"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: December 2015

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Comparison of Everyday University Vocabularies in Nigeria, America, and Britain (III)

 By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

10. Instructor/Professor/Dr. In internal, official communication in American universities, every teacher, irrespective of rank, is generically referred to as an “instructor.” Sentences like “The instructor reserves the right to cancel classes,” “Instructors must submit their grades before December 3,” “Students are requested to evaluate their instructors,” etc. are common. But that’s about the only context where “instructor” is used. Students rarely use the term.

The term students use frequently to refer to their teachers, as I pointed out in the last two weeks, is “professor,” irrespective of rank. But there is another use of “professor” among university teachers and administrators that will puzzle many British and Nigerian English speakers: In formal contexts and occasions, the title “Professor” is prefixed only to the names of people who have no PhDs but teach in the university.

During formal occasions in American universities—and in formal contexts (such as in academic conferences, books, biographies, etc.)— it is traditional for university teachers to be addressed by their earned academic titles rather than by their academic ranks, thus a PhD who has reached the highest academic rank (which would be “professor” in British English and “full professor” in American English) would be addressed as “Dr. John Smith, professor of English,” not “Professor John Smith of the English Department.” If someone is addressed as “Professor John Smith” in a formal context, you can almost be sure that he has no PhD. So, in formal address in American universities, “Dr.” is the title of preference to prefix to the name of a university teacher who has a PhD. (Almost no one prefixes “Assistant Professor” or “Associate Professor” to anybody’s name, as it’s usually done in English-speaking Asian countries.)

This is quite the opposite in British and Nigerian universities where people drop the “Dr.” academic title once they are promoted to the rank of “professor”; they, in fact, take offense if “Dr.” is prefixed to their names in any circumstance.

Another important point is that in America people cease to be referred to as “professor” (both formally and informally) if they no longer teach in a university. In British (and Nigerian) English, however, “Professor” is a lifetime title. I once had reason to mention Professor Jerry Gana’s name to a colleague of mine here in the United States during a chat, and he asked where Professor Gana “teaches.” When I said Gana stopped teaching since the 1980s, he wondered why I still addressed him as “Professor Jerry Gana.” “It’s because ‘Professor’ is a lifelong title in Nigeria,” I said.

11. Question paper/Test. What Nigerian English speakers call “question paper” is better known as “test” in American English. When I first came here, I had occasion to instruct my students to not write on their "question papers" because I wanted to use the same papers for another class. The students all looked blankly at me.  I initially thought they had problems with my Nigerian accent. So I not only enunciated it clearly and slowly, I also wrote it on the board.

But they still said, “What’s that?” And when I pointed to their “question papers,” they exclaimed, “Oh, you mean we should not write on the test?” Write on the test? Test is an abstract noun. How the hell do you literally write on an idea? Anyway, I have since stopped calling question papers by their name; they are “tests.”

12. Mark script/grade paper. American professors don’t “mark scripts”; they “grade papers.” And they don’t award or reduce students’ “marks”; they give or “take off points.” And there is this whole concept of “curve” or “curving” in the American academe that I don’t think has an equivalent in the Nigerian British-derived system.

Sometime in the early part of my stay here, about half of my students got really low scores in my first test. On the day I handed out their test grades, one female student stood up and asked if I would give a “curve.” I wondered silently what in Heaven’s name she meant by a “curve.” But I knew that the girl knew enough to know that only God could bring curves to her skinny, almost masculine, physique at that stage of her life. So she couldn’t possibly mean that she wanted me to do something about her lack of bodily endowments. Besides, there were also men in the class who should have no business with "curves" but who wanted a “curve” from me. So I asked, “What curve”?

 Seeing my confusion—and its obvious implication, because I must have been unconsciously examining the lady’s body to observe the absence of curves on her!—somebody volunteered to change the structure of the sentence to, “Will you curve the grades?” It was then I got a hint that they were probably asking if I would add extra “points” across the board to move the class average up. I couldn’t relate to it because it was a strange concept for me. In Nigeria, my teachers never gave me grades that I didn’t work for.

Second, I just couldn’t associate the word “curve” with the arbitrary increase in the grades of students to raise the class average—perhaps because of my weak quantitative reasoning abilities. I don’t draw graphs; I only draw word pictures. A recent article I read from a retired, frustrated British academic called this “scaling.” So the Brits now have the American equivalent of "curving."

I am not sure this practice-- and the corresponding terminology-- has percolated to Nigeria yet.

13. Certificate/Diploma. "Certificate" is not a generic word for paper qualifications, as it is in British and Nigerian English; when the word is used in an educational context in America, it usually implies a document certifying the completion of a short, crash course.

 “Diploma” is the generic word for all manner of certificates—secondary school certificate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, etc.; it does not mean a sub-degree qualification, as it does in British and Nigerian English. Here, when people earn their BA, MA, or PhD, they get their diploma, that is, the paper showing they have completed their degree.

14. College/University. In American English “college” is the generic word for university, although it technically means an institution that only awards four-year bachelor’s degrees. With a few exceptions (such as Dartmouth College, which is an Ivy League school), “colleges” don’t have graduate schools. When somebody is described as “college-educated,” it often means he or she has at least a bachelor’s degree. “College professor” is also the generic term for what in British and Nigerian English we would call “university lecturer.”

In British and Nigerian English, “college” can mean high school. In Nigeria, “college” can also mean an institution that awards sub-degree qualifications, such as a “College of Education,” “College of Legal Studies,” etc.

15. Dissertation/Thesis. There is a fascinating semantic and lexical inversion of the names for the lengthy research papers students write at the end of their degree programs. In British English, people write “dissertations” at the end of their bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and “thesis” at the end of their Ph.D. study. In America, on the other hand, select undergraduates write an “honors thesis” (also called a “senior thesis”) at the end of their bachelor’s degree programs, a “thesis” at the end of their master’s degree programs, and a “dissertation” at the end of their Ph.D. programs.

