UNIVERSITY of Zimbabwe (UZ) vice-chancellor Professor Levi Nyagura, in the eye of a storm after the university controversially conferred First Lady Grace Mugabe with a doctor of philosophy degree, is accused of concentrating power in his office, destroying academic standards and freedoms while reducing the country’s leading institution of higher learning to a laughing stock.
UZ is now ranked number 39 out of 100 top universities in Africa. The latest ranking list is dominated by South African universities in the top 10.
Lecturers and professors at the university say Nyagura has over the years ruined the university’s vibrant academic culture as he has assumed authoritarian control, a surprising development considering his track record as an academic.
Nyagura, whom staff say has grown too close to the political establishment over the years, was first appointed as vice-chancellor of UZ in January 2003. His contract was extended for a five-year term in 2008. He is now serving a third term which expires in December 2017 after his contract was controversially extended last year, becoming the only vice-chancellor to go beyond two terms since the university, with its origins in 1952, opened its doors in 1957.
Nyagura, a mathematician, is a highly qualified and respected academic who has been an external examiner, although his image has been tarnished by his poor administration and the controversial decision to award Grace a doctorate.
He has completed several research projects and has many publications to his credit.
He has also written many research reports and instructional material in the field of education.
Nyagura is the chairman of the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education Committee on Accreditation and Quality Assurance and was pro-vice-chancellor of UZ between October 1998 and December 2002, among other things.
However, spokesperson for the UZ Student Representative Council (SRC), Ian Chawanda, said student leaders have been frustrated in their efforts to engage the administration on issues to do with welfare and freedoms, including academic freedoms.
“Even the SRC is hardly recognised. The administration does not appreciate our role and there are no consultations when decisions which affect students are made. We have never even met the vice-chancellor; we don’t really know him. Our efforts to meet him have been frustrated because of bureaucratic red-tape at the institution.”
Lectures also said Nyagura had allowed politicians to unduly influence his administration while also giving them room to abuse the mature entry process to enable them to get qualifications to boost their profiles.
A UZ senior lecturer said: “He is now very close to political administrators and seems to have adopted their culture of suppressing robust engagement and debate which should be synonymous with any university worth its salt. Academic freedoms, academic debate and academic enterprise have been annihilated by his leadership style.
“He has taken away basic freedoms from students, they are not allowed to have demonstrations, freedom of expression has been taken away from them and they can no longer engage robustly with the administration on academic issues and matters to do with their welfare.”
Another lecturer said Nyagura has been operating like a bully with an anti-intellectual approach and intolerance.
“The university has been badly run and procedures are being flouted; the awarding of a doctorate to Grace is evidence of that. The academic committee did not sit to assess her and the university council has not done anything about it because it is just there for window-dressing,” said the lecturer.
“Since the term of the Ambassador (Don) Mothobi-led council expired in March last year, Nyagura has been literally running the affairs of the university with little or no consultation. The council that is there, led by Dr Washington Mbizvo who should be an ex-officio member, hardly meets and is there just for cosmetic purposes. “This has resulted in Nyagura operating without checks and balances, hence the fraudulent awarding of a doctorate to Grace.”
Another lecturer at the university said the fact that the university council was moribund was unfortunate as it had resulted in Nyagura unilaterally running the show.
“Nyagura has effectively become the policymaker and policy-implemented instead of him being a policy-implementer,” he said.
According to the University Act, the executive authority of the university should be vested in the council. The chancellor, vice-chancellor and pro-vice-chancellors are supposed to be ex-officio members.
The council is charged with employing key staff at the university among them pro-vice-chancellors, the registrar, bursar, librarian and academic staff as well as the administrative staff and other employees.
Nyagura, however, yesterday denied unilaterally running the university and said the university council was meeting regularly.
“Council meets quarterly and it has met three times this year. It will meet for the fourth time this year. Maybe the people who told you are ignorant of the fact that it meets only four times and want it to meet every week,” he said.
He also denied stifling debate and academic freedom, insisting robust engagement is a common feature at committee meetings. “The university functions on a committee system and these committees meet religiously. They observe their scheduled meeting dates according to the dates in the diary, so to say there is no debate is rubbish. When the committees sit, people don’t go there to listen to a pastor or minister of religion speaking to them, they engage,” he said.
“Of course, where you have 4 000 members not everyone is involved, there are representatives. Committees are not rallies where everyone is invited.”