18 January 2013

Namibia: The 'Quiet Operator': Lazarus Hangula On Scholarship, Unam and the Rest of Us


IF IT was a business personality of the year award the newspapers would have probably put that on page two or three. But here is a Namibian academic receiving an award for his outstanding contribution to education in Africa. Yet The Namibian, for example, put a small advertorial by the University of Namibia (Unam) on page B23.

The award was conferred by the Africa Education Leadership Awards at ceremony in December in Mauritius. Prof Lazarus Hangula then participated in a panel discussion titled 'Building Future Leaders' but our newspapers did not even bother to either interview him or publish some excerpts of what he presented during the panel discussion.

To me it suggests that our society does not really put much value on scholarship. All we think about is money and more money.

Professor Hangula is both a long-time acquaintance and a mentor. I first met him when I had stint as a researcher at the Multi-Disciplinary Research Centre (MRC), Unam, where he was the director. Thus this award is not just for him but for Unam and Namibians, especially those who believe in the centrality of ideas, because Hangula has spent a good part of his life thinking and writing. What he would insist on, especially with regard the land question, for example, was the need to address the agrarian issue and not necessarily land distribution for its own sake.

A brief biography of Hangula should be cited here. Lazarus Hangula is the current vice-chancellor of the Unam, a post he has held since 2004. Prior to this post, he served as the pro vice-chancellor for academic affairs and research, as a council member and as vice-chairperson of the Senate of Unam.

His other appointments include serving as a member of the National Council for Higher Education and as an ex-officio member of the Namibia Qualifications Authority. Professor Hangula is a former technical advisor to the Joint Angola-Namibia Team of Experts on the Demarcation of the Maritime Boundary between Angola and Namibia, and former member of Namibia's country programme for the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. He has authored or co-authored numerous scholarly articles and has a book on The International Boundary of Namibia. He holds a doctor of philosophy and a master of arts from Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany.

What I want to do now is to put these in the context of scholarship. The 'quiet operator', coming as his does from the German intellectual tradition, has been trying to model Unam on the concept of a modern university. That is to say a university with an idea, a referent, so to speak. In my last column on the new University of Science and Technology (the former Polytechnic) I spoke about it as the technological idea of excellence. Here I will speak to two other aspects of the university. These are the Kantian idea of reason and the Humboldtian notion of culture.

In the Kantian university the vice-chancellor's function, (for example, as in many other Commonwealth countries like our own, or president at some other institutions especially in the American system) is a purely disciplinary one of making decisive judgments in inter-faculty conflicts on the grounds of reason alone. In the university founded on the notion of culture, the vice-chancellor would incarnate the pan-disciplinary ideal of general cultural orientation, thus becoming the central figure of the university.

In my view, Hangula has been trying to build a university based on the Kantian model because one is running a new university which is still trying to plant its feet firmly on the ground. And in such a context the vice-chancellor has to deal with multiple and conflicting demands from students and administrators to the teaching staff. This has not been easy because one is dealing with people from different backgrounds, not to say countries, in terms of the composition of the student body and faculty.

I am not suggesting that all has been an easy sailing. There have been problems here and there, for example the 'computer saga', some few years ago, that led to resignation (expulsion?) of two academics as well as other teething problems. But despite this Unam has been developing in leaps and bounds in terms of its physical infrastructure with the addition of new departments and other facilities. I especially like the new library.

There is one final issue that I would like to address and this applies to both Unam and the new University of Science and Technology. There is, in my view, a paucity of full-time graduate students at both these institutions. That's why recently the Namibian Cabinet instructed the Ministry of Education to support Unam to concentrate on post-graduate studies and specifically doctoral programmes.

This is crucial, especially if they would be full-time students, because it would enrich the academic and intellectual atmosphere at our institutions. As it stands now the few doing post-graduate studies are basically full-time workers. This is not healthy. Let's see how Unam will address that challenge.

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