In this interview with Bunmi Oguns, the Vice Chancellor of Edwin Clark University, Professor Timothy Olagbemiro emphasised on the challenges of running a new private university, saying that the management must be ready to work round the clock to achieve an all round success, among other issues.
.How challenging is the job of a Vice Chancellor running a new private university?
It is extremely a challenging assignment, whether you are in federal, state, faith-based, secular, private or joint ownership university. I have had the opportunity of working closely and sometimes acting for a vice chancellor in a federal university, and have been saddled with this job as vice chancellor of new private universities over the past 12 years. It is easy, more so if you have a name to protect. What makes the job of a vice chancellor of a new university extremely difficult is that you must work within a timetable and within a budget. You must produce concerted and visible report, and there is no hiding place or any excuses. This is so because the heart of the proprietor who has sunk so much of his funds is always on the progress of the institution. The bible says, ‘where your treasure is, there lies your heart”. So you must be very productive with visible result, l am constantly on my toes even while I was vice chancellor at Bowen University, Iwo, Osun state. It’s enjoyable for me because I like to see results too. Than you must constantly consult despite the road map you may have, that’s crucial. You and the chairman of council must be on the same page on issues, It’s therefore crucial that you work with him and he is sure of your competence and can accommodate your excesses. So, you must be someone that is alert, sound and very accommodating. You just have to be humble and listen when you know you are right. You must not claim to be expert in anything, perhaps your areas of subject expertise, and nothing else. When it comes to staff recruitment, you must be on your knees. You need competent and godly staff members to work with you. Your bursar must be one of the highest integrity and transparency. Then your other principal officers and deans and other lecturers. You need these group of staff to be people that fear God even if they are not of your religious heritage. So, your knees must not be too far to the ground. Because of paucity of funds, you may build some structures by direct labour. You will then take on the job of an architect, a surveyor, clark of works and builder. This is because every penny is very important. You must of course delegate some of these duties to the appropriate qualified staff, but you must assume the role of supervisor of the entire project.
How do you deal with the students?
In a new university, perhaps a very hard portions of the Vice Chancellor’s assignment begins when students report to campus for their studies. I have now discovered over the years that a vice chancellor who does not have the passion and love for this position should not take on the responsibility. Having been there for over 11 years now, you are the image of the university and the focus is on you, coupled with your responsibility as pseudo-businessman, who must constantly sell your university, and be preoccupied with the business of winning and convincing clients on why they need to choose your university for their wards. Indeed on your shoulder rests all the good, the bad and the ugly associated with the particular university. You are like a book which must be read by all. You must be on top of your job, and all activities revolve around you, despite the engagement of a registrar and bursar. In fact the situation is even tougher in situation where you are a vice chancellor of a faith-based institution. Here you must show what your university has in place that makes you really a faith-based institution. Of course some parents don’t even care, as they believe that faith-based universities possess all the miracles to alter the life of a student who is spoilt and not disciplined from home. You have to be consistently thinking on ways to deliver something different and novel, to attract students. But in your recruitment drive, despite your attempts to secure adequate number of students for admission, you must also be careful not to bring in campus misfits, who may be qualified on paper, but lack adequate moral, spiritual, and academic discipline required for serious academic work. Such students could exert their ugly influence on other good students, becomes difficult to manage, and create problems for other serious students. No doubt, the image of the school will be compromised, and protective students will disappear. This in short means vice chancellor of a private new university must constantly guard the name of his institution to prevent the name of his university from being marred. Towards this end, the university must be firm, but must also be in good communication mode with his students and staff. All issues relating to students welfare, their performance and student life, must be taken with care. Priorities must be given to them, their well being and moral and campus life. As vice chancellor of Edwin Clark University, and just as I did at Bowen for 10 years, all students have my phone line in their possession and they can reach me 24/7 at any time and worldwide. I also ensure they have those of my other principal officers, deans and their heads of departments. I wonder which of thestate and federal universities vice chancellors according their students this priority. As Vice Chancellor, it is my honest belief that our students are the next generation of our future leaders, and we must accord them adequate care, respect and dignity, if we want expect good treatment from them tomorrow. They must be trained in an organised, well structured, stress free environment for us to demand such from them. What you see today in our offices, ministry, senate and House or representative houses, even churches is as a result of these ills, and the stressful lifestyle which some grew up with. Some folks never experienced orderlies, peaceful debate or discussion of issues, lived in crowded hostel accommodation, fought for rights at all times, and respect for elders, is absent in their training, poor communication in all its ramifications etc. We must begin to treat ourselves right, with dignity and brotherly love. We must be our brothers keeper.
