In a recent development, the Council of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), has abolished the Junior Common Room (JCR) structure in the six (6) Traditional Halls. This decision is on the back of disturbances between University Hall and Unity Hall and has triggered conversations on management’s approach to resolving the challenges, which undoubtedly leaves much to be desired.
In a release dated August 26, 2022, the University Council opined amongst others that it had abolished the JCR system with effect from the 2023/2024 academic year, indefinitely suspended Hall and SRC Week Celebrations, and indicated that students who organized or participated in ‘morale and procession would be summarily dismissed. Additionally, names and pictures of rusticated and dismissed students were to be widely published in the dailies. Although it is obvious that the university is only inviting a barrage of legal suits, let me digress a bit into how the University Management has systemically tried to reduce the power students wield.
First, let me hasten to add that students are the biggest stakeholders in the university. Without students, neither the Vice Chancellor nor the janitor at Africa Hall will have a job tomorrow. Against this backdrop, decisions of the University must always safeguard the supreme interest of students. In the last decade, the population of KNUST has significantly grown, a development that occasioned a shift in the university’s accommodation policy from In-Out-Out-In (students spent their first and final years on campus and their second and third years off campus) to In-Out-Out-Out (where students only spent their first years on campus and their remaining years off campus). As a result, more than half of the student population reside off-campus and there are instances where some first year students are unable to gain accommodation on campus. Except for Unity Hall that has capacity to admit two thousand (2,000) students, the remaining five (5) Halls accommodate about one thousand and two hundred (1,200) students running into approximately eight thousand (8,000) spaces on campus. Given that nearly twenty-five (25,000) thousand students were admitted in KNUST for the 2022/2023 academic year, the University may soon be compelled to run an Out-Out-Out-Out policy as it is unable to accommodate fifty percent (50%) of first year students on campus.
Between 2012-2017, several cases of robberies and rape were recorded off-campus around the Ayeduase, Kotei and Kentinkrono enclave (Armed robbers attack students’ hostel in Kumasi – Graphic Online, Armed robbers storm KNUST (ghanaweb.com), Armed robbers raid KNUST supermarket – Ghana Business News, A Message to the Vice Chancellor: Dreams of a KNUST Student | myJCR) but it appeared Management did not consider the safety of students off-campus a priority given the frequency of attacks on students and efforts invested by Management to address the security challenges. Rather unfortunately, a former Vice Chancellor of the University is on record to have said that he could not do anything about the situation of the students living outside the University’s main campus as it was beyond his jurisdiction. Following persistent probe by the media, the same person intimated that some journalists who vehemently advocated for the safety and welfare of students were illiterates who had gotten the opportunity to sit on air because their relatives had funds to establish media houses. So, for a very long time, the University’s first approach to handling issues regarding students has been intimidation. However, I will always give credit to Dr. Kofi Owusu Daaku, former Dean of Students of KNUST. Unlike what we see today, he did not have a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with issues. He was an excellent leader who will always engage no matter the situation. Prior to Hall Week Celebrations, he would often invite the Traditional Councils of Conti and Katanga and plan with them on how to smoothly organize and enjoy their celebrations. During selected events, he is often spotted amongst students engaging in hearty conversations. We had our issues with Uncle Kofi, but we loved him regardless. Above all else, he did not abhor dissenting opinions. His open-door approach was the reason why many planned demonstrations, particularly the one regarding distribution of KNUST @ 60 souvenirs were averted.
Without pausing to think, I could bet with my head that the October 22, 2018, demonstration would have never happened under the leadership of Dr. Daaku. I say this because Uncle Kofi would never turn a blind eye to the plight of students and would have taken measures to stop or better still prevent abuse of students by KNUST security personnel. That said, I would like to unequivocally indicate that I do not subscribe to violence of any kind in addressing disputes. In this regard, a condemn recent violent clashes that have characterized rival Halls on various campuses. As a believer in the rule of law and the tenets of democracy, I am an ardent advocate for dialogue and the philosophy of non-violence in resolving an impasse.
Currently, the Dean of Students of KNUST, arguably with the support of Management, has consistently tried to undermine student leadership by eroding their powers in a manner that promotes the culture of silence and resentment of dissent on campus. In the just ended 2022 KNUST SRC, College and Hall elections, it was the Office of the Dean of Students that sold nomination forms to aspirants for various portfolios contrary to Article 9 (1) (b) of the SRC Constitution 2021. Again, additional rules regarding the election such as the conduct and form of vetting at all student leadership levels were decided by the Office of the Dean of Students without recourse to Article 9 (1) (d) of the SRC Constitution 2021 as amended. These actions of the Dean of Students undoubtedly breached Article 10 of the SRC Constitution 2021 ‘‘except as provided in this Constitution, the Electoral Commission, in the performance of its functions, shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority’’. On the question of whether or not the Office of Dean of Students or Management has respect for the Constitution of the SRC, I will let you be the judge. It must be noted that the SRC Constitution was promulgated through a general referendum and represents the consensus of the student populate on the conduct of their affairs.
