discontinuation,” they said.

As to the question of fair hearing, the justices noted that the right to be heard is one of the fundamental constitutional rights as it was stated in some landmark cases, which stressed that a party does not only have the right to be heard but to be fully heard.

“We hasten to state that in the instant appeal the respondent’s counsel is undeniably right to argue that the appellant was made aware of the charges levied against him and that the appellant was afforded the right to be heard including the right to appeal,” they said.

Before penning down, the justices pointed out that courts cannot compel colleges or universities to confer or grant an academic award. The minimum that courts can do is to direct colleges and universities to comply with existing academic machinery.

“The very purpose of which is to allow academic freedom and advance the course of academic excellence and the integrity of the examination process,” they said.

The appellant was a candidate at the University of Dar es Salaam, School of Law (UDSL), pursuing a PhD in Law under the sponsorship of Tanzania-German Center for Eastern African Legal Studies (TGCL) and jointly supervised by Prof Chris Maina and the late Dr Sengondo Mvungi (supervisors).

On July 2, 2013, the appellant successfully defended his PhD thesis titled ‘The Impact of Regional Integration on Human Rights Protection in Africa’. The Viva-Voce examination panelists passed the appellant subject to minor corrections and revisions to the appellant’s thesis.

The appellant was then required to work on the corrections and submit six copies of the error-free thesis within six months for the degree award, which the appellant complied with within a month and was given an error-free letter from his supervisors.

As was the practice for all doctoral theses written under the auspices of TGCL, the appellant was required to submit a soft copy of his PhD thesis to Prof Unlike Wanitzek the TGCL Project Leader for review purposes before publication in TGCL Research Series.

It was in the course of the review process that Prof Woodman, who was commissioned by the TGCL to review the appellant’s thesis, dis- covered a possible case of academic dishonesty involving the appellant and reported the matter to the TGCL Project Leader, who relayed the information to the respondent.

The respondent then put its machinery of academic quality assurance in high gear. Initially, a preliminary investigation was conducted by the Department of Public Law of UDSL, where the candidate belonged.

It is stated that the department confirmed the existence of prima facie evidence of academic plagiarism on the part of the appellant which if proved amounted to academic dishonesty contrary to the respondent’s Regulations and Guidelines for Postgraduate Programmes.

The department reported this matter to the Dean UDSL, who also reported the matter to the Director of Postgraduate Studies. Subsequently, the graduation of the appellant was withheld pending the determination of the allegations of academic dishonesty or examination irregularity.

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