16. Graduation/Commencement/Convocation. When I was first invited to a “commencement ceremony” (also called a “commencement exercise”) at the end of my first semester at an American university, I wondered what the heck anybody was “commencing” at the end of a semester. I thought “commencement” was the American equivalent of the British “matriculation,” and couldn’t understand why students were matriculating at the end of the semester. I later learned that “commencement” is actually the American equivalent of the British “convocation” while “orientation” is the American equivalent of the British “matriculation,” although American university orientations aren’t always elaborate ceremonies with caps and gowns and formal address from the university president. There are exceptions, though. For instance, Stanford University’s orientation is pretty much like British and Nigerian matriculations, except that Stanford University calls it an “opening convocation.”

 My friends told me that the logic behind the word “commencement” is that it is when people graduate that they really "commence" the journey to the "real world." I later found out, though, that some American universities (such as the University of Chicago) use “convocation” in the same way that it is used in British English. Other American universities, such as the university where I currently teach, use “graduation ceremony/exercise” instead of “commencement ceremony/exercise.”

17. Vice-Chancellor/President. The Chief Executive Officer of a university is called a vice-chancellor in British and other Commonwealth universities but a “president” in American universities. Some American universities, such as the University of Illinois, have the position of “Vice-Chancellor,” but it doesn’t mean the same thing as the British/Commonwealth vice-chancellor.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Bennet Omalu: A Nigerian-American Hero Nigerians at Home Don’t Know About

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Dr. Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu is a big deal in America. He is so big a deal that he is the subject of a critically acclaimed Hollywood movie called Concussion, which was released on December 25 this year (that is, yesterday!). But chances are most Nigerians reading this article would ask “Bennet who? Who is that?”

That was precisely the response I got when I spoke with a group of Nigerian journalists in Abuja and Kano during a British Council-sponsored workshop I facilitated about a month ago. Not a single journalist had any clue who Dr. Omalu was.
Dr. Bennet Omalu
In the course of the training, our conversation veered off into the topic of the wacky, delusional intellectual scammer called Dr. Enoch Opeyemi who falsely claimed to have solved the Riemann Hypothesis and misled the incredibly credulous Nigerian—and British—media into undeservedly celebrating him before the facts of his intentional misrepresentation became public knowledge.  I wondered why Nigerian journalists—and everyday Nigerians—ignorantly celebrate all the notorious, scorn-worthy intellectual scammers—Enoch Opeyemi, Philip Emeagwali, Gabriel Oyibo, Michael Atovigba, etc.—but ignore genuine heroes of Nigerian descent who are doing truly outstanding things outside Nigeria.

One of the journalists asked me to name one genuine Nigerian hero abroad who has been ignored at home. I asked if they knew about Dr. Bennet Omalu. I got blank stares. Strangely, I wasn’t surprised. To be noticed in Nigeria, especially in Nigeria’s traditional media, you need to understand the art of bluster, of vain and empty conceit. Dr. Omalu apparently didn’t reach out to the Nigerian media, and Nigerian journalists obviously don’t give the time of day to anyone who doesn’t court and cultivate their friendship and attention.

But who is Dr. Omalu and why should we care? So much has been written and said about this man in America that I don’t even know where to start. Well, I think I should start with his claim to fame. Dr. Omalu became famous for being “the first to publish findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players.”

This sounds ordinary on the surface. But it’s actually a lot bigger than it seems. The National Football League (NFL) is America’s richest and most popular sport. No one takes on this American financial and cultural behemoth and comes out alive. But Omalu did—with his brains—and is alive to tell the story. Through careful, studious, self-financed research, Omalu demonstrated that American football players were susceptible to the kinds of brain injuries that boxers, wrestlers, and war veterans suffer as a result of repeated hits to their heads.

The National Football League was outraged by this. Omalu’s findings threatened NFL’s multi-billion-dollar industry. If it is established that playing American football rendered people susceptible to permanent, irreversible brain injuries, the future of the sport—and the billions of dollars it rakes in—was in grave danger. As you would expect, the NFL fought back—and they fought dirty. Dr. Omalu’s credibility and competence were called into question. He was accused of “practicing voodoo,” a subtle racist dig at his Nigerian origins and the supposed intellectual inferiority that this fact implies.

Big-name American medical researchers at the NFL demanded that Omalu’s paper, which was published in the prestigious Neurosurgery journal, be retracted. They said the paper’s findings were flawed. But here is where it gets interesting. Neurosurgery is a double-blind peer reviewed journal, which means articles sent to the journal are normally reviewed by two anonymous expert reviewers who usually don’t know each and who don’t know the identity of the researcher who submits a paper for consideration. If the two reviewers agree that a paper is worthy of publication, usually with minor or major revisions, the paper gets published. If one of the two anonymous reviewers rejects the paper, the journal’s editor may send it to a third anonymous expert reviewer whose decision is crucial to accepting or rejecting the paper.

Although Dr. Omalu’s paper was accepted by the first two anonymous reviewers who first examined it, because of the sensitivity and momentousness of its findings, it was sent to more than 18 other expert reviewers! That is highly unusual. But there was a unanimity of opinion among all the reviewers that Omalu had pushed the boundaries of knowledge in ways no one had, and the paper was published in 2005. So if Omalu’s findings were "wrong," as NFL's doctors alleged, more than 18 top-notch American medical researchers who reviewed his paper must be wrong as well.

Omalu published subsequent papers on the same subject-matter to build a convincing case that playing American football (which isn’t the same thing as “football” in British English) exposes people to the danger of brain damage.

When NFL doctors lost the intellectual battle against him, they shifted the battle to the emotional plain. He was accused of “attacking the American way of life.” "How dare you, a foreigner like you, from Nigeria? What is Nigeria known for? The eighth most corrupt country in the world? Who are you? Who do you think you are to come to tell us how to live our lives?" Omalu quoted NFL officials as saying to him in an interview with the (American) National Public Radio.