Did the Council make the right decision in abolishing JCRs? Respectfully, I disagree with the decision of the Council to abolish JCRs on the basis of law and public policy. Act 80 (1961) which established the University provided for the SRC and its affiliate body bodies in Section 15 and as such, the University would necessarily have to review the composition of student representation per the Act to exclude affiliate bodies of the SRC or expunge the SRC from groups granted representation (such as Tertiary Education Workers Union and University Teachers Association of Ghana amongst others) before it may be legally sound to abolish JCRs. In summary, the Council cannot abolish a body (JCR) that is rooted in the very law that establishes the Council in Section 7 of the same Act 80 (1961).
Again, it will be improper for the University to attempt to replace JCRs with Hall Fellows. How well will people appointed by the University represent the interest of students? Where will their loyalty lie? What will be the legitimacy of such a body in student matters? What will be the criteria for their appointment and removal should they ‘misbehave’? What happens to the Constitutions of the JCRs in the various Halls? In an era where no University staff can openly speak in favour of students for fear of victimization, the so-called Hall Fellows would only be an appendage of Management for suppressing of student voices.
In Article 40 (e) of the SRC Constitution 2021, all JCR Presidents and Secretaries are listed as Members of the KNUST SRC Parliamentary Council who subsequently elect a Local NUGS President (Article 26) and other executives in a manner provided for under the SRC Constitution. The decision to abolish JCRs therefore has dire constitutional ramifications for the entire student leadership structure on KNUST Campus. Additionally, per Article 2 (1) of the SRC Constitution 2021, the abolition of JCRs literally jettisons the SRC Constitution. It is noteworthy that under Act 80, student representation at all management levels is a prerequisite. As such, the Hall Management system without an elected student representation would make mockery of the Core Values of KNUST, particularly ‘‘Diversity and Equal Opportunities for All’’.
Conventionally, the Traditional Halls have been in existence for over fifty (50) years and have significantly contributed to the smooth running of the University by attending to welfare needs of students and providing extra-curricular experiences for students through the programs they organize. Undeniably, the Traditional Halls have also served as breeding grounds for leaders. As such, its abolishment if at all, should be premised on negative conduct pervading the entirety of the Halls and not the minority as prevails in this instance. Given that only University and Unity Halls have been cited for the said campus disturbances, the effect of Council’s decision essentially punishes Independence Hall, Republic Hall, Queen Elizabeth II Hall, and Africa Hall for their non-involvement in the said campus disturbances; taking away every incentive for proper conduct.
On the decision to summarily dismiss students who engage in ‘morale’ and processions, Management may want to avert its mind to Articles 23 and 296 of the 1992 Constitution and and apprise itself with the decision of the Supreme Court in Awuni v. West African Examinations Council (WAEC) which set out the primary standards required in the conduct of administrative bodies to include fairness, the opportunity to be heard, legal competence and the absence of bias, caprice or ill-will . While I find the call to address these campus disturbances needful, the use of administrative fiats to summarily dismiss students for certain conducts contravene the University’s own established disciplinary process and breaches the fundamental human rights of students and the rules of natural justice (audi alteram partem). More so, when the administrative fiat fails to sufficiently define the conduct being proscribed. For instance, does singing become morale based on the number of participants, presence of drums or location of the singing? It is to avoid such vagueness that Article 19(5) requires proscribed conduct to be written and clearly defined— a test which Council’s decision fails to meet.
Whichever way one looks at the situation, the University cannot in the spirit of Article 12 (2) use administrative fiats to impugn the freedom of association and movement of students as highlighted in Article 21 (d) (e). Admittedly, Council may institute mitigating measures to promote the sanctity of such events in line with the Public Order Act (Act 491, 1994). The Council’s decision to outlaw ‘morale and processions’ reminds me of the infamous Clause 4 which required students intending to demonstrate against the University to officially seek the approval of Management before exercising their constitutional rights. That ‘illegal law’ was eventually repealed but over the years, remnants of Clause 4 keep creeping in under the pretext of putting a leash on the ‘strong boys’. For the avoidance of doubt, let me unequivocally state that the University will only be inviting numerous suits (which it will most likely lose) if Management attempts to summarily dismiss any student for participating in a lawful and violent free procession infused with beautiful morale songs or assemble on a Friday night to share bonds of brotherhood amidst ‘morale’.
