THE controversy surrounding First Lady Grace Mugabe’s Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) early this month has reduced the former prestigious institution to a butt of crude jokes on social media.
by PHILLLIP CHIDAVAENZI
“You just phone. There is no problem. You just phone UZ and request them to confer you with a degree. You tell them I am coming there. You just say, ‘it’s Amai…. I am coming there…, give me a doctorate in philosophy. I will be there tomorrow at 12. Prepare a gown for me’,” goes a joke which has gone viral on WhatsApp.
The joke started circulating after Vice-President Joice Mujuru and the First Lady were capped by President Robert Mugabe (90) early this month.
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti, a Law graduate from the once esteemed university, was the first to take a dig at the UZ.
“I want to state publicly that I will never ever have a PhD for obvious reasons. You know what happened,” Biti told a recent meeting discussing the economic crisis bedevilling the country, attracting roars of laughter.
Many people took to social networks like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter where they either added PhD after their names or posted that they were now planning to work towards a PhD because it was now easy to acquire.
Award–winning author and academic Chenjerai Hove, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Norway for many years, also questioned how Grace ended up bagging the PhD without a traceable record.
“Maybe they have been offered honorary degrees, who knows? If they are PhD degrees which have been studied for, then at some point they must have defended the theses publicly in some hall in the university,” Hove said.
He observed that the latest developments at the university were likely to dent its reputation as a university of note.
“I worked hard to get my UZ degree and if it is so easy for some people to just arrive and get a PhD the following morning, I feel ashamed of my old university. It is a disgrace that a reputable university which has produced so many academics of high standing can do this to us,” he said.
The turn of events has also seen analysts questioning the credibility of the incumbent Vice-Chancellor Levi Nyagura — who seems to have presided over the plummeting of standards at university — and condemned himself to live in the shadow of his predecessors Gordon Chavunduka (late), Walter Kamba (late) and Graham Hill.
Unlike Nyagura, these esteemed vice-chancellors never exceeded two terms at the helm of the university. During their time the university produced graduates with skills that were in demand all over the world, making Zimbabwe an exporter of exceptional skilled labour.
Although the UZ has remained tight-lipped over the award to Grace, several stakeholders have called for investigations into how she landed the revered qualification.
The institution’s public relations officer Dennis Rwafa did not respond to questions e-mailed to him two weeks ago but an official from his office last week said the university was going to issue a statement on the matter in due course.
“We are going to publish a statement, but I don’t know the exact date [of publication] at the moment,” said the official.
A professor at the UZ who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Standard last week that the latest turn of events was likely to have a negative impact on the credibility of the university.
“Obviously, this is going to have an impact on how the UZ is ranked because the rankings are done in terms of the research output and teaching processes,” he said.
“The international community is watching and they will begin to ask a lot of questions as to what is happening, but this will depend also on how the university is going to respond.”
While the UZ is ranked first among the country’s 12 universities, it was pegged at number 91 in top 100 African rankings for 2013, according to 4International Colleges and Universities’ website, www.4icu.org.
The UZ follows the British system for PhDs, which requires a student to do extensive research on a single project, under the guidance and supervision of an academic who is an expert in the field. A dissertation of about 100 000 words must be presented at the end of three years of an academic period.