By Seedy Fofanah
Universities cannot achieve their potential nor fully contribute to the emerging knowledge-based society without academic freedom. Academic freedom is far from secure. Even colleges and universities in western democracies face subtle but significant challenges from privatisation and commercialisation of research and from the complexities of the information society.… Faculty members – the constituency most concerned about the mission and core values of the university – must remain vigilant if they don’t want to elude academic freedom.
A university qualifies to be called a university based on the quality and experience of its academic staff, its curricula and the free atmosphere. It provides for the pursuit of knowledge without any inhibitions. In Senegal, university lecturers like Professor Chiekh Anta Diop and Professor Abdoulaye Batchilly were teaching while serving as active leaders of political parties. Natural Science and Social Science are all sciences. Science is the study of the nature and characteristics of nature or society. No professor or lecturer can survive in University of the Gambia by selling the programmes of a given political party on a daily basis.
Foroyaa did caution the Chancellor of the University of the Gambia not to go beyond his statutory mandate of performing a ceremonial role when he made it abundantly clear that politics would not be allowed at the University. He pointed out that Political Science is a course in the curriculum of the University and that nobody can stop the teaching of politics in the school system. In actual fact, how could one teach the history of the independence of the Gambia without mentioning the role of political parties? In fact, Manifestoes and Constitutions of all political parties should be known to all Gambians, University students included.
Academic freedom is restricted at the UTG. Professors and Lecturers are allowed to do research in their discipline provided they express no political opinions. Lecturers at all levels are not permitted to deviate from official lesson plans. Political activity is discouraged on university campuses, where uniformed police, NIA’s and plainclothes security officers watch those who work and study at the UTG. Student organizations are permitted provided students refrain from involvement in any activity considered political in nature, but the limitations on freedom of speech for the press restrict the ability of academics to express views freely in classrooms. This leads to explosion and trial of Gumbo Ali Touray, a former Lecturer and Director of International Affairs and Information at UTG for giving false information to a public officer. The explosion and termination of the services of the following renowned Scholars at the UTG with likes of Dr.Lamin Sidibeh, Madam Almedia, Dr.Mariam Bouye, Foday Baldeh Dr. Fredrick Ozo the Nigerian, Madam Aka the Cameroonian, Prof. Samba Jobe, Prof. Lasana Keita, etc. With the intention of not having any rival in his appointed position, a position that should be occupied by election according to the UTG Conditions of Service.
Moreover, there is no faculty rights neither to mention the institutional autonomy at the University of the Gambia. Let’s take example of USA, the law of impetus for the 1915 Declaration was primarily to protect faculty from ideologically motivated attacks by trustees and administrators–that is, from within the university. By contrast, the cases from the 1950’s and 1960’s tended to involve governmental intrusions on academic freedom. Not surprisingly, there developed an emphasis on the freedom or autonomy of the university as an institution which is definitely lacking at the UTG. However, this law emphasis has continued in more recent Supreme Court cases involving challenges to an action, practice or policy of the institution rather than the rights of an individual faculty member. One possible exception to that trend is Regents of the University of Michigan v. Ewing.
In that case the Supreme Court unanimously rejected a student’s challenge to his dismissal from a joint undergraduate and medical program on the ground that it violated his right to due process. The decision to dismiss the student had been made after careful review by the faculty Promotion and Review Board and affirmed by the Executive Committee of the Medical School. Writing for the Court, Justice Stevens emphasized not only the Court’s “reluctance to trench on the prerogatives of state and local educational institutions and our responsibility to safeguard their academic freedom” but specifically on the role of the faculty.
The record unmistakably demonstrates, however, that the faculty’s decision was made conscientiously and with careful deliberation, based on an evaluation of the entirety of Ewing’s academic career. When judges are asked to review the substance of a genuinely academic decision, such as this one, they should show great respect for the faculty’s professional judgment. Plainly, they may not override it unless it is such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise professional judgment.
In conclusion, the role of UTG in national development is seriously being compromised. Jammeh is using UTG to promote his own political advantage. Prof. Muhammadou Kah is not serving the interest of the UTG or the national interest but in effect his own interest, the interest of his cronies and relatives. Kah has virtually turned the UTG into his own chattel, a university of “MBOKA” rather than a national university it is supposed to be.