President Bingu wa Mutharika and representatives of the University of Malawi students had closed-door meeting Wednesday evening at the official New State House in the capital Lilongwe, to discuss issues of the university stand-off over academic freedom. This is the first time for president Mutharika to hold talks aimed at lasting solutions to the problem which has paralyzed Malawi University – raising hopes that it could possibly lead to a solution to the six-month old stand-off.A representative of University students Lonjezo Sithole said after the meeting that Mutharika invited the students after they demanded to meet him as the Chancellor of the University of Malawi on issues surrounding the closure of the two colleges.He said the meeting has resolved to set a date for the roundtable discussion with all stakeholders involved to find ways of addressing the impasse rocking the Malawi University.“Another issue was about the need to reopen the universities” he said.
Academic staff at Chancellor College, the main constituent college of the University of Malawi, started boycotting classes from 12 February to protest what they described as an infringement on their academic freedom following the summoning of political science lecturer, Blessings Chinsinga by Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito over a classroom example he gave during a public policy class.Chinsinga reportedly drew parallels between Malawi’s current fuel crisis and the uprisings that toppled the Tunisian and Egyptian governments.The lecturers have been demanding an apology and assurances that their academic freedom will not be infringed on again.The Polytechnic and constituent college of the University of Malawi later joined the protest.However, Mutharika, who is both the Commander-in-Chief of the Malawi Police Service and Chancellor of the University of Malawi, publicly threw his weight behind the police chief, saying Mukhito cannot apologise to lecturers, who – according to him – were teaching revolution.
That, however, did not help matters as students backed their lecturers by holding street demonstrations that led to running battles with tear gas-firing policemen.As the stand-off spread to other colleges, the University Council fired four lecturers, including Chinsinga and Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula, the acting president of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union.However, a court order halted the sackings, while other court orders also prevented the university council from withholding salaries of the lecturers and affecting a complete lock-out of campuses of the two colleges. Authorities eventually ordered the indefinite closure of the two colleges.Meanwhile, universities across the world have been roundly condemning the Mutharika administration for infringing on the lecturers’ and students’ academic freedom.
© 2011, Lameck Masina. All rights reserved. Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.