A couple of weeks ago, we witnessed the University of Malawi being closed down indefinitely following disagreements between the students and the university administration. I have been following this case very carefully with keen interest because I love my university and my country. There have been a series of rebattle on the matter with both sides challenging its opponent in a court of law.
I personally did not like the whole process. I do not think education has to move like that: being propelled by injunctions and living under the dictation of the judiciary. No wonder our university still ranks low on the Top 100 Universities and Colleges in Africa and even worse enough, at times it does not appear there at all.
Today, I stumbled upon a document, on the social network, that has been drafted to resolve the indefinite closure of the University of Malawi. I find this document very unrealistic. It does not address the issues that led to the closure of the university. The document tries to alienate the issue of paramount significance which is the whole reason why the university closed down. Instead, it tries to position the students in an awkward situation by pushing them to abide by undisclosed "same conditions" by appealing to their will.
Even if this document says that it is binding for an individual student to confirm his/her willingness to resume classes under same conditions as the ones "at the beginning of the current academic year", it does not rule out the freedom to demonstrate dissatisfaction over the fairness of the unfairness. The freedom to express one's views over any thought or realm of reason is something that Malawi embraced even before democracy came. As much as I would not agree with every reason that the students were demonstrating for (and that is my right not to agree with them), I do not believe this single statement overwrites the freedom we stand for.
I assume that I have better arguments for not asserting to the validity of students' grievances but this form has no better authority to silence them hereafter. The whole reason why students are in the university is to try and find unifying ideas among the diverse rational premises when arguments like these arise. I am glad that it is the same University of Malawi that came out and stood for Academic Freedom a few years ago. That voice sent a signal that while the Government of that time was of the contrary view, the academia on other side had the reason enough to stand for the freedom enshrined in the clauses of the Constitution of Malawi by providing contra-arguments over the action of the State and Government at any point in time.
The greatest search of all time has been the search for unity in diversity. The early Greek philosophers were looking for the same and they invented the "uni-versity" (the academy) to allow for rationalization of diverse thoughts. I believe that the educated cannot be silenced by any particular statements of this kind. Currently, there are opposing ideas between the students and the council, and even within each school of thought there are also contrasting views. In this case, we need an independent but unifying argument to sort this out, not just silencing the converse thought. My belief is that at this time when the university system looks to be heading for ruin, we are lacking a higher authority who can come and provide a unifying position.
As an observer who was once a student in the same university, and as a firm believer of freedom of expression, I still believe that this form has no substance! The university needs a higher authority, a chancellor, to address this case. Unfortunately, without taking a political stance on the matter, it looks like currently the university has no chancellor. The unfair part is our university system imposes a political being as a chancellor, so in the end when I talk like this someone will presume that I am against some political individual. I have only stated a rational idea looking at how things are crumbling down in the face of the most highly respected person in the university. The fact is, in the diversity of ideas we require a unifying objective rational argument from a person charged with such authority of a chancellor.
I am not backing the student's position on the matter, neither am I siding with the Council; but I see a very big gap between the two subsystems and only a higher authority can provide a neutral but unifying position.