Hii document nimetumiwa na jamaa yangu, naamini inawagusa hata ndugu zetu wa vyuo vikuu. Someni hapa chini. When Family Ties Bind African Universities By John D. Holm In 2006, I came to Africa to help the University of Botswana create an international-program office. During my almost four years at the institution, I saw firsthand the obstacles hindering the development of higher education in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of those problems are triggered by well-intentioned, but often misguided, aid from wealthy countries, charitable foundations, and universities in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. However, an equally significant problem-and one that is often too taboo to raise-is that African academics themselves play a role in impeding the ability of African higher education to reach its potential. Many, if not most, African academics dedicate surprisingly little time to teaching, advising students, conducting research, writing scholarly articles, and serving as administrators. Often they are away from their universities for a combined period that equals as much as half or more of the academic year, drawn off the campus by family, part-time jobs, community activities, and academic conferences. My observations are based on my experience in Botswana, along with reports from many colleagues, African and non-African, with much experience on the continent. Those damagingly long absences must be openly recognized, not ignored, and changes must be made. African academics need to rethink their priorities, and universities should help them do so. The goal should be to harness the forces that drive academic faculty and staff members off their campuses to benefit the university and students. Four Problems That Hinder Partnerships in Africa Scholars coming from outside Africa must also develop a better understanding of the realities facing African academe. Too many visiting professors fail to appreciate African social dynamics and become disillusioned with their African peers, which results in half-hearted scholarly cooperation at best. At first glance, the problem of absent professors and its effect on an institution may not be noticeable. The University of Botswana, for one, is well financed thanks to the country's diamond wealth and is home to some of the nation's brightest minds, many of whom have studied at some of the best graduate programs throughout Europe and North America. But four forces consistently draw professors away from the campus, hindering the institution. Each of these, of course, affect the work of faculty members in other parts of the world, but their impact is much greater in Botswana and other African countries. Family. Despite rapid economic and social change for the last four decades in Botswana, most people in the country still feel committed to participate in traditional family activities in their home villages. While family events and visits are important, in Africa they too often trump professional responsibilities and seem like an almost monthly occurrence. Academics will go home for weddings and funerals of extended-family members, for national holidays, and to help with health or financial crises of relatives. Those obligations mean professors regularly travel considerable distances to those villages, keeping them away from the university. Universities cannot simply limit their staff members' leave time. People who do not go home regularly are considered to have written themselves out of the family. Few citizens of Botswana are prepared to contemplate such a possibility. Outside employment. Many African university faculty and staff members, even in the humanities, are frequently hired to be paid consultants for governments, international aid organizations, the news media, and corporations. Those jobs usually last for a short time but require intense labor. During short work periods, professors have time for only a quick stop at the university to lecture. Many academics are also involved in business ventures. They are landlords, own retail shops, run transportation businesses, operate commercial cattle ranches, and more. On several occasions in Botswana, a colleague sent regrets that he could not attend a meeting because he was managing the repair of a borehole engine at his cattle post. Political and volunteer work. Many African faculty members are active in charity work, their church, and political parties. They are preachers; work with nonprofit organizations that deal with gender, minority, and human rights; and serve in leadership positions in political-party organizations. A few are even advisers to the president and cabinet ministers, while others have run or are preparing to run for political office. While professors should play a role building society, such activities end up consuming inordinate amounts of their time, often because there are few others who have the capability to provide effective leadership. Conferences. Trips to academic conferences or similar events are an important part of an academic's career. But, in Africa, travel is more demanding than in other parts of the world. Many relevant conferences are outside the continent, requiring several days of travel. Academic faculty and staff also travel to innumerable workshops within their own countries and elsewhere in Africa. Some of those meetings, which focus on topics like grant writing, leadership skills, and research methodologies, can last up to a week. With such demands on faculty and staff time, the central business of the university-teaching and learning-has become secondary. Professors do not have much opportunity to interact with students, with each other, or visiting colleagues. The effect on a university is profound. Many faculty members do not want to take administrative positions because it would take time away from consulting, personal business, and family concerns; junior faculty members shape their careers without input from experienced colleagues; and, most seriously, absenteeism hurts student learning. Universities widely recognize the problem. Yet higher-education administrators rarely discuss ways to keep faculty members on their campuses. The assumption seems to be that nothing can be done. But there are ways to use the forces drawing scholars off the campus to serve the basic objective of teaching and research. The easiest social force for the university to deal with is outside income, at least as it derives from consultant work. Faculties and departments should organize their own consulting services that harness their members' talent. A university could earn considerable income from the services, and use the money to pay employees more and integrate consulting with research and teaching. A university could also tie outside volunteer efforts to academic goals. For example, professors could be required to involve students in such activities by establishing internships at charities or churches. And to make sure an academic's volunteer work is meaningful (and not just an excuse to socialize), a university could base a portion of pay raises (and maybe even a few promotions) for faculty and staff members on their ability to demonstrate that their outside activity has had concrete benefits for the university and society. The one social force the university controls directly is employees' ability to travel for professional purposes. Administrators should reserve most travel funds for scholarly presentations at professional conferences. Those scholarly interactions are critical if faculty members are to be stimulated to provide creative leadership for their societies. Money to attend local workshops or training events, however, should be cut outright. Such events should take place within the confines of university seminar rooms or teleconferencing sites. Training should become part of the work environment rather than separate from students and colleagues. Family ties are the most difficult of the social forces to channel for a university's benefit. The time spent returning home for purely social purposes needs to be shortened, for starters. Currently, something like 20 work days per year (excluding weekends) goes for home leave of one kind or another. Cutting this amount by five days during the Christmas period (12 to 13 work days now) would be possible. But leave time cannot just be taken away without provoking a revolt from faculty and staff members. Changing the way family culture affects the workplace will take time. In the meantime, an alternative approach would be to allow university faculty members to undertake professional activities in their home villages. An economics professor could experiment with promoting market activity in his hometown, a political scientist could work with village groups on strategies of influence, or a biologist might examine ways to manage local wildlife. My proposals are intended to illustrate a different way of thinking for African universities as they seek to promote learning and play a leadership role in their countries. Administrations need to develop university policies that pull professors back to their campuses and academic duties. Faculty members need to help their administrators find ways to allow them to be away from their institutions occasionally, but use their outside experiences and income for higher-education purposes. As it is now, culture and institutional pressures are taking scholars away from the professions for which they spent many years training and for which universities have not yet reaped the desired return. John D. Holm is the former director of the Office of International Education and Partnerships at the University of Botswana and the Center for International Services and Programs at Cleveland State University.