After sustained attacks on his credibility, competence, and nationality, the NFL gave up. In 2009, the NFL publicly admitted that Omalu was right. As a consequence, he has become a celebrity here. A book about his accomplishments and struggles, titled Concussion, was written by an American writer and professor by the name of Jeanne Marie Laskas. The movie about him that was released yesterday is based on the book.

Dr. Omalu’s success is every bit Nigeria’s. A native of Nnokwa in the Idemili South Local Government of Anambra State, the 47-year-old Omalu earned his first medical degree from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1990. He first came to the United States in 1994, and it is safe to say that Nigeria provided the backdrop for his genius.

I hope the Nigerian government will recognize and celebrate genuine heroes like Dr. Omalu whose genius is rubbing off on Nigeria internationally.

I have been informed that although  Dr. Bennet Omalu was born in Nnokwa in the Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, his ancestral roots are actually located in Urunnebo village in Enugwu-Ukwu of Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State. 

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Comparison of Everyday University Vocabularies in Nigeria, America, and Britain (II)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

7. Lecturer II/Lecturer II/Assistant Lecturer/Graduate Assistant. As I said last week, comparing the British/Nigerian systems with the American system can be tricky and can lead one fall into the pit of false equivalences, which I am sure I have fallen into already. Well, in the British/Nigerian system, fresh Ph.D.’s with no publication (especially in the humanities and in the social sciences) begin their careers as Lecturer II, move up to Lecturer I, to Senior Lecturer, then Reader, and finally to Professor. (People with a master’s degree in the humanities and social sciences start their university teaching careers as “assistant lecturers,” and those with a bachelor’s degree start as “graduate assistants.”) Graduates of disciplines that require more than four years to complete a degree, such as medicine, engineering, architecture, law, etc. are usually a step or two higher than their peers in the humanities and social sciences at the entry point.

In most American universities, Ph.D. is the minimum qualification to teach; over 90 percent of university teachers have PhDs or other kinds of terminal degrees. A few people with a master’s degree, as I pointed out last week, may be appointed as “lecturers” to teach lower-level undergraduate courses. But, these days, because of the oversupply of PhDs in the humanities and social sciences vis-à-vis available tenure-track jobs, many PhDs end up being “lecturers.”

 Graduate (teaching) assistants in American universities are not employees of the university; they are transitory graduate (masters or PhD) students who teach—or assist a full-time professor in teaching— undergraduates while they earn their degrees in return for a tuition waiver and a monthly stipend. So “graduate assistant” is not a university rank in American academe. Nor is “assistant lecturer.” In any case, in undergraduate-only universities, called “liberal arts colleges” here, there are no graduate assistants since there are no graduate programs.

Now, since most fresh PhDs start as Lecturer II in Nigerian universities and fresh PhDs start as Assistant Professor in American universities, why did I equate the Nigerian/British “Senior Lecturer” rank with the American “Assistant Professor” rank? First, I pointed out that equivalence is tricky and isn’t exact because of the vast difference in the systems. For one, there are only three ranks in the American professoriate (assistant, associate and full professor) while there are several in Nigeria and Britain.

But the American doctoral education system, even in the best-case scenarios, is longer, more intense, requires separate years of course work AND research, and is structured in such a way that many Ph.D. candidates leave their programs with substantial conference-paper presentations and peer-reviewed journal articles--often enough to earn the position of "Senior Lecturer" in the British and Nigerian systems. In many programs, in fact, people are not allowed to graduate, even they have completed their doctoral dissertations, until they’ve published in well-regarded journals.

This is not the case in Nigeria. That’s why one Dr. Enoch Opeyemi who falsely claims to have solved the Riemann Hypothesis said in a recent interview that a Yale University PhD student who challenged and tore apart his claims had no grounds to do so because PhD students don't publish in scholarly outlets until they have defended their doctoral dissertations. That’s a lie. As I pointed out in a Facebook comment, Opeyemi was only ignorantly externalizing his Nigerian educational experience to America.

 Even in the rare instances where people graduate from their PhD  programs without peer-reviewed publications in America, by the time they are in the third or fourth years of their academic careers, most Assist Professors in American universities can be equated with most ideal Senior Lecturers in the British/Nigerian system. In research and comprehensive universities in America, the consequence of not publishing and teaching is that you will perish because you will be denied tenure and fired. In Nigeria, the only consequence of not being a good researcher and teacher, in the best case, is that you will stagnate in one rank.

 I am aware that because of the rise in publication fraud in Nigeria, where many lecturers publish substandard, unpublishable nonsense in fraudulent “open-access” journals, things have been muddied. I have seen people in the rank of Lecturer II with 80 “publications,” 100 percent of which are in worthless, non-reviewed, predatory, money-making, open-access “journals.” But that’s a topic for another day. I am also aware that the internal politics of universities and departments can cause worthy academics to slug in a rank because they are not in the good graces of the wielders of influence.

8. Professor of the practice/Clinical Professor. As far as I am aware, this academic position doesn’t exist in the British and Nigerian systems. “Professor of the practice,” or “clinical professor” (sometimes called “professor of professional practice”) is a professorial title given to people with impressive accomplishments in and profound hand-on knowledge of a field, even if such people don’t have more than a bachelor’s degree. They usually only teach undergraduates and are not expected to be researchers.

The practice is intended to draw people with extensive industry experience to the academe and to bridge the gap between the "town" and the “gown.” This is especially common in such vocational and skill-based courses as journalism, engineering, business, medicine, etc., but it can sometimes be found even in “intellectual” disciplines like literature. For instance, the late Maya Angelou was a lifetime endowed professor of American literature at Wake Forest University, even though she didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.

This is unnecessary in the (old) British/Nigerian system because people could attain the highest rank in their academic careers with just a bachelor's degree. Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, JP Clark, etc. became professors (or, if you will, "full professors") without Ph.D.’s. The National Universities Commission has, however, now made it impossible for anybody without a Ph.D. to proceed beyond the rank of "Senior Lecturer." 

