Prof Nyagura must be held to account

UZ vice-chancellor Professor Levi Nyagura’s petulant outbursts last week in reaction to this paper’s queries regarding the foggy circumstances in which Grace Mugabe acquired her PhD was shocking and only served to arm the teeming ranks of his critic over the issue.

Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja

Nyagura, a respected professor in Mathematics with over 35 publications who chairs the UZ’s 15-member academic committee which awards doctorates, was hostile when asked questions pertaining to Grace’s much-maligned degree.

“Are you (the Zimbabwe Independent) a university?” he erupted. “So why do you want to know the details of this particular student’s performance?”

This paper’s insistence that how Grace attained her doctorate was not only of much interest to the public but also an important matter of public interest only agitated Nyagura further, as he let rip: “Why would the public want to know all this? Do they know how universities are run? The public is ignorant of how universities are run and this issue has nothing to do with them anyway!”

For some reason tenably connected to the stench the Grace doctorate scandal has emitted, Nyagura appears to have conveniently forgotten that he is a public official heading a public institution, funded at least in part by taxpayers’ funds, and that naturally renders the goings-on at the UZ a matter of interest to the “ignorant” public.

We of course appreciate the difficult space the vice-chancellor is marooned in as the fallout from the saga intensifies. Having ostensibly presided over the conferment of Grace’s doctorate without following procedures, he must be struggling to extricate himself from the web he is entangled in. To compound matters for Nyagura, it has since been established the academic committee never in fact met as required to deal with the issue, which is scandalous.

To respond to Nyagura’s surprising question, “So why do you want to know the details of this particular student’s performance?”, well the professor should know better. For crying out loud, it is not just about Grace, but the reputation of the UZ painstakingly built since 1952, which we assume is among his duties to defend and uphold.

Of course, Nyagura’s quandary has not in any way been helped by the failure by Grace — whose past academic record is a matter of public record — to credibly defend her “achievement”. If anything, Grace has only mentioned it in passing at her rallies, insinuating there is nothing special about the doctorate despite the rigorous process one has to go through to secure it.

Amid the outrage triggered by the Grace doctorate fiasco, Nyagura’s tenure has come under increased scrutiny, with charges by his critics he has overstayed and run down the UZ.

There are also accusations from lecturers and students Nyagura, in an unprecedented third five-year term, has over the years badly eroded the university’s reputation and vibrant academic culture by assuming authoritarian control, while hobnobbing with the political elite.

He has concentrated power in his office, destroyed academic standards, freedoms and robust engagement at the institution, they charge. Clearly, Nyagura must be held to account on all these issues.