When the fourth Zambian President, Rupiah Banda, came to Addis Abeba to attend his first African Union Summit in February 2009, he called his trip a "homecoming." The reason for his claim was Addis Abeba University (AAU), where he spent some years of his youth. Five decades back, AAU was famous for awarding scholarships for the brightest students, including Banda, from African countries, especially those who struggled for liberation from colonisers.
Once a prestigious African institution, now it does not even make the top 10 in the rankings of African universities. Being understaffed without many high-ranking teachers, like professors and associate and assistant professors, is one of the problems raised in association with the University. Observers criticise the University, which, let alone recruiting new professors, has dragged its feet in promoting its existing academic staff.
Lecturers, who have applied for the highest academic rank, share the observations of critics. They complain that the stringent requirements of the University impede their advancement to better, deserved positions. Tadesse Lencho, who is now a lecturer with the Law Faculty of Addis Abeba University (AAU), is part of such a group.
Tadesse, who earned his master's degree from Michigan University in the United States in 1988, has been serving as a lecturer in teaching for both undergraduate and graduate courses for the past seven years. Two years ago, he applied for assistant professorship at his Faculty, aiming at gradually attaining the highest level of professorship.
For Tadesse's request for the rank of assistant professorship, the Law Faculty is the one who does all of the ground work of evaluation and makes recommendations to the Promotion Committee. Though his application was approved by the Academic Commission of the faculty, Tadesse has not attained the rank, yet.
According to the Senate Legislation of the University, the length of service within a given rank, effectiveness in teaching, publications, and professional service are the criteria that one has to fulfil for promotion. An applicant for the rank of assistant professorship should serve a minimum of four years as a lecturer, and his teaching effectiveness during his tenure should be favourably evaluated by students, peers, and deans.
The applicant should publicise a minimum of two articles related to his discipline and participate in the different affairs of the University. The Promotion Committee has not approved Tadesse's rank because it has not yet been convinced of one of his articles, which appeared in the Ethiopian Journal of Legal Education. The Committee rejected the controversial article, entitled "Scholarly Productivity in the Law School" with the reason that "it has very little to do with the discipline of law."
Admasu Tsegaye (PhD) Merara Gudina (PhD)
This has dismayed the legal community of the Law School and has brought a firestorm of complaints over the Promotion Committee and the whole promotion scheme of the University.
"The Promotion Committee has neither the expertise nor the mandate to decide what is related to law or not, since the Committee does not have a representative from the legal community," Tadesse told Fortune.
The Committee, composed of seven members with three-year term limits, represents the Philosophy Department and colleges of Education, Science, and Medicine. Currently, the posts are covered by Tena Dewo (MD) from Philosophy, Teshome Nekatebeb (PhD) from Education, Tigistu Haile (PhD) from Natural Science, and Yoseph Assen (Prof) from Medicine. The Committee is chaired by Aklilu Amsalu (PhD), and Birara Gebru serves as secretary.
Some have complained that members of the Committee have already exceeded their term limits by two years.
The mandate of the Committee is to interpret the Senate legislation that allotted 26 pages to detail the promotion of academic staff, Jeilu Oumer, academic vice-president of AAU, said.
"The Committee cannot be representative of all of the disciplines," Jeilu insists. "However, the Committee calls for explanations in cases where there is needed expertise from the concerned department or from any professional in the discipline."
Objecting to such a procedure, the faculty also wrote a letter to the Committee arguing that there is no community other than the Law School that can judge matters relevant to the field.
"The School of Law doubts that other scholars, including those from the college of Education, are better placed to write about 'legal education,'" Zekarias Keneaa, dean of the Law School, wrote on his rebuttal letter addressed to the academic vice-president of the University. "The raison d'etre for the very existence of the School of Law, as a unit of AAU and elsewhere in the world, is none other than for legal education and scholarship."
Research and publications are the Achilles' heel of academic institutions in Ethiopia, and Taddesse's article endeavours to address at least one aspect of this area of crucial concern, the dean argued. The article, which examines the relationship between scholarly productivity and tradition, is absolutely relevant to Taddesse's profession and a "contribution towards tackling the dearth of information in legal research," he believes.
The Promotion Committee neither responded to his letter nor asked for any explanation on the issue, Zekarias claimed. Despite the bold backing of the Faculty, the Committee has delayed Taddesse's promotion to this day.
"Promotion is granted as long as applicants came up with the required criteria," Jeilu told Fortune confidently. "Cases are delayed because departments might not follow the criteria carefully."
Currently, at the University, 15 cases are pending with similar reasons. Out of the 15 cases, five applications are for full professorship and 10 are for associate and assistant professorship.
AAU aims at being the centre for national postgraduate education, to help meet the growing needs for trained personnel in the private and public sectors. To meet its educational goals, AAU has to improve the qualifications of its academic staff, according to an expert who wishes to remain anonymous.
