Is there balance of leadership in our universities?

Thursday, October 1st, 2020 00:00 |

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Top management roles in university education in Kenya are usually reserved for distinguished scholars with demonstrated leadership potential.

This is why a vice chancellor; their deputy, or college principals are always necessarily acclaimed scholars in their fields.

Basically, a vice chancellor is a professor of something with an earned doctorate degree and experience in administration and research.

Whether this top academic is a natural or social scientist has never been a requirement for top academic leadership in Kenya since there is no legislation underpinning a balance of any sort between the two fields. 

But as it turns out, nearly 70 per cent or so of top Kenyan public university heads are natural scientists.

Is this trend coincidental? Is it possible that natural scientists are more qualified than social scientists?

How does this ‘bias’ affect research paradigms or advancement of human knowledge in our universities if at all?

Does it matter who between a natural or social scientist becomes boss? Whatever your answers to these questions, the whole world seems seized of the perception that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics matter more as fields of study than the arts.

China and Japan moved to convert some of their social science-oriented universities to world class science and technology ones. 

In research terms, science is understood as disciplined, open to new ideas, replicable, imaginative but also based on evidence.

At the root of science is a claim all scientists make about ‘truth’. Science is the enterprise of investigating the truth of opinions.

Interestingly, the point of departure between natural and social scientists is how they derive truth because they understand it totally differently.

According to natural science, truth is that which can be quantified or measured in precise terms.

To social scientists, truth is a story, so detailed it can’t be brought down to figures or percentages.

Social sciences see human beings as the domain of analysis while natural scientists see ‘objects’ that they wish to replace with absolute figures and predict on.

Clearly, both fields hold conflicting opinions of higher truth.

Do these dynamics play out in administrative terms? I wonder. We have countless success stories of university CEOs who trained in the natural or social sciences, but were outstanding in management, the perceptions notwithstanding.

It probably doesn’t matter who is boss between the two because success in leadership depends to a great extent upon personal capabilities like whether the CEO is visionary, innovative, or a dynamic team manager. 

But it should worry social scientist scholars and the university community at large when only about 30 per cent of university CEOs are social scientists, despite the fact that effective management qualities such as leadership, experience, communication, organisation, delegation, respect for employees, administration, or leadership are studied under social sciences.

It would be desirable of Commission of University Education and university councils to come up with a structured system to maintain balance between the two.

For instance, university statutes could include a clause barring appointment of more than 40 per cent of top managers from any of the two subfields of science.

An extended form of that clause could apply at national level with Commission enforcing compliance to the equity rule for all universities in the country. 

The fact is, both the subfields of science are complementary, with none superior to the other.

Since universities drive development through innovation, research and outreach programmes, it is important for discipline diversity to be maintained at all times in top management and in programmes on offer.

They must live up to right to equal treatment and opportunity for all in academia.

When Albert Einstein wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” he was reminding us about fairness and the equal treatment that ensures it.  — The writer is a senior lecturer, Department of Linguistics and Literature, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Scienece and Technology

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