"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 01/23/21

Saturday, January 23, 2021

3 Fallacies in Falola’s “Diss” of Diasporan Academics Over ASUU

 By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I initially resisted responding to Professor Toyin Falola’s trending essay titled “IS THE DIASPORA NOW ABOUT RUBBISHING THOSE AT HOME?”— which he wrote partly in response to the guest column I invited Professor Moses Ochonu to write— for three reasons.

One, the article was so atypically self-aggrandizing that I thought the Professor Falola I’ve known since 2004 couldn’t possibly be its author. Falola, like all greats, has a reputation for self-effacement and for disarmingly self-deprecating humility.

 But the article wasn’t just gratuitously self-conceited (particularly for someone who is already sitting pretty at the mountaintop of enormous scholarly accomplishments and has no need to toot his own horn), it was also an invidiously below-the-belt symbolic violence against unnamed targets Falola perceives as less privileged than he is, which ironically vitiates his charge of superciliousness against diasporan critics of ASUU’s enablement of mediocrity in the Nigerian university system. I thought someone fraudulently appended his name to lend unearned gravitas to a flawed apologia.

Two, after confirming that he wrote it, I said, well, Falola is a fecund, stellar, far-famed, and generous scholar who has become the patriarch of African academics in North America— and who has earned the perquisite to get away with some benign indiscretions without being challenged. 

Three, I discovered that the article wasn’t meant for public consumption; it was a private email to a select group of Nigerian academics. It was meant, as I understand it, to flatter them and soothe their bruised, brittle egos in the aftermath of searingly stinging but entirely warranted animadversions against ASUU by diasporan academics—and to respond to an address by a diasporan scholar who had excoriated toxic PhD mentorship practices that have taken deep roots among Nigerian academics.

However, because Falola’s private communication has been unethically divulged and is now being lazily weaponized as a counterblast to legitimate, well-intentioned diasporan critiques of the atrophy in Nigerian universities, I am compelled to correct three particularly egregious misconceptions in the article for the benefit of people who desire the unvarnished facts.

1. Folola claimed that diasporan critics of ASUU “teach in schools that are far below any Nigerian public University. How can someone from a US Tier 2 school be talking down on professors at the University of Ibadan?”

That is flat-out incorrect. I take no joy in saying this, but the truth is that the worst university in the US is light-years better than the best public university in Nigeria.

I don’t say this to deride Nigerian universities (which are foundational to what I am today), but to lay bare the multiple layers of self-delusion that this kind of bewilderingly erroneous claim represents. 

Because of America’s wealth and investment in education, students and teachers in even the lowest-ranked American university (to the extent that there is any ontological utility in school rankings outside of the elitist and capitalist impulse to hierarchize and stratify) have access to every imaginable research and pedagogical tool they need to succeed.

 The periodic, rigorous accreditation exercises of such regional accrediting bodies as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, New England Commission of Higher Education, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, etc. ensure that accredited U.S. universities don’t fall short of minimum standards of excellence.

Plus, PhD is the minimum requirement to teach at most U.S. universities, but the NUC said in 2016 that only about 60 percent of Nigerian university teachers have PhDs.

To compare any accredited U.S. university with any public university in Nigeria is to take wild escapist and nativist fantasies to a tragicomically risible realm.

2. Falola wrote: “Someone who has no PhD student and has not produced one will go to the University of Abuja to lecture people how to mentor students.” Well, you don’t have to supervise PhD students in your school to be qualified to mentor PhD students in another school. You only need to have a PhD to be qualified to mentor PhD students. 

PhD mentoring isn’t some esoteric art that is open only to a specially initiated intellectual cult. That is why scholars who spent lifetimes teaching at undergraduate institutions in America can—and do— seamlessly transition into mentoring PhD students in research universities when they change jobs. It only requires, at the minimum, replicating how you were trained.

 In fact, in the past, particularly in British universities, experienced scholars without PhDs mentored PhD students. For example, Professor Wole Soyinka has only a BA, but he mentored famous African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. when he did his PhD at Cambridge University.

Besides, because of the structure of the university system here, it’s impossible for every university teacher in America to mentor PhD students. Out of America’s nearly 5,000 colleges and universities, only 131 are "R1: Doctoral Universities" and only 135 are classified as "R2: Doctoral Universities."

 In other words, most American universities don’t offer PhDs in most courses even though most American university teachers have PhDs. That means there are only limited opportunities to teach in universities that offer PhDs even for those who desire to mentor PhD students. 

But not offering graduate degrees is not a measure of quality but of a difference of missions. While a few universities want to be known for research, most are devoted to undergraduate teaching.

For instance, liberal arts colleges, which are expensive and prestigious, are committed entirely to excellence in undergraduate teaching. Most of them don’t even offer master’s degrees. To claim that PhDs who teach in one of these undergraduate institutions are incapable of mentoring PhD students elsewhere because they don’t teach PhD students in their schools is to stretch the truth.

It is this misbegotten idea that PhD supervision is a sine qua non of scholarly machismo that has led to the grotesque perversion of doctoral education in Nigeria. Every newly established university— and every poorly staffed department in older universities— now strains hard to create PhD programs so that egoistical academics can graduate PhD students just to bolster their claims to scholarly virility.

 It has led to the creeping but wholly philistine tradition in Nigerian universities that institutes PhD supervision as a prerequisite for promotion to full professor. This has conduced to the relentless spawning of hordes of nescient, intellectually ill-equipped PhDs who reproduce themselves in the system with a deplorably self-replicating virality that annihilates even the littlest pretense to scholarship. 

It’s OK to be an excellent teacher and a middling researcher or a terrific researcher and a passable teacher. Of course, it’s great to be both, but universities in the US know it’s not every day that you find people like Toyin Falola (who is both a supremely innovative teacher and a matchlessly prolific researcher.) 

3. Falola equated criticisms of the bad scholarship and ethical infractions of Nigerian university teachers by their diasporan counterparts as “anti-African” and as “a pandemic to destroy Africa.”

That’s a tad too melodramatic, even a bit dissimulative. These critiques, which Falola himself engages in, come from tough love, passion for change, impatience with inexorably diminishing standards, and an intense awareness of what universities ought to be, which universities at home aren’t.

 Diasporan critics of homeland universities also draw from their own experiential data because they were once victims of instructional unaccountability and what I once called “pedagogical dictatorship.” 

Criticism of certain perverted practices in Nigerian universities isn’t synonymous with a blanket condemnation of all Nigerian university teachers. There are certainly several outstanding researchers and exceptional teachers in Nigerian universities who are also ethical and a match for their peers anywhere in the world.

Moses Ochonu and I, for instance, wrote a joint tribute in my May 19, 2018 column in honor of our undergraduate professor at Bayero University titled “Prof. Saleh Abdu: Appreciation to an Exceptional Teacher.” In several previous interventions on ASUU, I have also isolated remarkable teachers who made a difference in my life, who took their craft seriously, and who would be exemplars anywhere in the world.

But exceptions don’t invalidate the rule; they prove it. The fact that Obafemi Awolowo University produced Toyin Falola in the 1970s is no defense against the facts of the heartrendingly systemic decay of the Nigerian university system and the inculpation of lecturers and governments in this decline.

Related Articles:

A Comparison of Nigerian and American University Teachers (I)

A Comparison of Nigerian and American University Teachers (II)