Americans also have what is called “research professors.” They are hired only to conduct and publish research in high-impact outlets; they don’t teach any courses. Increasingly, too, PhDs who are employed as “lecturers” in American universities are called “teaching professors” to differentiate them from lecturers who typically have only a master’s degree. 

You may probably have heard of endowed professors (who can be associate professors). Well, they are university teachers and researchers whose salaries are paid by a wealthy philanthropist or a foundation after whom the endowment is typically named, such as "Dangote Endowed Professor in Entrepreneurship." It’s a great academic honor to be conferred an endowed professorship.

Now, it is usual for the American media to refer to President Barack Obama as a former “constitutional law professor” or simply as a former “college professor.” Many people have asked me to clarify what that means. Well, Obama’s official title at the University of Chicago Law School was “Senior Lecturer” but, as you learned last week, Americans informally use the term “professor” to refer to anybody who teaches in a university. According to the University of Chicago Law School, Obama’s “Senior Lecturer” status was on an adjunct basis, that is, it was part-time because he had a full-time job as a lawyer and later as a politician.

 “Like Obama, each of the Law School's Senior Lecturers has high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined,” the school said on its website. Obama doesn’t have a Ph.D., but he has a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, a 3-year professional doctorate required to practice law in the United States, which isn’t the equivalent of a PhD, although JD holders can be appointed as Assistant Professors. The equivalent of a PhD in law is the Doctor of Juridical Science or the Doctor of the Science of Law, which is better known by the initialism SJD, derived from the Latin Scientiae Juridicae Doctor. (For more on this, see "Difference Between a Doctorate and a PhD")

9. “Academic staff” versus “faculty.” In the British system, university teachers are collectively called “academic staff.” That is why the name of the trade union for Nigerian university teachers is called the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). But in American English, the collective term for university teachers is “faculty,” which in British English means a division of a university that houses cognate subject areas, such as “Faculty of Arts,” “Faculty of Science,” etc.

“Professors” and “faculty” are interchangeable terms in American English. That’s why the American equivalent of the Nigerian Academic Staff Union of Universities is called the Association of American University Professors (AAUP), which is open to all people who teach in the university—be they lecturers, adjuncts, visiting professors, tenure-track or tenured professors.

In the American system, the term “staff” is used only for people who don’t teach or research in the university, what Nigerian and British English speakers call “non-academic staff.” So where the British and Nigerians would say “academic and non-academic staff,” Americans would say “faculty and staff.”

To be concluded next week

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why Adamu Adamu’s Appointment as Education Minister is “Well-Deserved”

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I was surprised by the number of people who took issue with my description of Malam Adamu Adamu’s appointment as “well-deserved” in my December 5, 2015 article titled “Adamu Adamu, Please Bring Back Nigeria’s Teachers Colleges.”

While several people, including people I really respect, privately wrote to challenge me to justify calling the appointment of an “accountant-turned-columnist” as education minister well-deserved, others assumed, without evidence, that I was being lavish with my praise because I was personally known to the minister. I was frankly taken aback by all this because I didn’t think describing an appointment as “well-deserved” was of any consequence.

But after a little digging, I realized that many university teachers, particularly one Professor Akin Oyebode, publicly resented the appointment of Adamu Adamu as education minister because he isn’t a career academic. I also read many excellent rebuttals to this objection. So, apparently, I am a latecomer to this conversation.
Minister of Education Adamu Adamu in a handshake with President Buhari
Let me start by saying I am not personally known to Adamu Adamu. Although we both write (in his case “wrote”) for the Daily Trust, I have never met him in my life. I have never communicated with him, and hadn’t even seen a photo of him until he became a minister. The closest I have come to knowing him personally was that my late wife, Zainab Musa Kperogi, who knew Adamu Adamu in Kaduna in the 1990s, once told me he never looked at a woman twice; she said he always lowered his gaze each time he saw her—or any other woman. I don’t know why that description of him has stuck in my head. Maybe it’s because of my familiarity with the Quranic verse that instructs men (and women) to “lower their gaze and guard their modesty.”

When I spoke with people who know him personally, they confirmed what my late wife said and added that he is essentially a fiercely ascetic and self-effacing man who isn’t as assertive and aggressive in real life as he is in his writings.

But I didn’t call his appointment “well-deserved” because of any vicarious personal familiarity with him. I did so only because of my familiarity with his writing and pedigree. First, it is inaccurate to call him an “accountant-turned-columnist.” It is true that he got a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Ahmadu Bello University and was an accountant with the old Bauchi State government for a few years. But most of his professional life has been in journalism, not just columnism. And he didn’t just study accountancy; he also has a master’s degree in journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York, one of the oldest and most prestigious journalism schools in the world, which administers the famous Pulitzer Prizes, journalism’s most esteemed professional awards.

He was Deputy Editor of New Nigerian and author of the wildly popular “Definition in Humour” column in the New Nigerian on Sunday in the 1980s. He was also one of the founding editors of Citizen, the first serious modern news magazine in northern Nigeria, and of Sentinel, a beautiful, well-edited weekly news magazine that was financed by the late General Shehu Musa Yar’adua. This is all common knowledge to older educated northern Nigerians. But I’ve discovered that most southerners and younger northerners have been influenced by the narrative that Adamu Adamu is merely an accountant who accidentally became a columnist; they miss the infix between his accountancy and his colunmism: journalism.

Deep immersion in journalism and columnism is just one facet of the man. He is also a polyglot. He has native or near native proficiency in Fulfulde, Hausa, English, Arabic, and Persian. It takes a lot of passion in learning to acquire proficiency in these many languages. If you say Fulfulde and Hausa are native to him, and English was learned effortlessly since it’s the language of instruction at all levels of education in Nigeria, you still can’t help but admire the commitment that went into learning Arabic and Persian.

