Suspending, expelling students is an outdated, ineffective practice

Within that rouse of impatient inexperience are some brilliant and progressive minds that can take this country to greater heights. Let the students be; they need to learn, make mistakes, graduate and serve this country with courage

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Kenyatta Otieno

Once upon a chilly morning at the Upper Kabete Campus of the University of Nairobi’s College of Arrogant and Violent Students, students gathered for a Kamkunji. The agenda was to eject Professor Mukunya as the Principal. The erratic but conniving professor literary ran for dear life upon confronting the students and his office was locked.

To make sure he did not come back, students picked the Dean Faculty of Agriculture, a diligent man of few words, and appointed him the new Principal. Then Vice Chancellor Prof. Chrispus Kiamba was called in to witness the change of guard pending procedural approval. That new Principal, Prof. Peter Mbithi, soon after became Deputy Vice Chancellor and is the current Vice Chancellor.

That act of student consciousness catapulted him to the ladder of university of administration where he has survived the commonplace slippery tribal and political machinations. Upon his appointment as Principal, the college turned back to College of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences. Yet it would have been a challenge for him to be the principal because of the likelihood of suspicion of nepotism because, just like Prof Kiamba, he is a Kamba.

Power of students

The power of students to question prevailing circumstances and, in some instances, go ahead and push for reforms has brought positive change in this country. The students of Upper Kabete had complained of Prof. Mukunya’s incompetence and erratic aloofness for long but it seemed there were forces that insisted he keep his job. In such circumstances, force became an extension of peace.

Former Vice Chancellor Professor George Magoha’s main obsession was to control students by hook or crook. He changed the SONU constitution to allow Module 2 students to run for seats in the students’ body. This diluted the robust and vocal Module 1 students who had become a minority. He succeeded, but like all manipulated scenarios, it had a lifespan.

The ministry of Education got rid of the two-year wait to join University after high school.  The net effect was that Module 1 students joined at about eighteen years of age and graduated at twenty two years. The Module 2 students were a mixed grill of older self-sponsored and younger parent-sponsored ones; Babu Owino and Mike Jacobs belong to the former.

Because they are older with access to networks that can fund their students’ activism, they have an upper hand over the younger and naive Module 1 students. Babu Owino can thus brag that his plan was to do a five-year term at the helm of SONU. Like everything subject to Murphy’s Law, this dream was bound to experience nightmares at some point.

In the aftermath of that riot, Prof. Mbithi announced that the SONU constitution will be reviewed to strengthen it against perpetual students. Before this statement had been digested, sixty two students were sent on suspension pending disciplinary action. The same old simplistic, tried, tested and failed formula was set in motion.

Poverty of creative minds

Since the seventies, whenever the University faced a crisis with the students, the simplistic course of action has always been to suspend some students to instil fear in those who remain. These punitive measures show lack of creativity and ingenuity on the part of people who are paid to think for solutions to our social problems. This has never prevented students from coming out to protest more violently again to the extent of burning University property, something that has never happened at the University of Nairobi.

The example above of how students hired a new Principal who has since risen to be the Vice Chancellor shows that within that rouse of impatient inexperience are some brilliant and progressive minds that can take this country to greater heights. It is thus unfortunate that the University of Nairobi can be powerless before a career student lording over colleagues barely out of their teenage years while going for powerless students for questioning the same.

As a beneficiary of positive student activism, it is unfortunate that Prof. Mbithi signed suspension and expulsion letters of students for doing the same thing that set him on the path to his destiny. Let the students be; they need to learn, make mistakes, graduate and serve this country with courage.

The writer is practicing hydrogeologist who comments on social issues

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