The existing number of AAU's academic staff is a far cry from other African universities. The University of Cape Town (UCT), the top-ranked University in Africa, has 5,442 staff members, including 282 full-time professors. AAU, 121 years younger than the UCT, only has 1,583 academic staff members, of which 92 are professors.
Around two-thirds of the professors are expatriates, the audit report, conducted at the University in 2008, revealed. AAU only added four professors in the last four years, too.
Taking into consideration the small number of Ethiopian academic staff and insufficient professors, one might expect the University to take extra measures to speed up the process of promotion. However, what it has been seen doing on the ground is quite the contrary.
Merera Gudina (PhD), 40, a lecturer in the Political Science Department of Addis Abeba University, applied for full professorship four years ago. His case is still pending. Merera obtained his current rank of associate professor in 2004 and applied for professorship, according to the Senate Legislation.
Applicants for professorship positions should fulfil the promotion requirement of four years of effective teaching and research as an associate professor. Applicants should also provide publications or professional works and proof of public service participation. They should also submit at least one article published in a foreign journal or publication in addition to ones printed in reputable local journals.
He submitted all of the credentials, including a textbook for postgraduate students, entitled Introduction to Ethiopian Politics and Governance, Merera claimed, but he has not been granted his right. An academic staff member of an institution has the right to be entitled to promotion and fringe benefits after having fulfilled appropriate requirements, according to the Higher Education Proclamation.
The promotion process is not only governed by the Senate legislation but also by "customs and traditions" of the University, said Merera, who is also founder and current chairman of the opposition political party Oromo People's Congress (OPC).
One such norm is delaying the process of promotions when the applicant is on study leave.
Some academic staff, who had been on study leave, officially complained about the procedure in 2011. The issue was raised and discussed at the Senate meeting in July 2011.
The promotion regulation seeks a revision, but, until then, any promotion cases of an academic staff on study leave should remain pending, the Senate finally decided. The University also used this decision against Tadesse.
"No one knows where these norms are derived from," Merera, who is known for his bold statements, told Fortune. "I should not be judged by norms that are not recorded as law. You do not know when they use a norm or the Senate legislation. This might create leeway for double standards."
What Merera has faced is linked with an article he published before he obtained his rank as an associate professor. This article was among his publications submitted during his application for professorship. Ironically, the norms of the University only allow an applicant to submit an article, if the publication has not been used for application to a previous rank. Merera's case is pending at the University, citing the Senate's legislation, which also limits such articles.
"Publications or works not employed for the last promotion may be considered for subsequent promotion, provided that they do not exceed one-fourth of the required number of publications or works for the promotion sought," the Senate legislation stipulates.
AAU is regulated by the Senate legislation, overseen by the Senate and externally by the Board, the highest organ of the University. Promotion to the rank of professor is to be approved by the Board, while the ranks of assistant professor and associate professor are approved by the Senate. The Promotion Committee approves or rejects the recommendations of different departments. Most cases are stalled when they reach the level of the Promotion Committee.
Some applicants like Merera have appealed to the president and prefer to wait and see whether the Promotion Committee will review their case or not. But, a few others like Teshome Soromessa (PhD), Biology Department lecturer, have the guts to drag the University to an external adjudicating body, as he did in January 2010.
Teshome applied for promotion to associate professorship in 2008. The case was pending for four years.
It was delayed because, when he applied for associate professorship, he submitted an article published in the Ethiopian Journal of Biological Sciences, and the Promotion Committee had a question on the reputability of the journal that led to the pending of his case.
Before he filed his case with the Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman, Teshome brought his case up to the president of the University and the Senate Grievance Hearing Committee. He even submitted a letter, written by the then vice-president for graduate studies and research that authenticated the reputability of the controversial journal. The Promotional Committee even rejected a letter that was written by the Graduate Studies & Research Wing of the University, Teshome claimed.
After the Ombudsman intervened in his case, Teshome got his promotion to associate professor in March 2011.
"I got the rank I deserved in three months, which the university had been holding up for four years," Teshome told Fortune.
When the University amends the Senate legislation, the problem associated with promotion will be solved, the Jeilu believes. AAU is revising the Senate legislation for the fourth time, after the third amendment in 2007. The University is also preparing to change its organisational and governance structures.
The new structures, which are expected to be approved by the board this week, give much power to departments. They will be bestowed with the power to process requests of promotion up to the assistant professorship level, while associate professorship will be dealt with at the college level. The School of law is one of the schools planned to be upgraded to a college, merging it with the Graduate School of Governance Studies, according to the draft organisational structure of the University.
"Ninety-two per cent of the amendment of the senate legislation is finalised," Jeilu told Fortune.
However, this did not spark any hope for Tadesse who has awaited his new rank for long. Whether the new legislation brings a change or not, he has already decided to follow the path of Teshome.
"Justice delayed is justice denied," according to Tadesse.