Pretentious scholarship in the country’s universities has reached new heights with the recent discovery of 100 self-acclaimed professors. These audacious academics had uploaded their curriculum vitae on the website of the National Universities Commission with a view to consummating their identity theft. The NUC Executive Secretary, Abubakar Rasheed, said the shocking discovery was made during the process of compiling a directory for professors.
As a result, at a strategy advisory committee meeting with vice-chancellors, the NUC told them to create desk officers to monitor such abuse in their various universities to ensure that only genuine professors go by the exalted title. Professorship is the highest academic honour in a university, accorded only to lecturers who have made outstanding contribution to knowledge through scholarly research and publications. Those so recognised in acclaimed universities are emblematic of intellectual distinction, highly respected by their colleagues, students and the larger society. But the aura that goes with the status is fast fading in Nigeria because of its bastardisation.
The global best practice towards becoming a professor is for the published works of a candidate for the post to be assessed by three chosen experts in a given field of study from outside the awarding university. Favourable recommendation from two out of the three assessors confirms the applicant’s suitability for the position. According to the NUC, the details of the updated version of the documents of these ivory tower fraudsters will be published before the end of this month. “The fight against fake professors is a collective responsibility,” Rasheed declared.
With the racketeering in courses’ accreditation in universities, this newspaper had, three years ago, advocated the creation of a data base for professors in all the universities. This forestalls the inclination of institutions to secure the NUC’s approval with fraudulently engaged professors, and those who purport to be so, from other universities, which they claim to be their bona fide faculty members. After the academic programmes had been accredited, the so-called professors disappear from the university’s nominal roll, while other academics recruited for the duplicitous scheme are sacked. The scam in one university in Enugu State a few years ago elicited serious protest from the victims sequel to the demand that their salaries, while the fraud lasted, be paid.
The abuse of appointments and promotions is so rampant that even some professorial elevations have had to be reversed in a number of universities. In 2017, a panel set up by the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, recommended that 28 professors be demoted: nine of such were billed to be reduced to Senior Lecturers; seven to Lecturer I and two to Lecturer II. One of the purported professors was said to have obtained a PhD before the first degree. This is most ridiculous! At the Federal University, Otueke, seven lecturers were downgraded because the appointments did not follow laid-down standards. The university’s local chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities said though its role is to champion its members’ cause, it was difficult to do so in the matter.
Crooked manoeuvres to the professoriate are a virus that is not restricted to the new universities. At one of the first generation universities, a noted professor was sacked for exposing a colleague who attained the hallowed position with questionable academic claims. The claims were nine journal articles and two book chapters, said to have been accepted for publication in 1995. But the papers were not published until the lid was blown off 18 years later. Professorial assessments are based on published papers, not on presumed accepted materials for publication. This puts a big question mark on the processes that led to the said promotion.
Just in October, the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, withdrew a PhD it had awarded to one of its lecturers, Peter Ekemezie, whom it was set to appoint as an associate professor. The university council sacked him; but for five years prior, it failed to act on the scandal that the man forged his first degree; his master’s degree was suspect, and it took him 14 months to complete his doctorate, instead of the prescribed minimum 36 months.
There are 174 universities in the country, comprising 43 owned by the Federal Government; 52 (states) and 79 privately-owned. The high number leads to a dearth of manpower, especially at senior levels, a crisis that undoubtedly goads junior lecturers to move to newly-established universities to assume senior positions or parade themselves as professors when they are actually not.
Ultimately, this phenomenon has corrosive effects on the quality of education and output. These fake professors’ identities should be made public, just as the universities that harbour them. Standards cannot rise above the quality of academics in any given university. This is why the NUC, whose responsibility includes guaranteeing quality assurance, should ensure that the affected universities descend heavily on these academic imposters. Active in the vineyard of intellectual deceit, these lecturers plagiarise, revise one article many times for serial publications and create phantom international journals with their cohorts offshore, through which their lowly-rated materials are published. In many cases, they are self-published authors helped by fringe publishing outfits.
With a retired professor now earning his last monthly salary as pension for life, and the age of retirement increased to 70, instead of the 65 years for non-professors, desperation to attain the status will increase. But government at the federal and state levels should sack vice-chancellors and university councils whose delinquencies in the performance of their statutory responsibilities aid false academic stardom. Private universities where the trend is rife should be sanctioned by withdrawing their accreditation.