If the decision to abolish JCRs is on the assumption that JCR Executives are partly culpable for campus disturbances, same must be extended to all University Officers with ‘locus parentis’ responsibilities. All Hall Masters bear absolute responsibility for activities pertaining to their respective Halls. Similarly, the Dean of Students superintends over all student activities with the Vice Chancellor ultimately responsible for whatever happens on KNUST campus or in the name of KNUST, the same way glory is taken for feats. Unfortunately, JCRs are low-hanging fruits that can be used to save face.
However, I deem it a civic responsibility to draw the attention of Management to how the University Relations Officer has been poorly representing KNUST, particularly in the media space. The URO is on record to have said that Council decided not to affiliate students to Halls anymore on the basis that such affiliations underpinned campus riots. This was an outright falsehood and the fact-finding committee established by His Royal Majesty Otumfour Osei Tutu II, Asantehene, following the October 22, 2018, disturbances recommended no such thing. Below are some of the recommendations of the Committee:
- Management of the University should as a matter of urgency, develop operational guidelines in the form of manual, detailing the powers of campus security personnel in relation to their line of operations
- KNUST security personnel should be trained to handle students in a more professional manner
- Celebration of Hall Weeks should be held in one week concurrently at all Halls
- Morale should be held once a month
- Any student found culprit indulging in unruly behaviour should be subjected to mandatory counselling
- Management should take steps to resolve the rivalry between University and Unity Halls, with a view to restoring peace, law and order
- Master Christopher Sarkodie should be compensated
In the recent accreditation brouhaha following media reports on the revelation by the Auditor General which indicated that KNUST, University of Ghana and others had failed to secure accreditation for some programmes of study, Dr. Norris Bekoe was at his usual best, bringing the name of KNUST into disrepute. In his attempt to mount a spirited defense for KNUST, he is on record to have said that KNUST found itself in this situation ostensibly because the accreditation process set out by the National Accreditation Board is cumbersome. The other day, our venerable URO alluded that some students of KNUST are on drugs. Whatever informed these claims may best be explained by Bekoe Ph.D. You will recall that when about 6,000 students risked deferment, the URO unceremoniously claimed that most of the embattled students used their fees for sports betting in an attempt to shift the conversation to the fringes. Believe you me, if I must compete with the URO for anything, I will only pray he is handed a microphone prior to the contest and my job will be done.
In my lucid moment, I ask myself how Management can flood campus with policemen today but failed to do same to address rampant rape and robbery incidents off-campus? Is the welfare of students off-campus a priority for Management? Will Fabulous Tertiary members amassing at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium to cheer Asante Kotoko S.C to victory attract punishment? Will the Dean of Students continue meddling in student affairs unnecessarily? Will the system continue asking student leaders to prefinance activities without recourse to where they (student leaders) are to secure such funds from? Will Management choose to engage and treat students with respect or maintain the intimidation tactics? Will certain actors continue issuing threats to student leaders who against all odds decide to speak up? When will the prevailing culture of silence end?
Did we abolish Parliament due to the scuffle that occurred in the August House on January 7, 2021? Your guess is as good as mine. Going forward, Management may take inspiration from how crisis have been managed previously in KNUST and how other bodies have broadly approached similar issues. Management may engage Dr. Owusu Daaku, former Dean of Students, on how to strategically handle issues involving students to achieve the buy-in of all parties. Additionally, Management may take inspiration from how the Ghana Football Association (GFA) and the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MYS) managed football activities in the country in the aftermath of the May 9, 2001, disaster that recorded several casualties. GFA and MYS did not disband the management of Asante Kotoko S.C and Accra Hearts of Oak nor issue an extended ban on football activities with an attendant abolition of management of all clubs across the country. Rather, they instituted certain measures that have ensured that twenty-one (21) years on, that incident is not likely to happen again. Some of the measures included the kick-off time for some high profile matches and the security deployment.
To this end, the under-listed are recommended for the consideration of Council and Management:
- Council may reverse the decision to abolish JCRs
- Council may reverse the decision to outlaw morale and processions and ensure that the organization of such activities are consistent with Act 491
- Management may ensure the deployment of more policemen off-campus
- Management may broadly engage all stakeholders on matters of student interest to achieve the buy-in of all parties
- Management may admonish the Office of Dean of Students on the level of interference in student affairs
- Management may engage alumni of Unity and University Halls to resolve issues of rivalry and reorient the students
- Management may engage the Traditional Councils of Unity and University Halls to address issues of rivalry on campus and promote peace and order
We must all do our best to uplift the image of KNUST.
Aluta Continua, Victoria Ascerta!
Unity Hall Room 40 (2009)
Teaching Assistant (2013/2014)