Administrators must be more creative to stem the decay

Now that the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are reaching common grounds on contentious issues in their protracted negotiations, it is expected that students who have been at home for almost one calendar year, may soon resume on their campuses. We therefore urge the lecturers to reciprocate the compromise position on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) and the financial offer from the federal government by calling off the strike. But when the students eventually resume classes, the state of their campuses should also be of concern to the authorities of these institutions.

Today, most of the structures housing the different faculties and departments in these institutions are unkempt and unmaintained. The hostels where the young men and women are sheltered are unfit for human habitation. The lecturers’ quarters in most of them are in need of repairs. There is of course the central question of what quality of minds will emerge from these squalid environments.

In most of the campuses, the toilets are in bad shape and where they are functional, water is not available; the rooms are overcrowded. During rainy season, many of the roofs leak. On one campus, according to a recent report in a national newspaper, “the hostels, which are located at the end of the administrative and lecture blocks, are surrounded by bushes while the forecourt of the two hostels is water-logged. It was observed that the paint on the buildings had faded, the walls cracked and the windows as well as sliding doors were half eaten by termites.” There have also been reports of armed robbers attacking hostels and carting away students’ belongings.

Thus while we call on the Alumni associations of these institutions and other public-spirited people in the private sector to rally for urgent assistance, the problem must be tackled holistically. The main thrust of the physical disrepair of these institutions is first the caliber of administrators that supervise this decay.

However, there are other reasons for the sliding decay on our campuses, some of them, ironically, inflicted by the government. The growth trend in number of federal and state universities and polytechnics is expansive instead of developmental. As a nation, we seem to like building large structures without the least care about how they will be maintained in the future. Without an active real-time maintenance department, every such institution goes into disrepair and becomes a nightmare. That is how slums and ghettoes are born. The danger of such dark places is that they tend to breed murky characters and nasty ways. Perhaps it is time for an independent maintenance audit of our public buildings, especially the federal and state universities and polytechnics. The result is likely to be a monumental scandal.

A certain lack of creativity is a hallmark of the new breed of vice chancellors of universities and rectors of the polytechnics. They are more of contractors and politicians than decent academic leaders and managers of scarce resources. One way in which these institutions can manage their maintenance and general management services would be to create student work/study programmes in which interested students get hourly paid employment to be part of these services. That way, they earn income while being a part of the upkeep of campus municipal services. This would of course be only complementary to the compulsory presence of well-equipped maintenance and parks and gardens units.

Perhaps in addition to all these, the rudiments of decent living and healthy environmental habits should form part of the general studies in our institutions of higher learning to stem the current tide of a national elite that mostly lacks environmental decency.

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