Most importantly, Adamu Adamu has written more about education—and with greater depth and clarity— than any previous minister of education Nigeria ever had, except, of course, the inimitable Professor Babatunde Aliyu Fafunwa. As Mahmud Jega pointed out in his November 15, 2015 column, Adamu Adamu has a vast and varied oeuvre spanning decades on a variety of subject-matters, particularly education, that people can always “dig up” to “see if there is a match” between the ideals he espoused and his actions. “When … ASUU goes on its next strike to demand that Nigeria devotes 30% of its budget to education, the union will call the Minister of Education as witness because he wrote an article in 2013 strongly advocating that,” Jega wrote.

If a person who studied in three continents, including at an Ivy League university, studied and practiced two different professions, went out of his way to learn and acquire near-native proficiency in two additional international languages, and wrote hundreds of passionate and informed articles on education over a period of more than four decades isn’t “well-qualified” to be minister of education, I don’t know who is.

You don’t need to have a Ph.D, or have the title of “professor” prefixed to your name, to supervise the ministry of education. I relate with (Nigerian) PhDs and professors every single day of my life, and I can attest that most Nigerian academics, including me, can’t hold a candle to Adamu Adamu when it comes to issues concerning education. This isn’t empty bluster. Anyone in doubt can search for his articles on Google and make their judgment independently.

Now, does this mean Adamu Adamu will dwarf other ministers of education that preceded him? I frankly don’t know. I am not vouching for him because I know there is something about being in government in Nigeria that just drains people’s brains and constricts their commonsense. Otherwise clearheaded people go into government and become total, irredeemable jerks. I don’t know if Adamu Adamu will be that. I hope not.

 I just like the idea of an informed, knowledgeable “outsider” being put in charge of a ministry as rotten but as consequential as education.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Comparison of Everyday University Vocabularies in Nigeria, America, and Britain (I)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In the past few weeks, I have received hundreds of questions from readers of this column about the meanings of common university terminologies. Why do Americans call every university teacher a “professor”?  What do the terms “adjunct professor,” “assistant professor,” “associate professor,” “full professor,” “Reader,” etc. mean, and how can a Nigerian make sense of them?

To answer these questions, I have decided to rework an article I wrote more than 5 years ago titled “Comparing the Vernaculars of American and British Universities.” So here goes.

1. Professor: When someone addresses herself as a “professor of geography” at a university, what should we understand her as saying? Should we understand her as saying that she has reached the highest possible point attainable in the hierarchy of university teaching and research? Or is she an entry-level assistant professor, “lecturer,” or even a graduate teaching assistant who just wants to say that she teaches geography at a university?

 The first sense is chiefly British while the second is decidedly American. But, increasingly, the American usage is being adopted in British universities. In what follows, I have identified the vernaculars of the academe in the two dominant dialects of the English language while laying bare the ways in which these vernaculars sometimes interweave in fascinating ways. I use the term vernacular NOT in the way it’s generally understood in Nigeria, that is, native Nigerian languages in contradistinction to the English language; I use it to mean the everyday speech codes of particular groups of people.

 In American English, “professor” is a generic term for anybody who teaches in a university (Brits prefer the preposition “at” in reference to universities and other kinds of schools). That is why the term “professoriate” refers to the university teaching profession collectively. In British English, however, “professor” is a title used exclusively for people who have reached the pinnacle of university teaching and research, what Americans call “full professor.” 

But the American usage of “professor” is more faithful to the Latin etymology of the term which, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, literally means a “person who professes to be an expert in some art or science….” In the Romance languages (that is, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian, etc.), which are the surviving linguistic children of Latin, professor is used to denote teacher at any level of education.

2. Lecturer: While the generic term for a university teacher in the British and Nigerian system is “lecturer,” in the American system lecturer means something slightly different. There are two dominant senses of the term in America. The first is a public speaker at certain universities. The second sense is an inferior-rank university teacher who either does not possess a Ph.D. or who has a Ph.D. but doesn’t have a tenure-track job. (I will explain what “tenure-track” means shortly).

 Lecturers are overworked and underpaid, only teach undergraduates, are not expected to be researchers, and are often abandoned to vegetate on the fringes of academic departments in American universities. A colleague of mine last week wondered aloud why a recent news report in a Nigerian newspaper referred to me as a “lecturer”; she thought it was insulting. I explained to her that “lecturer” is a generic term for university teacher in Nigeria and Britain, and has no semantic connection with the meaning of lecturer in America.

3. Tenure-Track: A tenure-track appointment is basically an appointment that promises life-time employment to an aspiring academic, usually within five to seven years from the start of employment. In research-intensive schools, the conditions for tenure is at least a peer-reviewed book published by a reputable academic publishing house, a couple of refereed articles in reputable journals or books, evidence of teaching excellence, and service to the university and the community. In some disciplines, a book is not a requirement for tenure.

In teaching-heavy schools where the focus is undergraduate education, to earn tenure you only have to demonstrate evidence of teaching excellence. Having one or two publications, academic conference presentations, and service to the university will redound the case for tenure.

Lecturers are never on the tenure track; they are employed usually on a two-year contract that is subject to periodic review and renewal. The most important condition for the renewal of the contract is evidence of teaching effectiveness. There is no expectation of research productivity. The highest rank you can attain in the lecturer track is "senior lecturer," which is completely different from the British/Nigerian English understanding of the term, as I will show shortly. In other words, lecturers never get to become "full professors."

As I said earlier, in the American system, lecturers are paid less, teach more courses, and have far less privileges and benefits than tenure-track or tenured professors. They have no guarantee of life-time employment; they can be fired from their jobs at any time, usually because their teaching has been evaluated as unsatisfactory by their students. It’s a precarious position to be in. I know of no one who willingly chooses the lecturer track in American universities. You can now understand why my American colleague was shocked that I was referred to as a “lecturer.”

4. Assistant/Associate/Full Professors. In the American system, fresh Ph.D.’s start their careers as “Assistant Professors.” Then they get promoted to “Associate Professors,” and finally to “Full Professors” if they meet the requirements for promotion. These positions may be tenure-track or non-tenure-track, which I will explain shortly.

