Exit Mbithi, enter Kiama as University of Nairobi VC

Monday, January 6th, 2020 00:00 |
Veterinarian Prof Stephen Gitahi Kiama.

The University of Nairobi finally has a new Vice Chancellor, marking the official exit of Prof. Peter Mbithi who has been in the eye of a storm almost throughout his tenure.

University Council chairperson Prof. Julia Ojiambo yesterday announced the appointment of veterinarian Prof Stephen Gitahi Kiama as the VC for a five-year term, effective today.

Mbithi’s five-year tenure, which lapsed yesterday, entailed a raft of allegations, with Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) saying he had run down the institution.

Last year, Uasu called for Mbithi’s exit to save the university’s image, accusing him of massive corruption, incompetence, dictatorship and gross abuse of office.

The university council sent Mbithi home six months prior to the end of his contract to allow for fresh recruitment. Prof Isaac Mbeche was appointed in acting capacity last July.

“In concluding this elaborate process, the Council of UoN has appointed Prof Kiama as the Vice Chancellor for a five-year term effective January 6, 2020,” said Prof Ojiambo.

“On behalf of the council, I take this opportunity to thank PSC, Ministry of Education, the entire university fraternity and particularly the Chancellor for according recruitment process and respective facilitative instruments and agencies a chance,” she said.

Kiama is expected to attend his first meeting as Vice Chancellor this morning to discuss the launch of the UoN Council strategic plan.

A memo addressed to College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) Deans, directors, chairpersons and section heads said: “The above event will be on Monday January 6 … please note that all senators, section heads in the CHSS are required to attend. Each Dean/Director should come with 10 Non-Senate members of Staff.” 

Kiama has been serving as Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Human Resource and Administration since February last year. He holds a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Masters in Veterinary Anatomy degrees from University of Nairobi and Doctor of Philosophy in Structural Biology from University of Bern, Switzerland.

 Eighth VC

Ojiambo said Kiama was appointed following the conclusion of respective processes at Public Service Commission (PSC), before the university council and subsequent consultation as provided in law.

She also thanked Mbithi and Mbeche for discharging duties of the office of VC in substantive and acting capacities, respectively, even as she congratulated Kiama on his appointment.

Kiama becomes UoN’s eighth Vice-Chancellor.

“We appeal to the good conscience of the university fraternity and all our stakeholders for support in the coming days in progressing the mandate of UoN,” Ojiambo said.

In December, PSC shortlisted eight applicants for the position of UoN VC, out of the 14 interviewed. Besides Kiama, others shortlisted were Mbeche, Prof Madara Ogot, Prof Patricia Kameri Mbote, Prof Eng Bernard Njoroge, Prof Solomon Igosangwa Shibairo, Prof Ruth Wanjiru Nduati, and Prof Elijah Omwenga.

Mbithi took office on January 5, 2015 becoming the seventh VC since University of Nairobi’s inception in 1970 and has not been short of controversies.

Prior to his appointment, Mbithi was the immediate Deputy VC, Administration and Finance. He also steered the university’s ISO certification in 2011 and recertification in 2014.

And just over a year into his tenure, Mbithi fought bare-knuckled duels with colleagues, including the controversy over termination of service for Deputy VC (Administration and Finance) Prof Bernard Njoroge.

UoN Council sent Mbithi on compulsory leave on June 6 and wrote to all banks informing them of change in signatories.

“At its special meeting dated July 26, the Council of UoN) referred the (re) appointment of its Vice Chancellor to PSC. Consequently, the current Vice Chancellor, Mbithi proceeds on leave on July 6 to allow this process to take place,” Ojiambo wrote.

Before being sent on leave, Mbithi had written to the council expressing interest for a second term in office, outlining his achievements  at the UoN helm.

“The university has registered commendable gains under my leadership. This bears testament to the resilience and innovation of the university and by default, its management,” Mbithi wrote in a 7-page letter.

“If re-appointed, I will continue to work closely with the Council to catapult the university onto a higher trajectory to scholarly excellence,” he said.

Section 39(3) of the Universities Act 2012 provides that the Vice Chancellor of a public universities holds office for a term of five years and is eligible for reappointment for a further five years. It is against this statute that Mbithi sought another term.

The Council’s failure to approve Mbithi for a second term came as a relief to Uasu, which had issued a three-month ultimatum for him to step aside.

The union said failure to vacate office would force them to reclaim the institution using constitutional means, including but not limited to forceful eviction.

But Mbithi dismissed claims of being a dictator, describing himself as “accommodative and democratic”.

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