What is your view about private universities who are still trying to find their feet?
Those universities will get there too. Its a matter of time. No one has the custody of knowledge, safe God. We began by putting God first in May last year. Of course l don’t do anything on my own. I always talk to God first about it, and He hears! Those that must run the affairs of a university must be those of proven integrity, God fearing and hardworking. They must ask the Lord for guidance and direction as we can do nothing on our own. The task of building lives on our campuses for effective future leadership in Nigeria, is a serious business, and must not be taken lightly. It needs a humble and peaceful heart, with a mind of Christ. This is because as you strife to build it, some may not want it. They would say that you are gaging students; you are pampering students; they are not babies ; all sorts etc. I had tried it before, and it works. It’s the best legacy you can leave in an institution. When l hear such discouraging comments, the words of a song often come to my memory…‘A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark that never fails…….’. Once a foundation is wrong, you will expect problems along the way, and you can’t afford to be changing vice chancellors every year in a private university. You must get it right starting and maintain steadiness.
What effort will the institution put in place to ensure that your graduates gets employment after graduation?
I believe that university education is for life not only for school. We have a basic liberal arts education embedded in our curriculum which basic and is broad. We intend also to infuse entreprenueral experience and skill acquisition in strategic planning in order to get our graduates, not to seek to be employed but see to employ in able to create their own wealth. Therefore as much as possible, we would emphasis the entrepreneurship skills of learning. We are having these courses embedded in our entrepreneurship studies. For a student of Engineering who has entrepreneurship skills, by the time he leaves here and with a liberal arts training , they will be their own bosses. It is anticipated that we shall utilize our linkage with institutions in UK and US to enhance the quality of our degrees, our staff, as well as curriculum. Visits to each other’s territories as well as joint research will be good avenues for these benefits. Edwin Clark University currently has linkages and has signed Memorandum of Understanding with each of the following institutions for student and staff exchange, joint research, joint seminar series, as well as dual degrees with: Coventry University, Coventry, UK and Reinhardt University, Waleska, Georgia, USA. We are in partnership with Faculty of Engineering, Warwick University, Warwick, UK on, Ecological Studies, as well as Indiana University, Eastern Campus on Rural Studies.
What do you think about the policy of the Nigerian Law school that law students must be on black and white uniform?
When I was in Bowen University, the mode of dressing of the law students on campus is quite different from others. They wear their white blouse on black skirt right from the first year. They dressed corporately. I did not do my university education in Nigeria, but I was made to understand, that is how it has been in law faculties in Nigerian Universities. Its good, as it distinguishes them from other students on campus, and they will behave as incubating learned gentlemen. Our students will comply here too. Once they come in, they have their dress code and they must comply. For the university of course, we have our dress codes, but they have a specific wear in their faculty.
What happens if they fail to comply with such rules and regulations?
They must comply. The smaller sizes in student population in private universities make rules easy to enforce there. There are mechanism put in place to check-mate disobedience to rules and regulations. We have put in place some campus ‘ombudsman of their age group, mostly HND graduates or degree holders, who take charge of enforcing rules and regulations when breached by students. We call them department courtesy unit, because they are to be ‘curteous’, just to warn the students who don’t enjoy obeying rules and regulations, such as truancy on campus, not dressing corporately, milling around the campus during class time, running away from lectures, stealing, fighting etc.. If a student is warned twice, the third time, such student will be booked by the courtesy officer, to face the student disciplinary committee. It is most helpful because academic staff are too busy running after these students, ln some cases they don’t care, and they believe their job is teaching, research and community service. But who will mentor these students? The dress code and the courtesy unit system, was started by me when I arrived Bowen as Vice Chancellor in 2003. We are glad many universities, including the federal ones now enforce dress codes.