In the past, only people who had the rank of “assistant professor,” “associate professor,” or “full professor” were called “professor” in America. In fact, in their Guide to English Usage, British grammarians Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut insist that the term professor “should be applied only to those (assistant, associate, or full professors) who have the title professor” (p. 567). But this is no longer the convention. Even lecturers and teaching assistants are called “professors” in American universities—at least informally.

5. Adjunct/Visiting Professors. An adjunct professor is a type of university teacher we would call a “part-time lecturer” in the Nigerian system. Some people are “adjuncts” by choice, perhaps because they have full-time jobs elsewhere and can’t take a full-time employment in the university; many, however, take the position because they can’t find tenure-track jobs.

 “Adjunct professors” are similar in some respects to “visiting” professors (i.e., visiting assistant professor, visiting associate professor and visiting professor), except that a visiting professorship is usually a terminal, non-renewable appointment that lasts no longer than two years.  Lecturers, adjuncts, and visiting professors are the intellectual slave laborers of the American academe.

So don’t call an American academic a “lecturer” if you’re not sure that’s really their designation. Use the more generic “professor” if unsure.

6. Senior Lecturer. As I said earlier, a “senior lecturer” in American universities is completely different from a senior lecturer in British and Nigerian universities. I admit that comparing academic titles in the British and American systems is tricky. But it is customary to state that “senior lecturer” in the British and Nigerian systems is equivalent to “assistant professor” in the American system, “reader” (which is rarely used these days) in the British and Nigerian systems is the equivalent of the American “associate professor,” and “professor” in the British and Nigerian systems is the equivalent of “full professor” in the American system.

 In reality, however, this is a false equivalence, as I will show next week. But it’s interesting that most people who attain the rank of “reader” in the British and Nigerian systems prefer to be addressed as “associate professor”; however, “senior lecturers” in the British system don’t call themselves “assistant professors.” My sense is that the term “associate professor” is popular in non-American contexts because it indicates that the person associated with the title is only a step away from being a professor in the British sense of the term, while the term “assistant professor” may give the impression that the bearer of the title is merely an assistant to a professor, which he is not.

To be continued

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Re: Adamu Adamu, Please Bring Back Nigeria’s Teachers Colleges

Read below a sample of the thoughts readers of this column shared with me on last week’s column with the above title.

Thanks for the beautiful piece on Teacher Training Colleges which appeared in your usually interesting column of 5th December, 2015. While agreeing with you 100% that Teacher Colleges effectively served their purpose while they lasted, I am of the opinion that their successors, the Colleges of Education, must be made even more effective to serve the purpose of the current need of the Nigerian educational system, through purposeful leadership in the sector. 

Many factors have conspired to bring the quality of education at all levels to their knees in Nigeria. These include, but not limited to, poor curriculum, inadequate infrastructure, extensive extreme poverty, chronic security challenges, poor incentives, remuneration and inadequate reward system, struggle for supremacy between degree and other certificates, societal value system, quality of governance, incoherent government policies, inadequate institutional framework, inadequate funding, etc.

While all the factors above have serious effects on the quality of our educational system, and hence need to be addressed urgently, I would like to suggest that the curriculum of Colleges of Education and the Faculties of Education must be urgently re-visited to produce the right standard of teachers/lecturers, if the free-fall in the quality of education in Nigeria must be halted.

Equally very important is the remuneration and the reward system. The quality of any educational system is only as good as the quality of its teachers. Those in the so-called professional courses can only be good relative to the knowledge/expertise of their teachers. Therefore, if a system encourages, by virtue of numeration and societal rating, all the “intelligent” candidates to read “Professional” courses, leaving only the “not-so-intelligent” to take a career in teaching, then the educational quality of that system will continue to suffer from free fall as we are experiencing in Nigeria today. This is because the “not-so-endowed” teachers/lecturers will continue to “clone” themselves, even in the so-called “intelligent professionals.

To drive home my point, please, consider this scenario: a C- class candidate (UTME score of 180) is admitted to read Biochemistry or Physics. Upon graduation, he is employed to teach at a higher Institution where he produces an A-class student who is admitted to read medicine or Engineering. That A-class student is actually equivalent to 70/100 X180 (reduced to UTME score of 126 equivalent). Subsequent generations of students taught by that A-class graduate and his/her products will depreciate by the same factor. This is exactly what is also happening at the different levels of Education where potential teachers are trained in Nigeria, where because of the poor remuneration and reward system for their graduates, only candidates with UTME Score of about 160/400 are admitted each year. No wonder some people have described tertiary institutions in Nigeria, as “higher institutions of lower learning”.

Hence my humble conclusion and suggestion are that, no matter the number of Education summits, curriculum review, policy realignment, infrastructural upgrade, teacher registrations, etc, the quality of Nigerian educational system (and indeed other sectors of the economy) will continue to nose-dive, until teachers from the foundation to the University levels, like other professionals (that are actually produced by the teachers) are accorded their right of place (and off course, right remuneration), as is the case in Finland, Germany and other developed countries.
Professor Sunday E. Atawodi, FAS, Biochemistry Department, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria

I'm proud to be one of those teachers you talked about. The quality of education and training I received at the college is what is helping me keep my head high even among my supposedly senior colleagues. I still keep and relish the marked manuscripts of my lesson plans for the two course teaching practice experience we did. It was thoughtful of you Farooq to have raised this now.
Mahmud Zukogi, Bayero University, Kano

I, being a teacher, concur with your opinion sir. The worrying condition of the already fallen standard of our teaching staff is alarming. The wasteful head count of primary pupils recently conducted in Kano has exposed the full extent of the collapse of the system. Education has been brought down to its knees in this part of the world. The teachers are no better than their confused pupils. The schools are dilapidated. The teachers have been frustrated by the meagre salary they earn. So they use every opportunity of wringing money from the students or their parents. The situation is so bad.

