Still smarting from its disrupted academic calendar as a result of a students protest against increased tuition fees, the Lagos State University, Ojo, is in the public space again: this time, it is for a wrong reason. Its Vice-Chancellor, John Obafunwa, disclosed recently that 19 PhDs it had awarded were deficient, leading to their withdrawal. The action followed a decision of the university’s senate based on a petition from one of the PhD recipients that the degree awarded to her was not actually what she applied for.
The petitioner, who received a PhD in Business Administration (Marketing), had registered for a doctorate in International Business. While some members of the university’s senate wanted the matter buried because of the odium it evokes, Obafunwa insisted on the contrary and stressed that such a step would do more damage to the system. We commend his forthrightness.
But his stance has not gone down well with some of his colleagues, both from within and outside the university. The larger Academic Staff Union of Universities has accused him of masterminding the withdrawal of the degrees as a punitive measure against some members of staff who had been in the trenches against his administration. The allegation provoked Obafunwa into granting interviews to practically all newspapers in the country to put the records straight.
In his lengthy narrative, he stresses, “The vice-chancellor has no power to award any degree, neither does he have power to withdraw any degree…Somebody in one of the senate meetings brought up the issue and it was very embarrassing. So we summoned the Dean in the Postgraduate School and Dean in the Faculty of Management Sciences, and demanded that all the PhDs that we awarded in the last five years be brought up.”
So, from one case, a can of worms was opened, producing 18 other tainted PhDs. This error is indefensible. Interestingly, these controversial doctorates came from business or management-related courses. Our deduction, therefore, is that something is inherently wrong in the Faculty of Management Sciences. The dent may not be on the PhDs alone.
A set of guidelines govern the pursuit of degrees. For higher degrees, course vacancies are published in national dailies and, increasingly, online; and students are invited to apply. It is also the tradition that no course of study at any levels begins without it being registered for by the student in the academic department offering it. And in the case of these PhDs, the process is more meticulous, of which the Postgraduate School of LASU has the records of each student. These early gatekeeping procedures should establish the point where things went off beam.
The VC has said that the “PhD Business Administration (Marketing) was never approved by the Senate in 2004.” As the body that approves academic programmes and awards degrees, if in the course of time, it discovered that a degree was wrongly awarded, it is within its competence to withdraw it.
Indeed, the quality of a degree defines a university. This is why degrees of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and other Ivy League institutions are most respected globally. Therefore, the authorities of LASU must go the whole hog in cleaning the system, which should include punishing those who brought this avoidable shame. A PhD earned through a rigorous academic study is a revered insignia of scholarship, the highest diadem a university offers. Any ivory tower worth its salt, therefore, should protect the integrity of the system leading to its conferment.
Unfortunately, the LASU PhD scandal is coming at a time when degrees from Nigeria universities are being reviled abroad because of falling standards. As a result, other Nigerian universities may share the international opprobrium this blunder undoubtedly generates. But this could be mitigated by the way LASU authorities deal with the elements that caused the system to break down.
This saga should be of interest to the university’s Visitor and Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola. Much more could be achieved if he empanels an enquiry into it. The institution, established 31 years ago, despite its giant strides, such as having one of the best law faculties in Nigeria at a time, has an unenviable record of being one of the most crisis-ridden academic environments in the country. Killings by students’ secret cult groups are rampant, just as disruptions of its academic calendar by students, ASUU members and non-academic staff and power tussles between VCs and vested interests are routine.
However, the university administration, students and ASUU have to build on the peaceful atmosphere prevailing on the campus after the Fashola administration reviewed downwards the hiked fees for which reason the students went on a prolonged strike.