The Vice Chancellor of the University of Buea, UB, Dr. Nalova Lyonga has insisted that membership into the University of Buea Students’ Union is not automatic. This has been the bone of contention between UB administration and executive members of UBSU, following a ban by the Vice Chancellor on the forceful collection of dues by UBSU.
At the close of the orientation and academic week, the UB VC, in this exclusive interview with The Post, reiterated that membership into UBSU is not obligatory and no student should be forced into it. Among other things, she talks about her relationship with the former VC, Professor Vincent Titanji. She also promised to deal with sexual harassment in UB, saying it is an abuse. Read on!
From Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Teaching, Professionalisation and Development of Information & Communication Technologies to the Vice Chancellor of UB, how are you finding your new job?
I’m enjoying it. The areas that I am intervening have increased. It is not a problem. It’s really not new. Most of the programmes are familiar. I have to spend a few sleepless nights to get all the files done. It is fine, despite some few stubborn kids that I have on campus.
Looking at the tight schedule you have been going through in recent months, were you aware that this is the kind of atmosphere that awaited you?
I think so! My ambition is to take UB a notch up from where we were; reinforcing research, teaching at the undergraduate level and improve the performances of our students. We know that we are faced with a generation that does not like to read. And what do we do to improve the performance? I knew that there are lots of things we’re going to do. We’re busy on campus to ensure everybody who comes into UB must know what they have come to do. The university is not a place for people to make a home for more than three years.
What kind of UB did you inherit from your predecessor?
I inherited a good UB. There was no problem with that. The former Vice Chancellor insisted on research. He is also a seasoned researcher and his Bio-technology unit is doing a lot for UB. I am happy and proud still having him work in UB. All I am doing is moving up from there.
There have been lots of actions in UB recently…
We’ve been doing online activities in UB for about three years. We’ve some experience in that but each time you come in, there is something new. This time, we added the MTN dimension on the online. All payments by students had to be done online – MTN Mobile Money. It was quite a challenge, but I thank the management of MTN for accepting to come with us, at somewhat short notice. We worked hard to synchronise the two systems.
Next year, when we shall be doing it, it will be easier than it has been. However, it is a very exciting experience. Our students are into the processes and there are no problems. I praise the freshmen because they have braved it; a lot of them have gone into the system and are able to do their registration without tears.
We’ve also been preparing for the new academic year. We had an Academic Planning Week with intensive workshops. We emphasised on teaching methods, especially towards the new recruits we had from the 25,000 job seekers the government recruited. We can’t just send them to the classrooms. We had to prepare them for the Anglo-Saxon styled university that we are.
For the existing lecturers, some old teaching methods had to be reviewed. It was an induction and refresher courses sessions. We also focussed on how to evaluate the student(s), how to use the classroom space and the issue of sexual harassment in the university milieu. We were looking inwards and to see the improvements we can do. Now we are ready to get into the classrooms, get the students to work and pass their examinations.
Observers of UB say the power of the VC stays in the VC’s office and not elsewhere. Where are we with the relationship between the UB administration and the UBSU?
There are a lot of misinterpretations of things. I don’t know if there is any limitation to the powers of the Vice Chancellor, especially when people come in with their own rules. UB is a community like any other and they must have their own rules and regulations.
I have very good relations with the students, there are many of them doing well but there is a group who call themselves student leaders, who do not want to toe the line. Recently, we had a slight disagreement about collecting union dues. They want to collect union dues in their own style; stop students anywhere in the campus and tell them show me your blue, red or black ticket…
It’s not correct. I will not tolerate that. They have gone ahead and printed tickets on their own and stopping students on campus to show evidence of having paid union dues. We discuss with them and tell them, these students are not yet members of the UB family; they don’t even know you, they don’t know what you are offering them, how do you think that they will have the confidence to offer you their money?
We told them we’ve designed the orientation week in a manner that the students and the academic staff will have the opportunity to address the students once the academic staff is done with academic activities. The student leaders will have 15-20 minutes to address the students, tell them what the union is all about, tell them the good things the union can do for them and urge them to voluntarily adhere to the union. Anybody who is a member of a union must pay dues, only after you have paid your dues that you become a member of a union.
You can’t compel anybody to be a member of a union. It is not automatic. There are other associations in UB besides UBSU. A student may want to belong to other associations; he/she may join that association, pay the dues and move on. Nobody or whatever student leaders should take upon themselves to force students to be a member of a union. These student leaders went to the extent of stopping a CRTV live broadcast on campus.
That’s not done! There are certain things that we will not allow on the UB campus. Collecting dues, yes! Nobody has a quarrel with that. That’s why we put them on orientation, talking with their teachers, we didn’t make any distinction. The teachers talk and the students take their cue. After that, the students set up their tables and collect their dues. If the student leaders think that they are going to do it like hooligans, then we say no.
How have you been managing the situation on the ground?
We’ve no problems at all. We made them toe the line. The last orientation session by the Faculty of Science was very beautiful. The student leaders wrote down what they wanted to tell their peers and read it to them. That was beautiful. All we are asking for is order. Anybody who doesn’t like order will have a problem in UB. UB has to continue the way it should be. We’re working as a community, we need to discuss, arrive at what is good for the community.
What does the text from the Ministry of Higher Education say about student union dues in UB?
The Minister says clearly in Article 10 of the text; every student has the obligation to pay his/her membership dues. The emphasis is on MEMBERSHIP DUES. What is membership due? It means a member pays the dues of an association in which he or she is part. You can’t pay dues to an association in which you do not belong. This is what the students have to understand.
In Article 23 of same document, the Minister says that a student may belong to an association recognised by a State institution. When I asked a student leader, what do you understand by this? He told me that MAY means MUST. I don’t know anybody who has studied English who will ever understand that MAY means MUST. The student was talking in front of about five of his Professors in one of the orientation sessions, trying to enlighten them (the professors) about the text.
I told them that there is no contradiction about those two articles. The Minister is saying if you want to join the union or any other association, please; pay the dues of that union or association. But if you do not belong, then you don’t pay. That’s what we’re saying. If the students are brandishing the Ministerial text, then they should read it very well. If they don’t understand it, we will get them to understand.
UB is styled from the Anglo-Saxon tradition, are the intrinsic values of that tradition respected?
There are lots of the Anglo-Saxon values that we’re putting in place. Top on them is dialogue. There is a lot of dialogue around here. I will call it the English-speaking tradition, which prides itself on dialogue. We have different levels that the UB administration and the students can hold that dialogue.
Beginning from the classroom itself; we have class leaders, who take attendance, right up to the departmental level, faculty level and to the central administrative level. These are all avenues for dialogue. That’s the goodness about the English-speaking tradition. There is a lot of debate and sometimes, we even abuse it. People just like polemics for the sake of arguing. We’re doing a lot of discussion out here.
We also have a lot of quality assurance, which is an integral part of the English-speaking tradition. We will continue to do that in UB. In UB, we believe in training the teachers. Most of the time, after the PhD, we simply move into the class. No! A PhD does not make a person a teacher. You have to be taught how to teach. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the learner in order that the learner must understand what is going on.
We believe that there should be freedom, that’s why we’re talking about sexual harassment. So many people want to use the power of the teacher. We have often told the student, don’t be afraid, if there is anybody who is holding you for any reason, report to the Academic Office. Then, it is not that teacher who will mark your paper, someone else will do it. We will always cross check. I am saying that if you are harassed in UB, then you like to be harassed
- Uneasy Calm Reigns At UB “From Regular Campus guards to Gendarmes” (lebs295.wordpress.com)