We therefore urge and plead the honourable minister to look at our primary education well. Professor has spoken well and suggested that the minister already has his hands full. Should these suggestions be accepted and adopted, we could come of age and compete with the already developed nations educationally. Thank you professor!
Muhd Mubarak Ibrahim

Thanks Dr. Farooq for such an observation. As a practicing teacher myself that went through all the channels of becoming a well-prepared teacher, we are in the same shoe. I passed through TC ll, NCE and BA.Ed. The thoughtless cancellation of Teachers' Training Colleges by the then government is surely one major factor that contributes to the rot of education in the land. May your write-up be the pointer for the present government to have a re-think. God bless, sir.

Usman Haruna

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

“Academician” Or “Academic”? Q and A on Nigerian English Errors and Usage

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Although many Nigerians, including Professor Wole Soyinka, use “academicians” and “academics” interchangeably, they are in error. Find out why in today’s Q and A. Also find the difference between a “house” and a “home,” between the expressions “it’s me” and “it’s I,” and other usage questions.

What is the difference between an “academic” and an “academician”? I see both words used interchangeably in Nigerian English. Is this correct?

Let me answer you this way: you will probably never have a reason to use the word “academician” if you speak or write Standard English. Most people who use “academician” are either non-native English speakers or uneducated native English speakers.

So what is the difference between an “academician” and an “academic”? Well, an “academic” is someone who teaches or conducts research in a higher educational institution, typically in a university. In British and Nigerian English, academics are also called “lecturers.” In American English, they are called “professors.”

 An “academician,” on the other hand, is a person who works with or is honored with membership into an academy, that is, an institution devoted to the study and advancement of a specialized area of learning such as the arts, sciences, literature, medicine, music, engineering, etc. Examples of academies are the Nigerian Academy of Letters, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, etc.

Not all academics are academicians and not all academicians are academics. In other words, you can teach in a university, polytechnic, college of education, etc. and never be made a member of an academy, and you can become a member of an academy without ever being a teacher or a researcher at a higher educational institution. Note that while most academicians are also academics, most academics are never academicians.

A little note on pragmatics is in order here. Although many dictionaries have entries that say “academician” and “academic” can be synonymous, this isn’t really the case in actual usage, at least among educated native English speakers. It is considered illiterate usage in British and American English to call higher education teachers and researchers “academicians”; they are properly called “academics.” Many dictionaries merely capture the entire range of a word’s usage without discriminating socially prestigious usage from uneducated or archaic usage.

That is why I was disappointed when Professor Wole Soyinka used “academician” as if it meant “academic” in a 1971 newspaper article. In the article, he wrote: “What I would have expected of an academician was the advocation [sic, “advocation” is an archaic variant of “advocacy”] of a social system whereby the life of a decent [living] was guaranteed and the benevolent patronage of the privileged groups was eradicated for all time.

“Dr Isong’s cry if any should be directed against a social system which binds both him and his dependants in a vice of mutual degradation and limits his freedom of action and development by denying him equality in his association with all the potential inherent in every class of society” (quoted in James Gibbs and Bernith Lindfors (1993), Research on Wole Soyinka, pp. 243-244).

Dr. A. J.  Isong, whom Soyinka called an “academician,” wasn’t a member of an academy; he was an “academic,” that is, a lecturer, at the University of Ibadan. I think it helps to point out that “academic” is derived from “academia” (pronounced aki/deemia) or “academe” (pronounced aki/deem), which means a place of (higher) learning such as a university or, as the Online Etymology Dictionary puts it, “the world of universities and scholarship.” “Academician,” on the other hand, is derived from “academy” (pronounced as “aka-demi”), which is an institution dedicated to the pursuit of advancement in a narrowly defined field of knowledge.

Henry Watson Fowler, the famous English lexicographer who wrote A Dictionary of Modern English Usage and co-wrote the Concise Oxford Dictionary, pointed out that although Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Lowell used “academe” as a poetic variant of “academy,” it is a mistake do so in conventional usage.

In sum, don’t call anybody an “academician” if the person doesn’t work in an academy. It’s actually rare to come across an academician. That’s why I said earlier that you will probably never have a reason to use the word—if you want to use it correctly, that is.

I am a regular reader of your columns in the weekend editions of Daily Trust.  My question to you is do "house" and "home” mean the same thing or are they different?

A “house” is merely a building where someone lives while a “home” is a house we have an emotional attachment to. It is the sense of comfort and emotional connection we feel toward a house that makes it a home. You build a house and make it a home by occupying it and filling it with memories. So a building is the structure, the concrete, while a home is a combination of the building and the emotions, memories, sense of belonging, and comfort that we bring to the house.

While this distinction is generally true, it is worth noting that American English speakers, especially real estate agents, often use “home” in ways that are similar to the traditional meaning of a “house.” They say things like "homes for sale," "buy a home." Well, traditional grammarians would say you can't buy a home; you can only buy a house and make it a home.

Is the expression “the both of us” standard? Or it is Nigerian English?

It’s neither nonstandard nor uniquely Nigerian English. Several grammarians say the expression first emerged in American English as a deviation from the conventional “both of us,” but I have never heard any American in my social circles use the expression; most of them simply say “both of us.” The article “the” in the expression strikes me as pointless.

Nevertheless British music sensation Adele in her recent wildly popular, record-breaking song titled “Hello” said “the both of us.” This either means that “the both of us” has crossed over to the UK or Adele’s English has become Americanized. The latter seems more likely since Adele, who now lives in the US, sounds really American in accent and diction in her new song.

When someone asks you “who is it?” which of these responses is correct? “It is I.” “It is me.”

From a pragmatic point of view, both responses are grammatically acceptable. In formal grammar, however, “it is I” would be considered the only grammatically correct response. The responder is the subject of the sentence, and “I” is a subjective pronoun—just like “we,” “he,” “she,” “they,” etc. are subjective pronouns. Subjective pronouns initiate action in a sentence. To understand why “It is I” is considered the only grammatically acceptable response, recast the sentence. For instance, you would say “I am the one,” not “Me is the one.”

