General How I became the first black prof. of a US university –...

How I became the first black prof. of a US university – Chalokwu


and measurable goals; address infrastructural obsolesce and poor facilities maintenance as central to internal respectability and global competitiveness; and provide regular internal, national as well as international opportunities for faculty, students, and members of the public to engage in collaborative experiential learning opportunities. These ideas are not new or unique.

What is lacking is the willingness to innovate.

What we have seen from time to time in the education sector in Nigeria is strike upon strike. How do you think this could be stopped citing examples of how education is run in the United States?

Wherever there is a union and collective bargaining agreements, there will always be strikes, even in the United States. In the US, the salaries for US senators are not much different from that of a

professor of any major university, while in Nigeria the politicians arbitrarily assign their own salaries with allowances and bonus which are often several folds higher than their salaries. ASUU should be at the table where the federal budget on education and funding priorities in education are set. I am advocating an administrative system that is transparent and involving some form of shared governance at the level of the National Universities Commission and other regulatory bodies that oversee education in Nigeria.

The problem with shared governance in a union environment is that collective bargaining by its very nature is adversarial. In return for sharing governance, ASUU should clearly articulate its position on student learning outcomes, and how faculty reward and pay structure can be tied to a transparent faculty evaluation mechanism that include courses taught and contact hours actually spent on teaching students.

I believe strikes can be minimized if all parties feel equally disadvantaged by the outcome of a strike. Paying competitive, timely wages incentivizes professionals to stay and contribute to the educational enterprise. This of course helps to improve the overall economy as well as the commitment of the citizens to the nation.

This also includes paying the lowest level workers a living wage as well as the top earners, and would go a long way in addressing the constant strikes and improve the level of confidence in the nation’s commitment to the educational sector. It would also make workers feel valued by their national institutions. Changing the voluntary academic retirement age to 70 ill reap the benefits and collective wisdom of long-time faculty expertise and their collective institutional memory.

Education in the US, especially now, may not be the best example of stopping faculty strikes, especially since faculty in some post-secondary sectors do strike, usually over working conditions and salary. The University of California and California State Systems are examples. The difference is that when strikes occur in the US they are usually short-lived often lasting a few days; the current ASUU strike in Nigeria has lasted over four months. There are many state universities in the US that face budgetary challenges, and the way these institutions thrive is through a transparent budget process, prioritization of scare resources and adopting corporate practices.

How does a Nigerian like you scale above all odds to attain such heights in an American education sector?

There is no substitute for hard work in American education sector where success is based on merit. The grant of tenure and promotion through the academic ranks in an American university is usually based on one’s teaching effectiveness, research publications, service and external grants and contracts depending on the complexity and mission of the institution. Merit also determines faculty rewards in the form of salary scales and annual increments. For any Nigerian to attain great heights in American higher education, the individual must minimally be as good as but preferably better than his American born counterpart.

All my schooling from undergraduate to post -doctoral was done in the US. I arrived at Auburn University, a major land-grant, research extensive national university in Alabama in 1984, as a faculty member in geology and geochemistry. I immediately developed a teaching and research agenda designed to earn me tenure, which is the first step to becoming a permanent faculty member with job security.

I was fortunate to attract talented graduate students to my research program and benefited from financial support for my research from my university and grant funding agencies. I quickly rose through the professorial ranks to become the first tenured, black full professor in the 140-year-old history of the university. My success as a faculty member at Auburn University, election by the peers to Fellowship of prestigious scientific societies, and a Fulbright Senior Fellow grant became prerequisites for deanship, which led to my appointment as Dean at Benedict College in 1996. By most accounts I was a successf

ul Dean, which led to my appointment as Vice Chancellor at the University of Tennessee, and later as Provost and Vice President at Saint Xavier University. In all my academic and administrative appointments, each position held was the outcome of a competitive national search whereby hundreds of applications are screened by a search committee consisting of representatives from a cross section of the university community (the internal stake holders) and external business leaders and supporters of the university.

Transparency in the search process for faculty and administrative positions in American Higher Education engenders trust and ensures an acceptable outcome. Although all institutions have their own internal dynamics that could lead to politicization of searches for administrators, they are never along the lines of political parties, nepotism or cronyism.

In 2012, Nigerians were spending about 160billion on tuition in Ghana about 246million pounds in the United Kingdom. What do you think are the reasons for this craze for education outside Nigeria’s border and how can Nigeria improve on its education sector to attain some level of improvement like we have in the United States and United Kingdom?

Nigerians flee to Ghana and other countries in search of education institutions that are stable, devoid of strikes and with infrastructure that supports teaching and learning. In my early career, I spent some time teaching and conducting research at the University of Ghana, Legon. While universities in Ghana face financial challenges as well, I appreciate their commitment to student learning, which is clearly what is attracting students from Nigeria to Ghana. Nigerians flee to Ghana in large part to gain admission to a university due to the chronic shortage of slots in Nigerian universities and the instability caused by persistent strikes. Education in Ghana is stable and I would argue that the curriculum in Ghana is sufficiently challenging.

Certainly, there are negative implications for Nigerian students studying in Ghana in large numbers, particularly the brain drain as these students are not part of the learning community in Nigerian institutions.

I reject the notion that Nigerian studying abroad represents a capital flight because the capital provides access where one is lacking. This trend can be reversed by the creation of more private universities or branch campuses of the major universities in order to accommodate the growing number of students hungry for education. What sets education in the United States and United Kingdom apart from most countries is the issue of access.

The current funding base for education in Nigeria is grossly insufficient to support the enrolment base and infrastructure needs for the development of a 21st century academic institution.




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