(By Iheanyi Ezinwo) – Lecturers who compel students to buy their books, and others who deliberately mark down good students who were unable to meet their illegal demands, including money or sex for marks have been described as wicked persons, who have no business being in the ivory tower.
This observation was made by a professor of economics at the University of Port Harcourt, Okechukwu Onuchukwu, in a chat with Notable Outcome in Port Harcourt.
Prof. Onuchukwu, who is also Director at the University of Port Harcourt Business School, further explains that mechanisms have been put in place to check misconduct among lecturers and to also ensure that students are graded according to their performance.
He said: “University of Port Harcourt do not hold students down from graduation so long as they pass the minimum credit units required. You also noticed that the results of our graduates are better in recent times than before.
“In the last two convocation ceremonies, we harvested over 50 first class. This is so because the University of Port Harcourt has harmonized the minimum credit units required for graduation in line with what obtains in leading institutions of higher learning, including University of Lagos.
“We are therefore beginning to de-emphasize holding students down even with courses that are not too related , so long as you meet minimum credit requirement. We can waive two courses to enable people graduate, and today our results, and our people are better off.
Responding to a question, the professor of econometrics said:
“Rivers people are not less intelligent than others. For any lecturer that takes pleasure in scoring students down deliberately, that person is wicked and does not have any business being in the system.
“For me, I don’t believe in normal curve. If a student merits an A, the student gets an A. If 3, 4 students merit an A, give them an A. If they merit B, give them B. You grade the students according to their performance, not just because you feel that you are a hard person; nobody should score A in your course; nobody should score a B and you are marking people down.
“That is why, now we emphasize on marking scheme: set exam and bring your marking scheme. We look at it and we keep it. If any student protest, we bring it and review, and in most cases those things are corrected.
“ In some other cases too you find that the student was not right. We must try as much as possible to treat them with some level of caution, and then advice and treat them like our children. When they make mistakes, you correct them. So we try as much as we can to check the system in such a way that nobody is cheated.
“ Initially, the poor grading system robbed our people of opportunities and people complained; it became a serious case in our senate and we discussed it. We set up a committee that looked at the issues and adopted what other universities are doing, and now our results are better”.
On peer review among institutions and lecturers, he said:
“Even when you don’t call it peer review , you know that most of the people that teach at University of Port Harcourt also teach in other institutions as adjunct professors or on contract. The tradition they have is actually carried over to those institutions to correct certain things.
“When I was adjunct professor at the Rivers State University, there were certain things that I tell the people in the department and they follow. So it might not be a kind of peer review thing but because one person that is working here is also working in the other place they transfer those cultures. Even in administration, they also do. Some of our people go on sabbatical in other institutions and they take their experiences to those places.
“And for me, the students are our major customer. If the students are not there, the university won’t be there. So we try as much as possible to treat them with some level of caution, and then advice and treat them like our children.
“Where they make mistakes you correct them. When they want to fail out rightly , you say; my friend you have failed .The person will understand that he has failed. But where the student has done well the student should merit his grade .That is the thinking of those of us who are providing leadership and are also emphasizing that the system is properly run”.
Speaking on measures to ensure checks and balances in the system, Prof. Okechukwu Onuchukwu, who is also a council member at the University of Port Harcourt, said:
“In my university, we have put measures in place to check sale of books. If you must sell books, it has to pass through departmental book committee to faculty book committee where the price is fixed before it is taken to the bookshop. It is an offense for you to force students to buy a book. You impose it on students, of course you are sacked completely. Some people have been sacked from the university because of that.
“For me, the books I have written I don’t care about them again: the younger people use them to teach. When some universities come requesting for my books, I link them with my printers who will print out copies for them. So you don’t bring book and begin to force students to buy the book. Some students cannot eat; some can’t feed. If I open my phone here you will be shocked.
“That’s why we tell students, if you have that kind of complaint, come to us and let us know and some students have been bold enough to report such cases and they are dealt with. So, there are illegal things that some of our colleagues do. I am not saying they are not doing, they do but what I am saying is that, even among the unions on campus, there are internal mechanisms to monitor what colleagues are doing.
“If you err, the unions on campus will sanction you. We have been sacking people in the university. Read our Bulletin. Go to University of Port Harcourt, pick up UNIPORT Bulletin: you see that so many people have been sacked over plagiarism, collecting money from students, etc.
“ Since I became a council member, many people have been dismissed: not just termination, but dismissal, because of sorting; because of forcing students to buy books. We have thrown so many out from different departments and faculties because we don’t want to condone it.
“If you are caught, you are sacked! So we keep encouraging students: if you see anybody that is forcing you to buy any book, tell us and we sack that person. I send the soft copy of my book, free of charge, to final year students that I teach advanced economics. I also send free of charge the book that I have written to students of the University of Port Harcourt Business School.
“So why do you want to force people to buy a book? It is madness! If you are caught doing that you are thrown out of the university. At the University of Port Harcourt , we try as much as possible to protect the students, particularly with Prof. Ndowa Lale as vice chancellor because he is ruling by the books”.
On the payment of school fees, the Director at the University of Port Harcourt Business School explained that the vice chancellor is guided by the rule of senate.
“ You recall that some students, only paid their school fees in year one and don’t pay again until final year when they find a way to collect success letter and then go away. No university can operate without money.
“ University of Port Harcourt even agreed that students can pay semester by semester, that is: 45, 000 divided into two, which is 22,500, but what we discovered was that students will collect money from their sponsors and use them for other purposes.
“ They use the money instead to buy Brazilian hair; use them to go to club and all that: they won’t pay. And some of our colleagues were encouraging them! The vice chancellor said, No: This is senate rule. You can’t do online registration without paying your charge.
“He has also set up Parents Forum, asking them to pay to any bank and bring the teller to their wards. So, these are some of the things we are doing to correct the system. Those who are not comfortable are however fighting back”, Prof.Onuchukwu further stated.
He however counsels students with one complaints or the other to speak up in order to assist university administration to purge the system of bad eggs.
“If you have complaint from any place, please report to us and let’s be specific, not everybody that is doing it. When people generalize, it makes some of us angry. It might be one person that is doing the thing and people are not coming out to report that person to us and we will investigate. We also protect the complainant.
“ I will give you practical example: I have been head of department; I have been dean of faculty of social science. When I was head of department, I had issues where colleagues will do something; students will come and report to me. I will take my decision and handle that matter on the spot. You can’t do anything to that student.
“I have seen situations when I was dean, just to send result to department that wants to compute the student result, they will be tossing the student around. I will go to that office: I need that result quickly. Those are the things that, when others see you that is leading the place is doing, they have to follow.
“So the issue is not just – that is what they do: who is doing it? Tell us the person and you will see what will happen to the person. Gone are the days when students were afraid that lecturers do this or do that.
“ Even if what is being paid cannot take care of all our problems, it cannot be the same as what it used to be. The situation is not as it used to be, so we should try as much as possible to direct the students aright”, the professor of economics summed.