Having said that, it is worth noting that almost no one says “It is I” in conversational English anywhere in the English-speaking world. The conventional usage is “It is me.” You may find “It is I” only in formal, written contexts. Many grammarians say “It is I” is on its way out of the English language, and I agree.

Kindly say something about the use of “her,” “she,” and “it” in talking about a country or a group. My assumption is expressions like "Nigeria and her allies" and "NUJ protects her members" are old fashioned, and now better put as "Nigeria and its allies" and "NUJ protects its members" respectively. But a friend thinks the latter are incorrect expressions. Please comment.

I wrote about this some time ago. Yes, the use of feminine pronouns such as “she” or “her” to refer to a country or to an organization or to a ship is outdated. The pronoun “it” is now preferred to “she” or “her” when reference is made to countries or organizations. You will never find contemporary native English speakers say “Britain and her citizens” or “America and her interests”; they’d replace “her” with “it.”

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Adamu Adamu, Please Bring Back Nigeria’s Teacher’s Colleges

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I want to congratulate Malam Adamu Adamu on his well-deserved appointment as minister of education and call his attention to an article I wrote on teacher-training colleges on January 19, 2013.

 I have been thinking of doing a piece to honor the teachers who have influenced the course of my life and to whom I owe huge, incalculable debts. Then it occurred to me that the teachers who nurtured me in my formative years all had a long-forgotten qualification called the Teacher Certificate Grade II (TCGDII), which people earned after 5 years of attending teacher-training colleges. People who had secondary school qualifications and wanted to teach in primary schools went to the “pivotal” teacher training program of teacher-training colleges where they spent some two years to earn the same qualification. 

 Teacher-training colleges in Nigeria were designed to train people to specifically teach in primary schools. Judging by (my recollections of) the quality of people who taught me in the first six years of my educational career, Nigeria’s teacher-training colleges had high standards. The teachers understood child psychology and were trained to be all-rounders; they taught all subjects with what seemed to me like effortless ease. I knew of no teacher who was not as proficient in the sciences as he was in the humanities. I later learned that this was so because the colleges had a policy of not granting full certification to students until they passed all 13 odd multidisciplinary subjects they’d learned.

I recall that some of my teachers still studied and went back to retake a few courses they didn’t have credit passes in, which they called “referred” subjects. That’s probably not the right word, but that was what my young, growing mind heard them say. Teachers who passed all 13 or so subjects in one sitting often held their heads high and were the objects of envy and respect. I remember all this because I come from a family of teachers.

 Then, suddenly, in the early 1990s, the Ibrahim Babangida military regime phased out teachers’ colleges and imposed the Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE) as the minimum qualification to teach in elementary schools. I don’t recall the reasons given for this, but that has to rank as the most thoughtless and asinine educational policy change in Nigeria’s history.

The Nigerian Certificate in Education offered by our colleges of education is designed to train teachers to teach in secondary schools. Its curriculum does not offer any kind of intellectual exposure to early childhood education, and its course offerings are ill-suited for a teaching career in primary schools because they don’t cover the full range of subjects taught in elementary schools. Someone who was an “arts” student in secondary school (which means he had no exposure to the sciences) who goes ahead to, for instance, study “Political Science, Economics and Education,” can’t be an effective teacher of Integrated Science and Mathematics/Arithmetic in primary schools.

The result, of course, is that there has been a frighteningly dramatic drop in standards in primary schools—the most important stage of anybody’s intellectual development. Our elementary schools are now taught by a bunch of inept, ill-trained people who don’t understand child psychology and who have no clue what it means to have a rounded education.

I have never been impressed by private primary schools bragging about having bachelor’s degree holders on their teaching staff. I would rather send my child to a school taught by graduates of teacher-training colleges than to a school taught by bachelor’s, master’s, or even PhD degree holders who have no intellectual preparation to teach little kids. I would be impressed only if I knew that such teachers had a Grade II certificate before acquiring advanced qualifications. 
This issue strikes at the core of the alarmingly progressive atrophy of educational standards at all levels in Nigeria. A wobbly foundation can’t support a durable structure. That is why any educational policy that does not meaningfully address this crucial deficiency would be grasping at straws.
 I think we have three options to turn things around.

The first option is to bring back teacher-training colleges. Former Bauchi State governor Isa Yuguda was one of the few higher-ups who saw the wisdom in this. The Daily Trust of February 7, 2011 reported him as saying he would reintroduce teachers’ colleges in his state. He observed, correctly, that “the educational policy of government which did away with the teachers' colleges was not done objectively. I may be wrong, but I think the beginning of the collapse of education in Nigeria, particularly northern Nigeria, was as a result of the phasing out of teachers colleges.”

 Like before, students who graduate from primary schools should have the option to either go the teacher-training track or the secondary school track. While we are at it, our secondary school curriculum should be redesigned to expose students to the widest possible breadth of course offerings across the disciplinary spectrum. The current system, which forces students to “specialize” rather too early, is unhelpful. The distinction between “arts” and “science” students should be abolished. It is anachronistic and shortchanges students. America has no such distinction. Many developed nations don’t, too.

I am aware that the National Teachers’ Institute in Kaduna still trains primary school teachers by distance learning using the curriculum of the erstwhile teacher-training colleges. But that’s not enough. In any case, if teacher-training colleges were such a bad idea that we had to phase them out, why do we still train teachers through the backdoor using their model? That’s schizophrenic.

Our second option is to change our current colleges of education into institutions that prepare people to teach in elementary schools. The current college of education curriculum prepares students to teach secondary schools, which is a waste of efforts since our universities’ faculties of education already do this.

The third option is to introduce bachelor’s degrees in elementary and early childhood education in our universities and make the possession of these degrees the minimum qualification to teach in primary schools. The curriculum of the degrees should be modeled after our earlier teacher-training colleges. That’s how it’s done in America.

Whatever it is, Nigeria has no option but to address the challenges of teaching and learning in its primary schools if it is to stay competitive in the 21st century and beyond.


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