The decision by the Council of the University of Malawi to force former President of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union, Dr Jessie Kabwila, and the Attorney General to pay compensation to students who sued the Council during the Academic Freedom Fight in 2011 is indicative of one thing: The Council lacks Public Relations acumen.
Non residential students at the college sued the Council because they were not attending classes when lecturers were protesting the then Inspector General of Police’s summoning of Dr Blessings Chinsinga over an example he cited in a Political Science class. The protracted strike left students spending time and their other resources in Zomba on nothing.
According to The Daily Times of July 9th 2012, the compensation in question amounts to MK55, 404,800.00.
When it failed to resolve the academic freedom spat in 2011, the Council already got its public image battered to deformity. Then, the Council appeared to have surrendered its conflict resolution skills to a politician, late President Bingu wa Mutharika.
In the present case, with proper Public Relations advice, the University Council would have clearly seen the implications of the new spat with Dr Kabwila i.e. a resurrected battle with Chancellor College lectures as they will predictably not leave their former Union President alone in this fresh but unnecessary scuffle. They will react, legally or otherwise. Of course it will not be surprising to hear the lecturers have once again abandoned their students.
This will inevitably just trigger more problems than the Council should be solving i.e. rebuilding its tattered image and restoring different publics’ trust that the Council is capable of effectively managing UNIMA.
A Public Relations Specialist sitting at the Council’s table would help scan the environment, make predictions of the consequences of this decision on Kabwila and advise accordingly.
The compensation decision therefore begs two questions: Does the Council have a Public Relations Adviser? If it does, was his/her counsel taken on board on this?
Source of story on Council’s decision: http://bnltimes.com/index.php/daily-times/headlines/national/7111-university-of-malawi-sues-kabwila-ag